When I was six years old, I used to play a game in the summer called “Saving the Kingdom.” In this game, I would recruit all the other kids in my neighborhood to pretend that we were trying to save the kingdom we lived in from mysterious and dangerous outside forces. At least, that’s what I told my friends to get them to play. In reality, the game was a shameless ploy on my part to not have to do anything for myself all summer. Day in and day out, I, the self-proclaimed queen, would sit on the patio with a ragged crown of dried dandelions on my head, sipping on lemonade, while my friends did everything I told them to do, all under the guise of protecting the kingdom. It was empowering, the one summer of ruling my own little world.
Of course, it all came tumbling down when my mom caught on to what was occurring in her own backyard. My crown was thrown away, and I was sat down for a crash course on what it means to be humble. Under my mother’s watchful eye, both my ego and my ambitions of becoming a queen slowly died down.
My first Kanye West song was “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” when I was in eighth grade. My middle school self, completely contrasting my six-year-old self, was restrained and too shy to speak up in front of anyone. My self-esteem, much like the majority of other prepubescent kids, was at an all time low. However, as soon as I heard the unapologetic, “Excuse me? Was you saying something? / uh uh, you can’t tell me nothing,” I was hooked. The energy and arrogance emitting from this song reminded me of the little girl I used to be, who had endless self-confidence and dreams to the sky and beyond. By the last line, “Then you can't tell me nothing, right?” I felt energized, self-assured and completely in control of my life. It was then, in eighth grade, that I had an important realization:
Kanye West’s narcissism gives me life.
Much like his celebrity persona, Kanye West’s music somehow manages to simultaneously say both “fuck you” and “I’m too important to give a fuck about you.” In “H.A.M” the combination of driving beat and vigorous, in-your-face lyrics brings a pulsing energy that nearly implodes the speakers. By the time the song gets to the chorus, you know both you and Kanye West are about to go “HAM / Hard As a Muthaf-cker.” Similarly, “Stronger” is just as empowering. “There’s a thousand yous, there’s only one of me” makes you want to own your originality, and the constant muted “make it better” in the background gives you the assertiveness to turn every surface you walk on into your own personal red carpet.
For me, Kanye West has helped in many different scenarios. If I needed pump up music before a big football game, I immediately blasted “Who Gon Stop Me.” If I needed a confidence booster before a competition, a huge test or an important moment in my life, I always put on “I am A God.” If I felt like I was going to die at the gym, I consistently played “No Church In The Wild” on repeat. On long car rides, my friends and I would roll down the windows and scream everyone’s favorite, “Gold Digger.” In every situation, Kanye West was there to provide some much-needed composure. And maybe that’s the reason why he is such a huge force in popular culture: there is a little part in everybody that wants to have that take no prisoners, self-absorbed confidence that his music inspires.
I want Kanye West to always keep obnoxiously calling people out on Twitter and to keep making songs that are the musical equivalent of rocking a leather outfit so that, one day in the future, I can hope to truly love myself as much as Kanye loves Kanye.