Kanye West Is Not a Jackass

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Kanye West is mad. Very, very mad. Judging by his latest music, interviews, and rants, he’s had a storm brewing in him for quite some time now, and it looks the full force of it is going to come raining down on America when YEEZUS officially drops today.

I’d be mad too if my career was a uninterrupted slide from black sheep to jackass. When Yeezy went on SNL to debut New Slaves and Black Skinhead from his new album, it was clear he was targeting the people who hate him most—middle America. And there he was, the star of the night, raging against the pigs who profit off the prison-industrial complex—which, by no coincidence, are the same pigs that own GE, which owns NBC, which owns SNL. “Fuck you and your Hampton house / I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse / came on her Hampton blouse / and in her Hampton mouth,” he seethed.

50 years ago, maybe 20, it would have been downright dangerous to go on national TV and say the things he said. In many ways, it still is. But Kanye West, throughout his career, has progressively given less of a fuck about what the public thinks of him and more of a fuck about what he thinks of the public. During his recent rant at the Governor’s Ball, he spelled it out: “honestly at this point when I listen to radio, that ain’t where I want to be no more. Honestly at this point, I could give a fuck about selling a million records…”

In the last few weeks, with everything he’s said and done, he’s probably lost more than one fan. Me, I like him more. I watched his SNL performance, read his New York Times interview, and was thoroughly entertained. This is a dude who’s still pushing the bar, even after already reaching the pinnacle of his craft. This is a dude who’s still on some new shit, even on his 8th album. This is a dude who has balls. Che Gueverra was a political revolutionary, Steve Jobs was a technological revolutionary, Kanye West is a musical revolutionary. The extent of most contemporary rappers’ consciousness is limited to merely turning up; in New Slaves, Kanye addressed that: “you’re about to turn shit up,” he said. “I’m ‘bout to tear it down.”

Measure a man by the influence he leaves on the world. Kanye has given us so much already. He’s imbibed rap with the minimalistic futuristic R&B sound from 808s & Heartbreak, the soul-influenced sound of The Blueprint, the stadium sound from Graduation. In fashion, he’s popularized shutter glasses, facemasks, kilts. Complex wrote an entire article on how men’s style would be different without Kanye West.

I think, Kanye West is on the level of a Michael Jackson or a Marvin Gaye, in terms of how he will be perceived by future generations. It took the Beatles 4 years after the release of their debut album to record Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which marked the beginning of their experimental phase. At that point, they resolved to make less “hits,” and instead the music that would be the most revolutionary, innovative, and influential in the years to come. It’s took Kanye West 4 years after the release of his debut album to record 808s & Heartbreak, which marked the start of his experimental phase. At that point, he resolved to make fewer “hits,” and instead the music that would be the most revolutionary, innovative, and influential in the years to come. YEEZUS looks to continue that trend, with trap, electronic, industrial and progressive rock influences interwoven into its punk rap foundation. The album might be off-putting to the average listener, but that’s because it’s using music formulas that no one’s ever heard before. It’s a glimpse into the future of music.

Yes, people hate on Kanye West. He’s been called arrogant, egomaniac, jackass. I don’t think he’s a jackass. I mean, I don’t know him, but people who do know him rave about what “a great person he is.” The two biggest things that his detractors use as ammunition against him are the 2005 Katrina incident and the 2009 VMA awards. In both cases, Kanye West was simply standing up against a perceived injustice. In 2005, he was calling out a legitimate mishandling of the Katrina situation. In 2009, he was standing up for Beyonce—who did have one of the best videos of all time.

He just seems like he’s a really passionate person, to the point of being socially unintelligent. He doesn’t seem like he’d be the best friend—Jay-Z reportedly often grows sick of his antics. He doesn’t seem like he’d be the best lover, and he admits as much. He’s the kind of person who, even before he was famous, would jump onstage at Talib Kweli concerts and demand the mic, to rap to the crowd the rhymes he just had to get out of him.

What he is, is the best artist. He said in the New York Times interview that “great art comes from great pain,” and even though he’s at the highest tier of his profession, he still finds ways to suffer. Sometimes he brings it on himself—he gave his heart to two notorious gold diggers, and his shamelessness makes him an easy target for the media. But it’s no fun being one of the most hated men in America, and the unnecessary, shocking death of his mother would rattle anyone.

I don’t think Kanye naming his album Yeezus was just his ego on fire. He mirrors the Christ figure in more ways than one. Like Christ, West suffers for his work. He has sacrificed relationships, money, and reputation to live uncensored. Like Christ, he’s devoted his life to good. Some people work miracles, some people build homes in South America, Kanye makes art. That is his public service. He sees his music as pure positivity, saying that he wants it “to inspire people to be the best they can be.” And according to West, he too was crucified: Christ by the Romans, Kanye by the media. But even the media couldn’t stop him. That’s what makes him the ultimate artist: his creativity cannot be halted.

The difference between art and talent is that art is what you have to say, and talent is how good you can say it. Tons of people can paint a pretty picture, but few can draw up something powerful. Kanye West doesn’t have the best flow, or the best lyricism, but what he does have, is a whole lot to say. So much to say, in fact, that he’ll interrupt country stars at award shows, play the race card on the President on national television, and interrupt shows to demand the microphone and freestyle to the crowd.

In the heavily commercialized music industry of today, many “artists” are simply just corporate put-ons with manufactured images, stories, and music. Listening to the radio, it’s easy to lose faith in hip-hop. Mainstream rap, once known for being controversial and provocative, has settled for being generic and shallow. Many artists refrain from taking major creative risks so they don’t lose their fame. Kanye West uses fame instead as a platform to break down conventions. Yeah, he can come off as a dick sometimes. But as he rapped in “New Slaves,” “you see it’s leaders, and it’s followers / but I’d rather be a dick than a swallower.”

He’s worth the whole damn bunch.

Follow Zach Schwartz on Twitter @zach_two_times and read his blog at http://www.zachtwotimes.blogspot.com

above: West performing in Atlantic City during December of last year