October 3, 2013

WANG | I Am A God: In Defense of Kanye

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Go ahead and jizz over the Breaking Bad finale, but if it’s real drama you’re looking for, please turn your attention to the slow crash and burn that is the one-man spectacle of Kanye West’s interview with BBC Radio 1. Despite its release nearly two weeks ago, the epic long-form rant is still making headlines after Jimmy Kimmel’s (adorable) spoof on Late Night provoked Kanye into his typical M.O.: an all-caps Twitter tirade against an innocuous target.

Of course Kanye calls the interview (as only Kanye would), “the first piece of honest media in years” — um, okay. Prone to speaking in nonsensical superlatives, especially in the interview with BBC’s Zane Lowe, he says a number of seriously obnoxious things, mostly in third person, about information we probably already know and information we were probably better off not knowing. Memorable moments include Kanye’s impassioned claim to have invented the leather jogging pant — appare

ntly the impractical worldwide trend we are all sporting — and Kanye’s fervent proclamation that fashion is in his DNA, that it is coded in him just as racing is coded in the glitch in Wreck-It Ralph (“Vanellope Von Schweetz, they broke her car!” he cries twice).

Overall, it was an hour-long masturbatory piece — of Kanye getting off on himself, of Kanye saying insufferable things like, “I’m postmodernist, at best, as a career. I’m a futurist, mentally.” In the aftermath of the interview, little else has spawned besides the Kimmel spoof, a few quote-heavy Buzzfeed articles and the typical meme-tastic reactionary pieces to Kanye’s now commonplace vanity.

As Kimmel says, “Does Kanye know you don’t have to be your own hype man?” It’s true that Kanye has his regular routine of doing generally ridiculous things in the name of self-aggrandizement, which is, of course, tiring.  But also true is the fact that the public and the media are no better, regurgitating his lines and slapping them with the umbrella label of “vanity,” which is also, actually, really tiring. If Kanye is The Boy Who Cried Wolf, having said too much to be heard anymore, is our dismissal of him any less egotistical than the artist’s own egotism?

If you only see Kanye a crazy narcissist, you’ve taken away his right to be a multidimensional human being with fear and compassion and vulnerabilities. And he has all these things, which he expresses earnestly over and over again to the public, who over and over again fail to listen. As the man who produced and sang (horribly, as he admits in genuine modesty) an entire album of heartbreak, Kanye has made a career of putting his true self on the line as an artist, which is why we see as many good parts as we see bad. We see the raw shit and the progressive shit, the gone-too-far experimental shit and, every once in a while, the really good shit. I mean, “Mercy” is still playing on every major station more than a year later, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy scored a 10 on Pitchfork — it was the first non-reissue album to receive a perfect score since 2002. All that sincerity is still there, obscured at times under the weight of his ego, but Kanye’s bravado and self-reflection have culminated in work that is both radio-friendly and complex.

We forget that a lot. We forget that his tracks are catchy, are New Age, are layered in sonic embellishments, because he titles them “I Am a God” and suddenly all we can do is boringly mock him for his vanity. As Vulture’s Jody Rosen explains, “Anyone who gets riled up about ‘I Am a God,’ or about the album’s title [Yeezus], is missing the joke — or rather, taking the bait. More than ever, West is aiming to provoke.”

In the end, you can’t separate Kanye the artist from Kanye the person, because his music is born from his arrogance — truly. He uses his extreme self-love as an act of warfare, as a defense mechanism for his own self-preservation and as the fuel for all his creativity. He can be a god, or a fashion designer, or a rapper, or a narcissist, or Jay Z’s best friend, or the asshat that impregnates Kim Kardashian, but you have to accept him altogether. And in all that white noise of his BBC interview, buried under all his brash bullshit, there are strokes of small genius too. If you listen hard enough, you may actually hear some stuff that matters, like this:

“We got this new thing called classism. It’s racism’s cousin. This is what we do to hold people back. This is what we do. And we got this other thing that’s also been working for a long time when you don’t have to be racist anymore. It’s called self-hate. It works on itself. It’s like real estate of racism. Where just like that, when someone comes up and says something like, ‘I am a god,’ everybody says ‘Who does he think he is?’ I just told you who I thought I was! A god! I just told you. That’s who I think I am. Would it have been better if I had a song that said ‘I am a n****a?’ Or if I had a song that said ‘I am a gangster?’ Or if I had a song that said ‘I am a pimp?’ All those colors and patinas fit better on a person like me, right? But to say you are a god, especially when you got shipped over to the country that you’re in, and your last name is a slave owner’s, how could you say that? How could you have that mentality?”