Michigan Daily Music Writers are sharing all of their thoughts on Kanye West. Stay tuned for more in the coming days, and check out our Life of Pablo review here.
Kanye West is an asshole: an incredibly talented, multifaceted, boundary-pushing asshole. But despite the feelings you may have about him as a person, to deny his societal clout and musical prowess is naïve. His ability to maintain an enormous global fan base despite his aggressive persona and lyrical styles is both impressive and puzzling. He shames women and other social groups, but wraps it in such impressive packaging that it is hard to resist. Listeners are in love with the madness — the suspense of not knowing what the icon will do next. West’s views are often problematic and offensive, leaving it up to the listeners to decide if the power of his music is enough to outweigh his, at times, unsavory personality. As a young woman, I have a hard time justifying my support of the artist in his often sexist and unkind artistry.
Take West’s “Cold,” feat. DJ Khaled, as just one example of ’Ye’s paradoxically brilliant and distasteful nature. In just the first verse of this track alone, West disses PETA, brings up monetary inequalities between races in America and reminds listeners that he can snag a “bad bitch without no flaws.” The song goes on to name drop Anna Wintour, model Anja Rubik, Jay-Z and Wiz Khalifa. West wants you to know that famous people respect him too, not just public peasants.
It wouldn’t be a true Yeezy track unless the rapper called someone out in a not-so-subtle fashion. As the track was released in 2012, it comes as no surprise that West’s scorching gaze fell upon Kris Humphries. It was around this time that ’Ye’s future fiancé was involved with Mr. Humphries, prompting ’Ye to vent his jealousy in the most appropriate way possible — an aggressive verse threatening to get Humphries dropped from his team.
“Cold” is arresting, surprising and not for everyone, just like the artist who wrote it. Its soundscape is abrasive, with repetitive beeping tones, yells and coughs from West and Khaled. Lines like “Don’t talk about style cause I embarrass you / Shut the fuck up when you talk to me ‘fore I embarrass you” are not for the weak of heart, but neither is West. The song hints at the artist’s ever rising dreams for himself, like being the creative director of Hermes, and his never-faltering self-confidence. His belief in himself is both enviable and overbearing. It proves that Kanye really does love Kanye more than anyone else. (Sorry, Kim.)
West is a prime example of the relationship between an artist, their work and public opinion. Is it the public’s job to differentiate between an artist and their work, then judge each accordingly? Or are artists to be taken as a whole? These questions become even more convoluted when the artist in question is guilty of transgressions that are deemed essentially harmless — making sexist comments or being elitist, rather than committing a hard crime. I think that these kinds of questions can only be answered on an individual level. West is undeniably iconic and deserves to be honored for the art he has produced and inspired. I think that Yeezus is a masterpiece and that West is nothing if not driven. But, he’s also a jerk. And I am still unsure how exactly to think of him, and am doubtful that I ever will.