Kanye West is one of the most influential, creative, innovative individuals of the 21st century. His mark on hip-hop, streetwear, music video production, etc. is unmatched. He’s one of the most committed artists working right now, and his art has been praised, enjoyed, and imitated all across the globe. So why, then, is he one of the most hated celebrities in the world?
“I'm living in the 21st century doin' something mean to it//Doin’ better than anybody you ever seen do it//Screams from the haters, got a nice ring to it//I guess every superhero needs his theme music”
Our society has evolved to have one common mantra: whatever you do, do not make others uncomfortable. Don't worry, this is not another trite critique on society; I'm sick of those just as much as you are. However, it's important to make this observation seeing as it is society's biggest quarrel with Kanye West.
When Kanye put out his sixth (or seventh, depending if you count "Watch The Throne") album, "Yeezus," his objective was clear. He was not interested in making the music we wanted. He had already done that with his previous album, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," an album many consider hip-hop perfection and one of the greatest albums of all time. Now, Kanye just needed to vent. Almost every song was lashing back at society in one way or another. Of course, people looked past Kanye’s message and latched on to the eye-catching third track, “I Am a God.”
Public outrage was immediate. Your favorite middle-aged mom took to Facebook, chastising Yeezy. Never mind the fact that Kanye was instrumental in making religion accepted in hip-hop with “Jesus Walks” 10 years ago and the fact that he consistently puts God and his faith at the center of his life; this one song makes him a blasphemer!
Of course, these sudden Kanye West experts didn’t even pretend to examine what this song could be saying. Kanye used this song to attempt to illustrate his frustration with society. The third track very well may have been called “I Am a Low-Life Good-For-Nothing Black Person,” and nobody would care. In fact, this idea isn’t even that crazy. Plenty of rappers such as Vince Staples, Kendrick Lamar, and Earl Sweatshirt rap about their self-identity in a completely degrading, self-hating way. But when one rapper stands out and visits the other side of the spectrum and loves himself, now we have a problem. This is because our society would much prefer to watch you wallow in self-loathing than brag about your own character.
Sure, you can be the best. You can change the face of hip-hop single handedly, design the most sought after sneakers, and put out two high-end fashion lines, all while starting a loving family that you care for and protect. But once you acknowledge your accomplishments… well then, Mr. West, you have fallen out of America’s good graces.
See, we’re a rather forgiving country. We can forgive Ben Roethlisberger for sexually assaulting a woman, Chris Brown for beating up Rihanna, Bill O’Reilly for sexually assaulting his coworker, and any number of politicians for any number of lies. But when one of the most talented, accomplished names in music is a little too confident: well how dare he? Thankfully for us, Kanye doesn’t care.
“They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus//That means guns, sex, lies, video tapes//But if I talk about God my record won't get played, huh!?//Well if this take away from my spins//Which will probably take away from my ends//Then I hope this take away from my sins//And bring the day that I'm dreaming about//Next time I'm in the club everybody screaming out “Jesus walks!””
All of his life, Kanye was told he couldn’t. Growing up as a poor African-American Chicago native, the world told him he couldn’t make it. Attempting to make his name as a rapper when he was a well-respected producer, the record execs told him he couldn’t do it. Rapping about minimum wage, religion, and the false security of college instead of money, sex, and drugs, the rap game told him he couldn’t do it. Starting his own clothing line with no design background, the fashion industry told him he couldn’t do it. Trying to go beyond art and spread his message through politics by running for president, just about everyone is telling him he can’t do it (that’s for a whole different article, though).
“Ain’t nobody expect Kanye to end up on top//they expected the College Dropout to dropout and then flop...Last year shoppin my demo, I was tryin’ to shine//Every motherf***er told me I couldn’t rhyme//Now I could let these dream killers kill my self-esteem//Or use my arrogance to power my dreams.”
When just about everywhere you look you’re being told you can’t do it, you have to close your eyes and tell yourself you can. So excuse Kanye for proving the world wrong. Don’t put a muzzle on a dog and then be surprised if it wants to bite back when it escapes. Kanye knows that in order to make a sandwich, there might have to be a few crumbs. Sometimes great art requires great sacrifice ("Whiplash," anyone?). If being a little arrogant and obnoxious is what it takes to produce one of the greatest discographies in music, I think Kanye would take that trade 10 times out of 10. And down the road, when professionals are still breaking down the instrumental to “Lost in the World,” humanity will thank Kanye for not listening to his doubters.
There is also something to be said regarding race. The aforementioned wave of political correctness makes this paragraph difficult to type without happening to push a few buttons, but the argument should be made. The late 1900s were dominated by rock stars: Axl Rose, Ozzy Osbourne, Keith Richards, etc. These guys were the biggest party animals the world had ever seen. They would come to shows drugged out of their minds, then go back and destroy their hotels with a tornado of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Did it ever seem like these musicians had any ounce of humility? Any air of respect? Absolutely not. Kanye can write one of the most touching love songs I’ve heard to his mother (“Hey Mama”), pour his raw, heartfelt emotions out into an album ("808’s & Heartbreaks"), preach complete respect towards women, all while avoiding starting one single beef with any individual, and yet he’s still regarded, as our Commander-in-Chief so profoundly puts it, as a “jackass.” Nobody raises objection to white long-haired dudes, but a clean cut black kid from Chicago better watch what he says.
“I woke up early this mornin’ in a new state of mind//a creative way to rhyme, without using nine’s and guns”
I’d like to believe it’s born out of ignorance—that the average Kanye anti-fan just sees the entertaining YouTube videos and simply doesn’t know the amazing artist behind them. Whatever the case for our society’s hate towards him may be, one thing is for sure: our distaste of Kanye West says more about us than it does him. Once we turn against one of the greatest creative minds alive, some serious evaluation needs to be done regarding where our values lie.