Is Kanye West the most significant musical figure of recent years? Well, he certainly seems to think so.
“I’m a creative genius, and there’s no other way to word it,” is one of West’s tamer pronouncements on a subject that has also seen him ranting: “Man, I’m the number one living and breathing rock star! I am Axl Rose! I am Jim Morrison! I am Jimi Hendrix!”
According to many of those working in the music and entertainment media, his regular declarations of his own brilliance have become the stuff of satire.
For many, West is a comical figure, both ringmaster and clown in a gaudy pop circus that only emphasizes the superficiality of contemporary celebrity culture. He is headlining the Wireless festival in the U.K. this weekend (July 4-6), his first shows there since his fantastically over-the-top Italian nuptials with socialite and sex-tape star Kim Kardashian, whom West has described as “the most beautiful woman of all time, like, arguably of human existence!”
After a ceremony described in the New York Post as “opulent enough for Florence’s Medici dynasty and tacky enough for reality TV”, fans hoping that West is refreshed and ready for the stage may be concerned by news that the couple spent their honeymoon retouching off-colour flowers on a wedding photo for Kardashian’s Instagram site, a process that apparently took four days and left the bride “exhausted.”
Never one to stop when he has already said more than enough, West went on to offer to redesign Instagram, which apparently fails to meet his exacting aesthetic standards. It is not alone. “The world as a whole is f—ing ugly,” he added.
It is easy to make fun of West as he lurches from absurd proclamation to furious meltdown, courting controversy with every outburst, a modus operandi that makes him either the greatest self-publicist of a self-obsessed age, or a hapless victim of his inflated ego and poor impulse control. Or maybe a bit of both. “If I was more complacent and let things slide, my life would be easier, but you all wouldn’t be as entertained,” he has sadly noted. “My misery is your pleasure.”
So, musically speaking, what does West do???
In short he is into sampling, concocting tracks from short sound bites of other recordings... from King Crimson to Shirley Bassey. West takes a pre-recorded hook and plugs it to death, as he manipulates multiple tracks, speeding things up, slowing them down, weaving disparate elements together into constantly shifting and mutating grooves with his own recorded elements, programmed drums, synths with some live instrumentation.
His subject matter, ranges from his complex relationship with faith with, “Jesus” to the tragedy of black-on-black crime. In a genre that has relentlessly romanticized criminality and anti-social behaviour while aggrandizing the superficial pleasures of ostentatious consumerism, West has proudly asserted his own middle-class 'gang-sta' values.
He raps about drug dealing, from the perspective of an aspiring hoodlum, as well as, from a socio-political observer. “Drug dealer buys Jordans, crackheads buy crack / And the white man gets paid off all of that,"
His music and lyrics have been labeled as the most blatantly ridiculous nonsense not worth paying any close attention to (“I’m like a fly Malcolm X: Buy Any Jeans Necessary”).
Packed with foul word play and multiple "N-Word" rhymes, the rapper can barely hold a note but with the use of Autotune and Vocoder, he has transformed himself into a robo-soul crooner!
Fascinated by money, art, fashion, film, design and technology, he has launched clothing lines, marketed his own shoes, opened chains of restaurants and hinted at extending into different product areas, from water bottles to architecture. “I believe that the world can be saved through design, and everything needs to actually be architected,” he has said, apparently with a straight face, (by the way . And if he lacks formal training in any of these disciplines, well, it never held him back in his chosen field).
West doesn’t play any instruments or read music. But he has learned to use computer recording technology to create songs that have proclaimed his divinity such as the outrageous “I Am A God,” a song revelling in contrariness (“Soon as they like you make ’em unlike you / Cause kissin’ people ass is so unlike you!”) before descending into a screaming fit about being made to wait for his damn croissants in a fancy French restaurant.
Anyone who gets upset by West’s messianism is likely taking pop music too seriously. It is both sad and funny, and pretty much blatantly ridiculous.
Some critics have questioned West’s sanity, and his pitched mood swings certainly seem to suggest some level of mania. West, typically, sees it differently: “I sit back and see s— and think ’Am I the only one that’s not crazy?’?”
But since when did we want our pop stars well-balanced?
West has noted. “You want me to be great, but you don’t ever want me to say I’m great?”