By: Kristopher Smith
I’m going to publicly come out not only as a fan but also a supporter of Kanye West. Yes, I am a follower of the church of Yeezus. This may not be the most popular stance to make to the public, but frankly I don’t care.
I have been at least a casual fan ever since the beginning essentially in 2004 when I heard the clever lines in “Slow Jamz”, and specifically the line from “All Falls Down”: “Couldn’t afford a car so she named her daughter Alexis.”
I was fascinated by “Through The Wire.” Did this guy really rap this song with his jaw wired shut? Why is the fact that he is almost using an Alvin and the Chipmunk type sounding chorus so intriguing and catchy?
Casual fan status was upgraded to fan when I heard “Gold Digger” and as Kanye reached stadium status on “Graduation,” so did my fandom. I have been along for the ride ever since.
Let me state that I am writing this article, (as the title suggests) in defense of Kanye West. First off, some of the things Kanye says and does are indefensible. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around the now infamous “Bill Cosby is innocent” Tweet. I’m not a lover of the misogynistic lyrics (more on this later) and I’m personally not a fan of his wife, their family and just about everything they represent; but as my Grammy says “Each to their own,” meaning people like, or love things that you might not, and that is ok.
I am going to attempt to defend Mr. West in four sections; the first questions if his workaholic/perfectionist/visionary attitude leads to his outbursts, second that some of his outbursts are really just speaking his mind and defending his friends, a discussion about the loss of his mother and his relationship with his father and finally, what his music means to me.
Kanye’s work has been heralded since the beginning, but I would argue that he really set himself apart from the pack when he released Graduation in 2007. As I mentioned earlier, it was with the release of this album that Kanye West reached “stadium status”.
It was said that on this album that West took inspiration from U2 and other groups to make more inspirational, anthemic hip-hop music that would get live crowds of tens of thousands energized and excited.
The release of Graduation coincided with the release of 50 Cent’s Curtis setting up a sort of sales competition between the two rappers that Kanye ultimately won. After breaking new ground with Graduation, Kanye continued to push the musical boundaries of rap, and arguably also pop. In 2008 he released 808s & Heartbreak which Rolling Stone hailed as one of the forty most ground-breaking albums of all time. Its follow up My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy topped lists year end from Rolling Stone, Vibe, and Spin.
Ever the visionary, Kanye may have started this new trend in artists coming up with original and innovative ways to release albums. Before Beyoncé released her surprise album and U2 snuck into your iTunes, Kanye West had interesting ideas for the promotion of his 2013 album Yeezus. He believed radio was dead, choosing not to release any singles (which eventually did change), promotion was limited and varied ranging from projecting the video of “New Slaves” onto screens in major cities to performing on Saturday Night Live. The album package was minimal, consisting of not much more than a simple jeweled CD case. Yeezus was also praised with The Guardian calling it the best album of 2013.
It can’t be understated the impact that Kanye West has had on rap, or pop music in general. Many critics and bloggers have noted that if he hadn’t went left on 808s we might not have artists like Drake or Future today.
Kanye thinks he is the best because he has been told he is the best for a long time. Could it be that Kanye is so under pressure by himself and the world in general that he lashes out? Maybe the pressure of being the best is getting to him? Maybe that is why he has his Twitter outbursts. This would make sense. If you are constantly being heralded as a visionary or a genius the pressure of continuing great work might get to be a bit overwhelming. Maybe you start second guessing yourself? Your detractors certainly want you to fail. Is this why the roll out for Kanye’s latest album The Life Of Pablo was so strange? It was played at a fashion show on the day it was supposed to be released and then wasn’t; tracklists changed and finally it came out in the early hours of Valentine’s Day and even that didn’t go so smoothly. They always say the geniuses are crazy. Kanye even references this on his new album…
“George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” and “Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time! One of the best videos of all time!” are two infamous Kanye quotes.
I’m going to defend both of them saying that he isn’t wrong. The George Bush quote may have lacked some tact but the Bush Administration was heavily criticised for their handling of Hurricane Katrina. Maybe it isn’t the nicest to interrupt someone else’s moment of glory but again, Kanye was right. Beyoncé did have one of the best videos of all time. Everyone was doing the “Single Ladies” dance. This video would go on to win Video Of The Year later in the night at the VMAs but yet it didn’t win Best Female Video? Think about this. The best video out of them all didn’t win best video by a female. Does this make sense? If it was the best video of the year then it should have won any award it was nominated for. Therein lies the trouble with awards shows; another topic that Kanye has addressed. We would see Kanye stand up for artistry and his friends again in 2015 when he criticised Beck’s Grammy for Album Of The Year and stated his case for his friend Beyoncé.
Why am I bringing up these quotes? As I said Kanye was just speaking his mind and defending his friends. I actually find this to be quite admirable. While I don’t think that speaking your mind simply to be rude or hurtful to another person is right, I really envy Kanye’s ability to speak up and fight for what he believes in and who he believes in.
I somewhat jokingly have the mantra “What Would Yeezus Do” and I say somewhat jokingly because I also somewhat believe in it. I often feel like people walk over me and I don’t speak up and defend myself nearly enough. I also find myself to be a bit unmotivated when it comes life, so I also admire someone who feels so passionate about what they do that they would do anything and say anything to defend it. He values his friends and wants them to succeed. You can’t fault a guy for that can you?
One of my other heroes, Bono (and maybe I’ll write something defending him as well) made a comment about how in rap it is the story of the absentee father and in rock it seems to be the loss of the mother; Kanye West has had both.
Kanye loved his mom. He dedicated a song to her “Hey Mama” on Late Registration (and if I should ever get married I’m going to dance to this song with my mom). His mom died in 2007 due to complications from cosmetic surgery. After that we got 808s & Heartbreak. The liner notes of the album fold out into a picture of Kanye and his mom. I read the book she wrote about raising him. It seems that they had a special relationship. Kanye’s relationship with his dad isn’t as well publicised but it is clear from Donda West’s book and some of Kanye’s lyrics that his dad wasn’t always around. It seems like Kanye’s mom would reel him in when he got a bit too intense. Losing her was obviously a devastating blow. She never got to see him get married or meet his children. His song “Only One” is actually about Kanye singing from the perspective of his late mother about his daughter North. Kanye called his mom his “was also his mentor, confidante, and best friend.”
Imagine what losing someone that close to you while living in the public eye and being scrutinized about your work must be like? I don’t know what I would do if I lost my mom and I’m not labeled as a genius rapper/pop icon who is always pushing the envelope and has so many people wanting him to fail.
The last way I’m going to defend Kanye West is by my own personal opinion. I mentioned earlier about “What Would Yeezus Do?” and as corny as it is, like any artist you have a personal connection with, his music gets me through. I am not going to play a victim here or pretend that my life is worse than anyone else’s but I’ve gone through a bit of a storm in the last year or so and I was very excited for Kanye to release The Life Of Pablo. Any time one of my favorite artists releases new music I get excited but given the circumstances surrounding the time I really wanted a distraction. I really wanted new music from Kanye West. His music pumps me up, makes me feel confident, is (usually) clever and well thought out, socially brilliant and full of feeling. You feel the highs, you feel the lows, and you feel the confidence. A new album from him would allow me a distraction from life. It would provide me with a list of songs to get to know and feel out and apply to what I was thinking and feeling. Thankfully I was not disappointed (though I feel a little trolled as the album was not released right away, or in the way I expected).
All of Kanye’s albums have some significance to me but there are three that sort of transcend and have very particular meaning. I remember listening to Graduation nearly two years after it was released sitting in a seat at the Arts and Culture Centre waiting for Convocation to start and to receive my first degree. “Another bro with an Arts degree. Great” I thought. But I also thought of my parents several rows back, (my dad specifically) and how proud they were of me. Sitting there listening to that album made me feel like yes, maybe I did accomplish something. “I guess, this is my dissertation
Homie this shit is basic, welcome to Graduation…Good morning!”
My personal connection to Yeezus came again two years after its release when I was pretty angry, sad and just about everything in between. I had felt like I had been made a fool of and walked over. Kanye’s anger and over confidence (he claims to be a god on one song) was exactly what I needed. These songs are full of rage and reminded me not to feel bad, not to feel sad. Feel mad and know that I am better than the moment I was stuck in. It also helps that Yeezus is the best gym album of all time…of all time! I can listen to “Black Skinhead” at any time and get pumped to take on the world. “Baby, we livin’ in the moment I’ve been a menace for the longest But I ain’t finished, I’m devoted And you know it, and you know it” (insert primal scream here)
Finally there’s 808s & Heartbreak. Maybe there isn’t one particular time in my life that this was my soundtrack but it is an emotional album that is what you need when you are having all the feelings. Anger, sadness, self-pity, oh and heartbreak. Oddly enough, Kanye really emotes by distorting his vocals and yet it feels so powerful. I’d be lying if I haven’t listened to this one a few times in the last little while. “Hey, hey, hey, hey Don’t say you will, unless you will…”
I’m sure there will be people who read this and think that no matter what I say about Kanye he can’t be defended. Perhaps people might think that I too am an egomaniacal maniac for defending him. As I said, some of the things he says and does can’t be defended (I will say that I totally think he is right about Taylor Swift though). I don’t love all of his lyrics. I think he is better than a low brow misogynistic line here and there. But he definitely should not be the only one to take the brunt of the criticism there. Rap is full of it. The ego? He is a freaking rock star! We wouldn’t care about him at all if he didn’t think and believe he was the best. And you know what? He kind of is. If you don’t agree with me, that’s cool. I’m going to keep defending him (barring some super crazy terrible thing that he might do or that comes out about him…even then I can defend the music right?) and as Grammy says “Each to their own.”
I’m a little late to the party and I can’t remember if Kanye had questionable actions in 2016 specifically and that’s why you were defending him in addition to him being your fav artist which I can respect because for a point in time, he was one of my favorite artists as well. I remember hearing his productions first such as on Scarface’s “guess who’s back” and songs like “stand up”. I would say I fell in love with his artistry when he released the college dropout. At the time, rap was really flashy and as I was in college at the time it came out trying to figure out what exactly was this degree that I was working so hard for going to do for me. The album spoke to me because like myself I too was the underdog. Where other rappers were saying they were the “ish” because of the luxuries they were able to purchase from their advances, when Kanye basically advocated the same type of mindset it felt it came from a place that was spiritual. Yes, I was fully he was still talking about materialistic things as well but they were labels that were familiar to me. I was so tired of the other rappers have five mins of riches and speaking about labels I had never heard about let alone could even pronounce. I also suspected that his rebellious stance was him telling himself that he was something as he was always overlooked (remember it wasn’t his bestie that pushed for his debut solo record, it was Dame who saw something special in him). He was on a record label of dudes that were hard and street and Kanye kind of represented the opposite and it was so nice to see that…well, at least for me as I have always felt I had to prove myself in two worlds – one within my own community and the community that was always around me. Folks around me would always say “he is so cocky” and I would respond “yes, I know and I love it” as I understood too what it felt like to always be told what you are not and what you can’t do and let me show you why I am great.
I was at his first concerts in my city where I was able to see the introduction of John Legend singing with Digable Planets. He was an artist I could back and was proud of. I even watched all the tv specials. In one in particular I remember seeing the closeness of his mother as I believe he visited their old home and she pulled out all of his artwork and they were explaining his ability in seeing sounds. At that point, I knew he was gifted and that I was watching a genius.
I agree that he was correct about Taylor Swift not deserving that award from MTV and at the time I even thought his outburst regarding Katrina was even appropriate. Not because I believe George Bush is racist (at all actually) but instead I think the outburst represented the frustration of what we felt in black America of watching people that looked like us suffer at the time from this natural disaster. I think I had been the most sympathetic (and even compassionate) when his mom had passed too as I understood immediately that things would never be the same with him due to the closeness that had been openly exhibited. But when he came out with Yeezus and showing up to events drunk and just downright ruthless with his words, that’s when it became really hard to defend him any longer. And without going into detail as to who he ended up intertwining with later that is when honestly it felt like Kanye died to me and we were now dealing with someone who basically everything now that the rappers of the early 2000’s were about and he let money and power (probably due to his new association) brainwash him. There wasn’t any longer “Jesus walks” because money, you know who, and fame were his muses as they were readily available to him whenever he pleased and therefore he was God. I understand changing but not to the point where it doesn’t seem there is any fragment of the guy that even his own mother knew.
My last point will be that the same person I was when I paid attention to details when he first came out has not changed and I notice the original people that were around him have all dropped like flies. Look up the tweets that Rhymefest released last year after he jumped ship. And then look at what Rhymefest has done in the city of Chicago to preserve Donda’s West’s legacy. Then you know who just had something to say about him most recently on 4:44. That’s all I’m going to say about that as I am not coming from a place of judgement but I think there is a bigger issue going on here that’s greater than the value we receive of watching this man disintegrate before our eyes. I am not also here to judge and say what he should or should not be doing to preserve his mother’s legacy as it’s not my place. But I will say the dynamics are interesting that he has distanced himself from any little fragment of what he formerly was and that makes me wonder what would he have been today if some associations were not around him today. I don’t want to see anything legend fall before my eyes and hopefully one day he finds inner peace within himself and around him. At least that is my hope