November 28, 2010

Seriously, Kanye?

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“Writers have to know things … They have to know things about life. Musicians don’t,” Fran Lebowitz, professional cynic and writer, declares in the recent HBO documentary about her life, Public Speaking. Lebowitz was hired by Andy Warhol to write a column for his Interview magazine in 1970 and then continued on to write two well-regarded books of essays. She now speaks and contributes articles to various magazines despite the nearly three decade-long “writer’s blockade” that has kept her from producing another book. Martin Scorsese documents this fascinating woman through various speeches and interviews that reveal her humorous insight in regards to anything and everything intellectual.Her point is valid. Music does not inherently or necessarily stem from any heightened understanding of reality the way that good writing is thought to (though it can). Music comes from talented musicians who practice a holistic craft. They are not forced to know about life the way writers are, only about music.This is a concept we often forget in regard to our artists — most notably in recent months, Kanye West. West has been derided for his outlandish comments in relation to just about everything. In a recent Today Show interview with Matt Lauer, Kanye was forced to speak on his previous comment that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Flustered by Lauer’s directness, Kanye gave a half-hearted apology after hearing that George Bush called the comment “one of the most disgusting moment’s of [his] presidency.” Lauer reveled in the moment, watching his words bind the hip-hop sensation in his seat. This interview was an absolutely ridiculous display. First, let me speak briefly to Bush’s comment. The fact that Bush considers a crazy pop-star’s hyperbole one of the most disgusting moments of his presidency is a little disgusting in and of itself. The list of things Bush screwed up while in office is too long to enumerate here and the fact that getting his feelings hurt by an over-paid man-child with microphone privileges tops the list shows that he still has absolutely no understanding over what exactly a president does. But the larger point I am trying to make is that Lauer and Bush alike are suffering from debilitating cases of “taking Kanye seriously.” It seems like the epidemic is spreading and it’s discrediting his music. Let’s learn a lesson from Ms. Lebowitz and let Kanye frolic and make his music. He has proven himself talented time and time again, especially on his most recent album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which has been irrefutably deemed at this point a masterpiece. This same issue caused a media frenzy after the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Kanye took the stage after Taylor Swift’s win for Best Female Video and announced, “Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time” (never actually saying that she should have won). The media went crazy, quick to call Kanye himself a racist. Allow me to diagnose retroactively a brief outbreak of, “taking Kanye seriously.” Was the stunt immature and unbecoming of the emcee? Definitely. But, Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” video was one of the best videos I too have ever seen and seeing teenybopper Swift win the award for “You Belong With Me,” a sappy melodrama of bland middle-American teenagers, was frustrating to say the least. Kanye is not a beacon of morality and social grace; he’s a loud-mouthed rapper that was offering his opinion at an inappropriate time.Kanye has said ridiculous things in the past and I assure you he will continue to say ridiculous things in the future. As long as he remains as jaded in the public eye as he is, he will forever be given opportunities to speak his mind and clear the air. But it’s a self-perpetuating process. We give him press to clear up his tarnished name and he gets defensive and says crazy things. The man is not an orator, he’s a rapper and a producer and a damn good one at that. If we ask Kanye what he thinks about politics we’re going to get a ridiculous response. If we ask him about hip-hop we’re going to get the opinion of a maestro, albeit coated in self-promoting boastfulness.Later in the film Lebowitz declares that there is “too much democracy in the culture not enough democracy in the society. There’s no reason to have democracy in the culture … the culture should be made by a natural aristocracy of talent … It should have to do with ‘how good are you?’”  This is a point that I feel we, as an audience, tend to lose sight of all too frequently. I have heard countless times from fans that they prefer artists that are socially responsible and insightful rather than over-inflated superstars like Kanye West. This misses the point entirely. Artists make art. They are not politicians who make policy nor are they judges who rule on right and wrong. They make music and they make it for the public. They are allowed to rule the world of music with authority, because they are simply better at it. Kanye does this, signing artists like John Legend and Kid Cudi and influencing their music through his label G.O.O.D. music. This is what Lebowitz is getting at, not necessarily an aristocracy, but a meritocracy. Kanye has earned his place as an authority in hip-hop, but not in politics. Let’s stop asking for his opinion on the latter.

Original Author: Adam Lerner