Sunday, December 21, 2008

My Dilemma with Kanye West

(Author’s note: This entry is somewhat lengthy, but I think you’ll find it interesting whether you are a fan of rap music or not. So make sure you have some time when you want to read it. If that time is not present right now, don’t worry. I’ll be here waiting for you whenever you decide to come back.)

A few weeks ago, rapper Kanye West released his fourth studio album, 808s & Heartbreak. I finally had a chance to listen to the entire thing, and felt compelled to share my thoughts on the hip-hop artist. Now, my feelings about Kanye are somewhat complicated. Anyone that knows me well would probably be able to tell you that I don’t care for the guy at all (which is true), but that doesn’t do justice to how I truly feel. In order to get my point across for you to best understand, I will give you the finest example I can come up with. From what I can tell, analogies are all the rage in journalism, so I hope this helps.

Towards the end of the movie, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, an important scene takes place. San Diego news anchor Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) jumps into a bear pit in order to rescue one of his fellow co-workers. After saving her life, Ron begins to climb a ladder out of the pit as the many on-lookers cheer his good deed. However, as he reaches the top, Ron’s rival anchorman and arch nemesis Wes Mantooth (Vince Vaughn) grabs the end of the ladder, threatening to shove Burgundy back down into the abyss of killer bears. Just as it appears that Ron’s life is sure to end, Wes looks Burgundy dead in the eye and says: “From deep down in my stomach, with every inch of me, I pure, straight hate you…but dammit do I respect you.” He then pulls the ladder back to the edge, and extends a helping hand to get Burgundy back on safe ground.

From deep down in my stomach, with every inch of me, I pure, straight hate you…but dammit do I respect you.” I could not express my feelings for Kanye any better than that.

Don’t worry, I’ll explain. Let me start with the hate. Hate is a pretty strong word, but I can’t stand Mr. West, so I’ll move forward with it. Loathe, despise, spurn – those descriptions all work, too. And my reasons are pretty simple: Kanye West is one of the most egotistical, conceited, and disillusioned human beings I have ever heard speak.

To be fair, I am not a huge fan of rap music, but I do like a little. I also try to listen to all kinds of music and artists, while being as objective as I can about the music I hear. Aside from a few tracks (Gold Digger, Stronger, Champion), I don’t care for the majority of Kanye’s work, and I certainly don’t like it as much as he does. He seems to think his music is manna from heaven, life-sustaining nourishment that is just as important to America as democracy and apple pie. He views waking up every morning as a gift to the world. If it were up to Kanye, Mount Rushmore would feature a sculpting of his face…on all four heads.

Aside from his music, his celebrity status is marked by numerous controversies and questionable comments, as well. In 2006, he posed on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in the image of Jesus, bearing a crown of thorns on his head. He even stated that he was so famous he should “…be in the Bible.” At the MTV Europe Music Awards, he interrupted the presentation for an award he failed to win, stating that he deserved the honor instead. And when MTV chose Britney Spears over West to open the 2007 Video Music Awards, Kanye implied that race was the reason by stating, “Maybe my skin’s not right.” However, Kanye’s biggest controversy occurred at a benefit concert for Hurricane Katrina victims. On live, national television, West ignored the script and criticized the media for portraying the African Americans of New Orleans as looters and degenerates. He then said, “(President) George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” before being cut-off.

These instances are small events that show just how self-absorbed and irrational Kanye can be. He seems to be completely obsessed with himself and little else. If you could somehow combine the egos of Tyra Banks and Spencer from The Hills, you would end up with only a fraction of the vanity of Kanye West. I’m almost positive he spends eight hours a day in front of the mirror and another four having self-portraits painted and mounted around his house. He has a smugness and arrogance that I can neither stand nor agree with. He may be a thriving artist in the hip-hop field, but he’s not the savior he thinks he is. He views himself as the voice of our generation and the greatest rapper of all time. I view him as an arrogant prick. He sees himself as Jesus Christ with rhythm and fashion sense. I see him as Flavor Flav with a tooth brush. (Note: I’m not saying Jesus didn’t have rhythm or fashion sense. I’m sure he was a hip dude. Moving on.) Kanye might be famous and successful, but he’s not a god among men. And as you can see, I have plenty of reasons for why I pure, straight hate Kanye West.

But despite everything I’ve just written, I still have quite a bit of respect for the man. No matter how much I seem to despise the guy, I can’t help but admire how honest and authentic he is. In a time where everyone is obsessed with their public image and political correctness, Kanye has a candor and straightforward manner that is refreshing in spite of its annoyance. He has said and done a lot of stupid things in the past, but he’s true to himself, a quality that few public figures seem to possess in this day and age. In fact, he’s even able to poke fun at himself in some situations. When he appeared on Saturday Night Live, he did a sketch that made fun of his outburst at the MTV Europe Music Awards. He has also apologized for some of the inconsiderate comments he has made in the public light. And while I disagree with the absurdity of statements such as, “George Bush hates black people,” I can’t help but have some respect for the way he speaks his mind. He has that Charles Barkley way about him, where no matter what the subject is, he refuses to stifle his true opinion or reserve his thoughts just to ease the minds of others. I may not always (or ever) agree with what West says, but I value the fact that he does say it, no matter how badly it will lead the media and public opinion to shatter his persona. In the community of “celebrity phonies”, Kanye has a rare sincerity about him. He’s real when so many of his peers appear to be counterfeit.

When it comes to his music, West holds a characteristic that few before him have achieved or strived for. He has a unique way of speaking to the times through his lyrics, attempting to be that generational voice he labels himself as. His music preaches a message of change and open-mindedness, a progressive view that makes everyone equal and everyone accountable. Or in other words, he speaks about how he truly feels, regardless of what others may think. This attribute reminds me a lot of…Bob Dylan. Shocking, huh? If you know me at all, your jaw probably hit the keyboard right about now. And yes, it was extremely difficult for me to even type that Kanye reminds me of Dylan. I got sick to my stomach just thinking about it. In my eyes, Dylan is the most influential singer/songwriter of all time and an American hero. Comparing him to Kanye West is more ridiculous than comparing The Beatles to Milli Vanilli or Seinfeld to The Teletubbies. So trust me, Kanye is no Bob Dylan, and never will be. But, he does remind me of him in some ways. That is one of the most difficult things I have ever had to admit, but I’m just being honest.

Kanye possesses that quality that Bob Dylan has, the ability to influence and revolutionize their culture through their music. West is not nearly as great as he would like to think, but his music is relevant to the world we live in, significant to the times of today. He writes about real issues of real importance, and stands up for the things he believes - a feature few artists own. Bob Marley had it. Otis Redding had it. John Lennon had it. Artists such as Aretha Franklin, U2, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain had it to a certain extent. And anytime you can be mentioned in the same breath as those icons, you’ve accomplished something very impressive. Kanye is right there. As much as it pains me to say it, Kanye is on the cusp of what those men and women achieved, in his own way and in his own time. I do not like it, but his authenticity deserves deference. As annoying and arrogant as he is, he’s unique. West has placed himself among exclusive company. He sits on the small ship of truth that thrashes about on a broad sea of lies.

Yes, I hate Kanye West. But I also respect him too much to let him fall to his death in a pit of killer bears. And therein lies my dilemma.

Thanks for reading

1 comment:

dave om said...

Hi there. I somehow stumbled across your blog while running a google search on "stupid things Kanye West has said." I'm preparing my own little rant and thought that yours was very well written and enjoyable. Thumbs up!