Last week, rapper, producer, shabby clothing entrepreneur, Twitter evangelist, and Walt Disney worshipper Kanye West released his latest album, The Life of Pablo. As with all things Kanye, the weeks leading up to the release, and the days since, have eclipsed everything in the pop culture universe.
With every action taken, thought shared, or word spoken by Kanye West, there’s a rush to immediately share a hot take, get a joke off, or forcefully shove everything he does into one of two bins of absolutism. Depending on who you ask—or who is listening when you ask them–Kanye West is either “woke,” or “problematic,” with little room for nuanced discussion about the very real spaces that overlap or fall between the two.
West, both the artist and the man, is duality and confrontation in human form. He is an unrepentant egotist and sexist who thinks he's better than you because you probably aren't reading this in a "French-ass restaurant." He's also a conflicted Christian; an artist capable of some of the most uplifting, introspective, and impeccably produced songs in mainstream hip-hop; a man who adored his mother and wants you to love yourself the way Kanye West loves Kanye West.
The way you presently view West is sure to have your place on the "woke"-to-"problematic" scale carved in social media stone for all eternity. As a fan, it can be stressful, depending on how you value that type of social currency. Kanye exists in a place with neither saints nor sinners, because he is neither, yet both at the same time.
West leans heavily on wealth and material possession as a marker of success. Yet while claiming to be the greatest creative mind since Steve Jobs, and a champion of black liberation, he begs rich white men like Mark Zuckerberg for money to help him get his ideas off the ground.
West is also the greatest collaborative musician since Michael Jackson. He's an uncommonly influential and multi-talented man who refuses to let the restrictions placed on him be anything more than temporary obstacles. In that sense, his capitalist bone fides are actually the embodiment of capitalist mythology. While claiming to be able to singularly achieve greatness, he is still reliant on the labor and ingenuity of others to complete his vision.
Repeatedly, West has stated plainly that he believes famous women like Taylor Swift and his ex-girlfriend Amber Rose would be nothing without their associations to him. In songs, he's much more likely to describe a woman as an object with no other purpose than his own pleasure, or a trophy he can congratulate himself for acquiring. He fails to see the irony in sexually shaming or objectifying women despite his own acknowledgement that his wife and the mother of his two children is “a superstar, all from a home movie,” and having some of the best songs in his catalog dedicated to his beloved mother, daughter and grandmother.
West has placed himself among the most influential creators and visionaries of modern history. He is also an artist in the truest sense of the word, who has already delivered six revered solo albums (in an unjustly degraded genre), art, and fashion with the purpose of showing fans and detractors alike that the only limits to happiness and freedom are the ones we place on ourselves. He shown us that humility—particularly false humility—can be less of a virtue, and more a willingness to conform to standards placed on us by people who don’t share a similar vision or unrelenting hunger to be creative and impactful.
West is a selfish, deluded narcissistic malcontent who offers art education to kids in his native Chicago, speaks out against police violence against black Americans, and above everything, he wants us all—particularly us black folks—to believe that we can accomplish more than we’ve ever imagined, in ways that don’t require personal compromise. In a time when the push-back against black expression, pride and confidence is at levels not before seen by younger generations, Kanye West—fully aware of his flaws—refuses to be anything less then himself, no matter how any of us may feel about it.
Sometimes, as a lesser man, I’m unconcerned with maintaining a veneer of nobility, and all I want to do on a given night is stand on a table in club–preferably your table–with a drink(s) in my hand(s), and scream explicit lyrics about black opulence, wild sex, and the uncompromisingly defiant arrogance of knowing oneself to be a god. I feel about "I Wonder," "Can't Tell Me Nothing," and TLOP standout “Feedback” the way people infinitely more righteous than I am feel about hearing “Amazing Grace” in church.
I can allow myself the honesty of knowing that who I am comes with both darkness and light, and not find it to be necessarily hypocritical, but what makes me a complete human. I embrace it. To be conflicted is to be true to oneself. It’s what has made me a fan of Kanye West since before the release of his debut album. But in this age of competitive discourse, and because nuanced discussion has become a dying art form, anything that isn’t an outright condemnation of that which is “problematic”–as Kanye West often is - is routinely viewed as a defense of the very “-isms” the more honorable among us are trying to eradicate.
Beyond his often-problematic expression, Kanye West’s biggest dilemma is that he is the worst possible delivery system for his own message. He appears to share a common affliction with many intensely creative people—a restless mind. One that when stifled or left without a task, short-circuits and lashes out in ways that are difficult to rationalize and sometimes unforgivable. That's how Kanye becomes his own worst enemy. He is unwilling to, or perhaps incapable of putting into palatable form what he honestly believes to be his pure and positive vision for the world and himself.
From the mouths and typing fingers of his fans, The Gospel of Kanye can be rooted in inspiration, high self-worth, and determination to make the word a doper place (by one’s own definition of “dope”), while simultaneously asserting to anyone within earshot that you are the most spectacular product the human race has ever had the good fortune of producing. That Gospel, hilariously delivered by West himself, too often sounds like the delusions of man who believes that the world owes him something; that he is entitled to self-actualization, simply by virtue of his own existence, and he will not hesitate to make the rest of us feel worthless in the process. Both assessments are correct. Kanye West is every bit the "motherfuckin' monster" he tells us that he is, but he's also a champion in the eyes of people who are told what they can't do and who they can't be. It’s that conflict, unapologetically laid out before us in real time, for better or worse, that makes Kanye West the most important entertainer of his generation.
Kevin is a Digital Producer for Fusion. Some know him as @FriendlyFAUX. To those people, it's clear he could use a bit of guidance in his life.