What is happening to Kanye West? At this point, it’s anyone’s guess.
Everything that can be said has been said about the Chicago rapper’s abnormal behavior and illogical ramblings over the past month, from his belief in “dragon energy” to his claim that African-Americans in the 19th century chose to be enslaved.
It’s safe to say these accounts simply continue the infamous image that West has constructed since his musical debut in the early 2000’s. For many, however, his most recent statements have damaged their view of the artist beyond repair.
Kanye West is certainly no stranger to criticism. The musician’s legacy is riddled with similar moments, both well-received and overtly reviled; however, these events tend to portray West as a tortured, misunderstood artist — an image that West adores.
However, with the latest controversy, this image has come into question. While Kanye’s fanbase has always tended to accept even the most extreme of his rants, media outlets and fans alike are hesitant to fully embrace the rapper’s famous narcissism this time around.
This change can best be observed through the comparison of two articles from the music publication Pitchfork. Though both articles are written by two different authors, the illustration of shifting public opinion in reaction to West’s conduct is clear. The closing paragraph taken from a 2015 article titled “Kanye West, the Antihero” portrays him as a champion of oppressed minorities:
“Taking in the full arc of Kanye’s career, he is more glorious anti-hero than activist; his war is a vigilante mission against those trying to disparage ‘black people with ideas.’ As a black man who behaves like his (proverbial) white in-laws’ home is his own, he continually sets an example for the ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothin’’ generation he has raised up, showing they have the right to resist and the right to exist.”
However, a piece published this past Thursday, “Kanye West and Why the Myth of Genius Must Die,” paints a starkly disparate picture:
“There will be no Kanye album good enough to wash out the taste of the last two weeks. The circumstances are too ugly, the human stakes too high. When you have worn a [Make America Great Again] hat and suggested 400 years of slavery represents ‘a choice,’ no matter your intentions, there are no clear paths back to grace.”
Throughout the sea of thinkpieces published in the wake of Kanye’s recent tirades, the recurrent use of one word stands out: genius. Though the term is usually bestowed on cutting-edge creators and forward-thinking innovators, West wears the title with pride and habitually applies to himself. Over the years, he’s repeatedly compared himself to Steve Jobs and Walt Disney. But is it true?
Regardless of his behavior, Mr. West’s credentials as an artist cannot be understated. The influence of his albums exceeds hip-hop and reaches artists of all genres through both direct inspiration and consequential impact; his 2008 opus, “808s and Heartbreak,” may go down as one of the most important works of hip-hop of the last decade.
While I admit that I don’t enjoy all of his work, I could never deny that West was one of the most impactful artists of his era. His talent for breaking the mold is admirable and readily distinguishes the musician from his contemporaries, many of whom would not exist without the groundbreaking achievements founded by West’s music.
Nevertheless, Kanye’s desire for recognition tends to get in the way of his art. In light of his previous antics, many predicted that Kanye would be remembered more for his troubled persona than for his artistic talents; in many ways, that fear has become a reality.
Arguably, the reason my parents know Kanye West exists is not due to his creative output; I doubt my dad could name a single song from “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” They only know he’s a controversial figure who married Kim Kardashian.
The image that instantly comes to mind when West’s name enters the conversation is not of the soul-sampling producer, but the rambunctious tabloid icon. In the eyes of some fans, the latest controversies — including Kanye’s endorsement of President Trump — deprive the musician of any credibility and call his entire discography into question.
After all that’s happened, should Kanye West still be considered a genius? I believe this would be the better question to ask: was Kanye West ever a genius in the first place?
If one were to go about answering this inquiry simply based solely on his achievements, the answer should be an overwhelming yes. The artist’s approach to music shaped an entire generation and forever changed the way that music is marketed, sold and consumed. Music will forever be indebted to Kanye West.
The subject of separating the artist from their work is an oft-discussed topic, especially where hip-hop is concerned. While I don’t know Kanye personally, I don’t believe him to be morally reprehensible. Rather, I see West as a misguided, egotistical visionary who doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut. Nevertheless, I still consider West as a musical genius in many respects.
This isn’t to say I endorse any of West’s remarks by any means. For the record, I rarely agree with anything Kanye says, music-related or otherwise. Nevertheless, it would be absurd and unfair to deprive West of his title due to his political affiliation and personal beliefs.
What Kanye chooses to believe is his business; despite his ridiculous, objectively false claims, his principles don’t pose a threat to anyone — at least not yet.
In short, either Kanye West has always been a genius, or he never was. Despite his fervent claims to the contrary, Kanye West is not a god; he’s a mortal man. Just like any other human, he can have flaws and make mistakes; those things shouldn’t negate his achievements. However, this also means that his actions will have to have consequences.
History will either remember the artist as an imperfect mastermind or a self-destructive fraud. Considering the musician frequently deals in such extremes, it’s difficult to perceive any other outcome. Sadly, the verdict may already be out of Kanye West’s control.