Kanye West is finally getting the textbook treatment. The Cultural Impact of Kanye West, a 300-plus-page academic textbook, was just released by Dr. Julius Bailey, professor of philosophy at Wittenberg University. According to the book's synopsis, "contributors consider how West both challenges religious and moral norms and propagates them."
Before you scoff at the idea of analyzing Kanye’s work through a philosophical lens, consider Bailey's perspective.
“I’m not ready to put Kanye on the Mount Rushmore of everything, but he is on the lips and minds of people all around the world," Bailey told Fusion. “I come from a background in ancient Greek philosophy and those folks were crazy,” Bailey said. “They were kickin’ it, hating on women, drinking – we elevate them to intellectual genius. So why not Kanye?”
Naturally we had to ask Dr. Bailey to help us compile a list of iconic Kanye moments. While “Best of Kanye” lists are in no short supply, we're talking to one of the world’s foremost Yeezy experts. So listen up.
1) Through the Wire
"I saw the Through The Wire video and it was the first time I realized I could use Kanye as an existentialist tool in the classroom. It was sort of a Dionysian cry for help. We saw Kanye dealing with the lament and difficulty of life's journey, being open and transparent about pain and suffering through art. It was the antithesis of what hip-hop braggadocio is all about; I think it was the representation of black suffering.
Remember that moment when Tupac came out the hospital in the wheelchair? After being shot up, he didn’t die. Through The Wire was that moment for me.
What that video does is reminds me that, 'Hey, at any moment, our lives can be taken away.'"
2) Can't Tell Me Nothing
"When you watch this video, you see Kanye by himself, trying to identify what it means to be a black man in America. You see him dealing with the fascination with accouterments and all these things that ultimately are dressing up pain. So when Kanye says, "Wait til I get my money right," he's critiquing the idea of materialism. He's saying that life starts before the cars, the clothes, the chains. And this is a fundamental philosophical piece in the work of Kanye West."
3) The Good Life
"There's a line in The Good Life when Kanye says, "Having money ain't everything but not having it is." To know me, Julius Bailey is to know that I'm so overwhelmed with which the rate at which America disowns it’s poor. So although The Good Life is an uplifting, upbeat song, that line reminds us just how much of a privilege it is not to worry about money. That’s not a line that Mitt Romney would say to 47% of America. That line was really got me thinking that I can use Kanye West to start a more creative conversation about what it means to be poor in America."
4) Coldest Winter
"I always talk about the existentialist in Kanye. So for me, 808s and Heartbreak touched my soul. It speaks to all us brothers in the world who have found ourselves on the back-end of the love thing. We think of men being polyamorous, not really engaged, ‘I don’t chase em I replace em.’ But what 808s tells you is: there are times in our lives where all-caps "SHE" comes. And for Kanye, this is when he lost both his mother and his girlfriend. And now SHE is gone. Like Kanye says, "It's a cold, cold winter." When the winter goes away, she's not there.
You can't tell me that hip-hop isn't about love, lament and torment. Think about the complexities of the human experience, coupled with the complexities of being a black male in America, attempting to both wrestle with stereotypes and deal with them among our own peers. That's why this album may be my favorite.
5) New Slaves
"I had an advance copy of the Yeezus album and I had a headache for three days after listening. I kept thinking, "Man, I'm too old for this." But I think this album pushes what hip hop production is. It represents not only the complexity of Kanye and his artistic taste. And I think this is him digging in the crates. Pulling out some of his stuff that no one else would dare to pull out. Identifying that he can appreciate rock and roll, the blues, techno etc. So on a song like "New Slaves", when most others would be afraid, he makes this Sartrean move and says, 'I am condemned to be free.'"
Alexandra DiPalma is a producer for Fusion Lightworks, Fusion’s In-house Branded Content Agency.