I’m about to say something that might not be an overwhelmingly popular statement…or at least amongst a great deal of my friends. Kanye West…is actually pretty good.
I said it.
This has been brewing for a little while now since Rebecca (one of my favourite people on the planet) got me listening to him. She said to me that his track ‘I am a God’ just helps her get moving and improves her mood no end. At the time, I was very much in the mind set of ‘you have got to be kidding me’ – but then I realised I hadn’t really listened to his music ever. I’d let the media representation of him colour my opinions. So to try and get my head around what Rebecca was feeling (we tend to have quite similar tastes) I spent a week just listening to his albums, and do you know what? It was actually kind of awesome.
I have to say I enjoyed ‘808’s and Heartbreaks’ more than ‘Yeezus’, but I’m going to focus on these two albums as they’re both very different releases.
There’s a reason I don’t like ‘Yeezus’ all that much. It’s mostly because it triggers a personal discomfort for me, and that is literally emulating God. I’m not religious, but I am christened and confirmed in the Church of England, so whilst I don’t follow the faith, I have a deeply held respect for it in some strange way. It’s like I REALLY don’t like it when DJ’s pull the ‘Jesus on the crucifix’ pose – it’s so offensive to me. You aren’t a God, and you’re certainly not the crucified son of one, so fucking well quit it. Kanye calling himself out as a vision of Christ brings about similar feelings for me although not nearly as much, as he’s backing up what he’s saying, creating a character with his words – it’s a graven image still, but I seemingly find it easier to take when there’s reason in it – not just posing.
‘I am a God’ is obviously the track that sticks in my craw as this really is the ‘media monster’ version of Kanye, and the thing is there’s more to him than that, which I have found through listening to his music. I do give him my respect, begrudgingly so, that he (and Kim) is basically playing the world. I don’t like what they do, but it’s pretty damn clever if you want the life they have. They’ve got the marketing game down, and everyone’s sucking it up. When the game stops, they’ll still be in the money (or at least Kim will, she’s a shrewd business woman), and they may even be able to have a modicum of a normal life if they so choose it. ‘Black Skinhead’ is the other side of the coin – this is a brilliant look at America and their reactions to a Black man being successful, the politics behind that and there’s something about it that sounds like a call to revolution. I also really love the production on the track, there’s a certain industrial like quality to it – it’s noisy and uncomfortable – and I love the use of breathing as a percussive element. I’ve said this about other music as well, there’s something about breathing, or rhythmic breathing that creates this sense of panic; or claustrophobia. I’m constantly fascinated by it. ‘New Slaves’ is of a similar ilk – he’s a spectacularly talented lyricist, and when focussed on the world around him, the difficulties that he has faced, and not the cliched rap narrative of wealth and the trappings that entails, he does sound absolutely revolutionary, and I never really saw it before because I didn’t let myself see it.
There is a huge void of difference between ‘Yeezus’ and ‘808’s and Heartbreaks’ – 808’s has an underlying sweetness to it. It’s got a real 80s soul vibe and yes, Kanye can sing (or is that auto tune?). This was a big surprise to me. He is no one trick pony. ‘Heartless’, ‘Paranoid’ and ‘Robocop’ are all huge favourites of mine, and I can see how this album has had a big impact, stylistically, on the likes of Drake, Kid Cudi (who Kanye has had a very public spat with), Frank Ocean etc. It isn’t lyrically light, even if the sound is much lighter and of a different style, in fact, the lyrics in some songs are really terribly sad….
“I’m not loving you, way I wanted to
What I had to do, had to run from you”
At the time of writing the album he had finished a serious relationship and his Mother had passed away, and you can see that he channelled what was going on for him in to his music, and that is the action of a true artist, whether you like his work or not isn’t the point here.
As I mentioned previously, the media monster version of Kanye is what a lot of people see and then try to ignore – easier said than done if you’re constantly surrounded by popular media. Luckily I’m really not, but even in my world, his influence is all pervasive. I actually feel sorry for him that he has to live his life under this lens, but on the other hand, he did put himself there. When he has a public meltdown, or strop at another artist, it feels like watching a person slowly unravel, mentally, and that is not something that anyone should take pleasure in doing. If only he could let his music speak, rather than trying to start some beef to get people talking about him, it would make him much more credible in a lot of people’s eyes, but then maybe he doesn’t want that – maybe he enjoys this unseemly business of creating drama. Sad though that may be.
Overall though, whilst I will never be Kanye’s biggest fan,
there are certain songs I really like. I might not make a habit of listening to him regularly, but I certainly won’t shy away from listening if the opportunity is there. Now if I could just have a version of him without all the bullshit that would be an amazing thing, not just for me, but probably for him as well.