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A Will Cleveland Pop-Ed: Kanye West Is a Genius

I have an unhealthy love for Drake. This has been clearly stated and admitted. But I recognize his shortcomings. My love for Kanye West moves beyond these borders. Kanye doesn’t recognize his own shortcomings. (Actually, he might recognize his own limitations and weaknesses, but he is so verbose about his genius that we might overlook his acute self-awareness.)

There has been a new wave of Kanye vitriol and think pieces following the release of his new video for Bound 2 earlier this week. (Aside: How great is it that Kanye chose to premiere his video on Ellen? I feel like that is the ultimate joke that Kanye is playing on us.) One of my good friends on Facebook posited the following:

"Could any one of you nice and intelligent people explain Kanye to me? Just watched the Bound 2 video and I must confess I haven't seen/heard anything so silly and devoid of musical quality since … ehhh … well since that MIA thing." 

That created a lively and stirring debate through social media. And while that might seem like an oxymoron, this worthwhile debate through social media highlights the awe-inspiring awesomeness of Kanye. Unlike any artist of this generation, he gets people talking. You very rarely encounter a passionate, well-educated music fan that is indifferent about Kanye. He forces you to have an opinion.

My favorite response during this debate? That came from my awesome friend, Jim:

"The songwriting on Yeezus is erratic (as he recorded it so quickly), but at times its stunning — a couple of times he addresses slavery (Black Skinhead, New Slaves), and the song with the Nina Simone sample (Blood on the Leaves) is awe-inspiring in its production, as is Black Skinhead. The album is also funny and self-deprecating at times, such as in I Am a God ('hurry up with my damn croissant'). This album will absolutely be in my top five for the year, but in terms of visceral impact, however, it was second to none."

Jim followed that up with:

"I know that its pretty funny that a 56-year-old man would feel such affinity for Kanye West, but honestly, he's moved me more that virtually any other musician (except probably Radiohead) over the past five years. I think he's an absolute musical genius, flawed as he is as a human being) ..." 

I am 29, Jim is 56, but we have both been moved to deep introspection and awe by Kanye's music.

Kanye think is a musical genius and visionary. Outside of maybe one or two others in this digital generation, Kanye has done more to push musical boundaries than anyone, especially in the hip hop realm. And while others, including Jim, may disagree with this, I think Bound 2 is one of the most interesting songs on the album. I love the honesty with which he approaches his relationship, and I love the Charlie Wilson feature. The video is completely nuts and ridiculous, but I think it is also self-deprecating and tongue-in-cheek.

From the wonderful comments section on Stereogum: "Riding a motorcycle with a topless woman on your lap seems unsafe." And then there is, "So, Kim takes off her top for a music video but won't in a porno? (*Kanye scream sound*) Heuuhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh?!?!" But my personal favorite is: "Not sure if troll or genius…All this is too meta for me, probably." That was met with: "It’s both maybe. Or it's one because it's the other. I'm not sure."

It's probably too meta for all of us, but it is sure great fun to debate it endlessly. Kanye delivered one of his trademarked meta-rants at his show this week at Brooklyn's Barclays Center. He obviously wants to raise the consciousness of the listening public. During this rant (and while reportedly wearing a jeweled mask that made his head resemble a giant disco ball), he espoused on the importance of filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky and the brilliance of inventor/visionary Nikola Tesla. Kanye offered, "If I look to this side of me or the other side of me, or if I look on the Internet of if I'm reading, and I don't see somebody that's 36 years old that made it this far with nobody that told them they couldn't do it this much … So don't never let them make you think that for one moment I'm going insane! 'Cause I sit back and see shit and think, 'AM I THE ONLY ONE THAT'S NOT CRAZY? … BUT EVERY CELEBRITY SO GODDAMN SCARED OF LOSING EVERYTHING, THAT THEY WILL NEVER SAY NOTHING TO YOU. If y'all see that shit too … sometimes I gotta keep the truth true. I gotta keep it so true." Kanye is for the masses. He cares. He wants us to grow.

Kanye is probably playing us all. He is all about image. He embraces the silliness of celebrity and Kim Kardashian (at least he got here to do something she is good at in this video). His lush, textured style as a producer is unrivaled. Of course, Kanye completely subverted himself with the dark and minimalistic style of Yeezus. But he is probably foreshadowing the direction of rap music to come. That can already be heard on Pusha T's excellent My Name Is My Name album. Kanye has a wonderful ear for samples. That Brenda Lee sample on Bound 2 is nuts. I love the contradictions in his lyrics, how he tries to balance (or wrestle with) the trappings of celebrity and his materialistic, opulent visions of his life. He's a brilliant social commentator and he embraces his dueling natures as a celebrity, father and trailblazer.
A Will Cleveland Pop-Ed: Kanye West Is a Genius Reviewed by Will Cleveland on 11/21/2013 Rating: 5

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