no one will ever accuse kanye of apathy. but they accuse him of everything else under the sun. the biggest thing is that he takes himself too seriously, except that perception stems from something misunderstood about the misunderstood genius of kanye west.
it’s hard to remember that when he released his now classic album the college dropout kanye wasn’t considered a viable star/rapper. he had produced multiple tracks off of jay z’s the blueprint and had gained the reputation of music’s most promising hip hop producer. no one told kanye that was where he was expected to stop, and for years he fought the perception as only a producer. when he was finally allotted the opportunity to release his first solo album, the unthinkable happened in the way of a brutal car accident. with his jaw wired shut, he took disaster and made opportunity as evidenced with his first single ‘through the wire’.
since then, kanye has only ever trailblazed ahead. ‘jesus walks’ is the kind of thumping anthem that any party atmosphere has heard, but the song’s lyrical content was cause for controversy in the production booth. rap music was dominated by gangster themes and a song that earnestly explores the relationship between music and faith was not expected to sell well. but it did.
for late registration, kanye employed composer jon brion to produce and write the songs with him. much in the same way that soul samples were uncommon in 2004, a full orchestra for songs about blood diamonds and his mama were even more genre-breaking*.
*in my opinion, anyone who ever says that he is a bad lyricist should look at the opening verse of crack music which is ballsy and audacious from first listen on:
graduation is possibly his safest album, but it gave the mainstream world daft punk. as a band, dp had thrived underground, but its usage for the album’s lead single literally could trace them to composing the score for a disney flick and winning the grammy for best album.
808s is really kanye’s first wrench in his discography and because of this it was misunderstood at its release. it doesn’t have the trademark soul or hooks or rapping. instead it utilizes autotune and weepy lyrics. it was a departure, for sure, but it gave the world drake and the weeknd and the game and many more. none of those artists exist without this album.
following his public controversy with taylor swift*, kanye relinquishes his celebrity for a while and returns with the monstrous (er, forgive the pun) album my beautiful dark twisted fantasy. the album in its short life has already been anointed as one of the greatest albums of all-time and it’s easy to see why. it takes a career and takes the best parts and culminates it into a thumping, towering work. the album has his trademark personality, his autotune, his sampling, his earnestness, his guest spots; and puts it all together to create a singular work. that was its genius and it marks the beginning of a period of artistry over popularity that continues today.
*kanye’s reaction at the vmas marks two important steps in the career of hip hop’s biggest visionary. the first is that it freed him from a public persona. he was always cage-y (just ask mike myers), but up until then, he was someone who was considered apart of music elites. no one would invite kanye to the party after and thus kanye as a singular act begins.
the second thing it did was it is the beginning of kanye speaking out against the whitewashing of music. within the last year, kanye has spoken on bbc, jimmy kimmel live, and late night with seth meyers about how african american artists cannot win against white artists (as evidence by him never winning any of his record 21 grammys against a white artist). this has propelled mr. west to an activist regardless of if he would appreciate the label.
yeezus is the kind of album that shirks any kind of descriptor. but it isn’t a middle finger to his fans like other difficult albums have been (in utero, anyone?). instead, it is an album made by a celebrity who has the eyes of the world and chooses to point them to something that matters because it’s different and that difference is harsh.
is kanye perfect? no. but no one has tried to frame him as such. instead, he has created ten years of revolutionary work and with word that another album could drop any day, he has refused to ever sit idly by. now, regardless of if you like his music or not, he is someone who demands respect or at least our attention.