Kanye West: The struggle between man and celebrity
I read a review not long after Yeezus came out that said there were two sides to Kanye, the man and the celebrity. I however argue there are three sides to him: the musician, a brilliant and experimental producer whose lyrics have helped set off a new world of rap; the celebrity, a self-centered madman who will do what he wants, when he wants, regardless of anyone else; and the man, someone whose very existence we’re not sure of at times, but he’s there. You can tell the man loves his family, and cares about inequality and injustice; you can tell the musician wants to bring rap to a higher art form, away from the “hoodrat” stereotype common in 1990s rap; you know the celebrity, his antics making the news worldwide.
I love Kayne as a musician, as a producer. One of the best things that happened at Otakon 2013 was being in a bar, in costume, arguing about the highs and lows of Kanye’s discography with friends and a group of black people I’d never met in my life. I love that 808s was such a huge departure from Graduation. I love the big, over the top, dramatic feel of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I was impressed at how gritty and raw and minimalistic Yeezus was in comparison. His musical background and influences go beyond traditional hip hop, as he’s worked with everyone from Elton John to Daft Punk to Bon Iver to JAY Z and more. Regardless of how you feel about Kanye as a man or a celebrity, if you sit down and listen to his works or works he’s had a hand in, you can’t help but at least respect the work he puts into things.
I hate Kanye as a celebrity. He’s admittedly self-centered, with grandiose illusions of his place in the world. He thinks he can charge $120 for a plain white tee shirt. He interrupts acceptance speeches to speak his mind. He accuses others of blatant racism. His twitter account used to bring me a bizarre sense of joy, before he deleted all of his tweets. Things like how he has to dress Kim to keep her from embarrassing him, how you’ll never be as great as Kanye West. Statements about how he’s crucified the way Jesus was, about how no one will ever understand him while he’s alive like the great artists of years past. Kanye the celebrity makes himself a focal point whether you want to notice or not. But he will assault your senses until you do.
Kanye the man has started to show himself more with the birth of his daughter, North. He’s always been there, fighting with Kanye the celebrity for Kanye the musician’s attention. This is a man who cares about his family, loves his mother, regrets things he’s done to Taylor Swift, things he’s said about George Bush. Kanye the man I feel has to make up for Kanye the celebrity’s antics, because after something crazy the celebrity has done, we eventually get a rather humanistic and often times remorseful reflection by the man. Kanye the man deals with what many do: family, social injustice, crises of faith, the pain of heartbreak. We aren’t graced with Kanye the man often, but when we are, we almost forget about the celebrity. Until the next incident.
Kanye the man and Kanye the celebrity fight hard over what music Kanye the musician will create. More often than not, though, I feel Kanye the man wins out. His earlier albums The College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation almost mark the rise from Kanye the man to Kanye the celebrity. Him dropping from the everyday life of the man to follow his dreams of fame and fortune, him achieving those goals, and him ultimately graduating to being the celebrity.
From The College Dropout, songs like Spaceship, All Falls Down, and Jesus Walks talk about his everyday life, his convictions, and how they affect his yearning for recognition. How his want of fame leaves him nervous and almost shallow, worried about what others think of him. Late Registration gives us We Major, as if he’s finally breaking through, but still gives us Hey Mama and Roses, showing love for those he cares about the most as he rises to stardom, and at times hoping he can use his fame for the benefit of his family. We have Addiction, giving hints into how his personal demons affect his life. And we have Gone, as if saying ‘Kanye the man isn’t here anymore. Kanye the celebrity is here.’ The of course, we have Graduation, marking what I feel is truly the arrival of Kanye the celebrity, overtaking Kanye the man’s life. We have Champion and Stronger and Can’t Tell Me Nothing, as if Kanye’s telling off his haters. Good Life, an over the top telling of his coming into, well, the good life. And of course, Homecoming. “Do you think about me now and then? Because I’m coming home again.” Home, of course, as a new person, as a celebrity, and not necessarily the man many once knew.
However, all this fame and fortune took its toll on Kanye the man’s world. Is not 808s and Heartbreak a testament of Kanye the man’s emotions to the world? Honestly, think about a lot of those songs. Say You Will, Robocop, Coldest Winter, Bad News, and more… heartfelt songs filled with painful memories and angst. Pinocchio, a song dealing with the fact that he is now this celebrity, and he may no longer be seen as the man. That whole album felt like him coming to terms with how the celebrity was affecting the man’s personal life. That album was the man’s album, an album for him, regardless of what critics and fans say.
The celebrity fought back for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The celebrity brought us that weird short film Runaway. The celebrity thought he could act. The celebrity filled this album with strings and choirs, grand production values, and a guest list most Hollywood parties would envy. And yet, the man still brought us great lyrics. Power is almost a struggle between the two for dominance in how Kanye presents himself to the public, with the celebrity ultimately winning out. Monster, the celebrity’s admittance of his and the media’s effects on the man’s life. All of the Lights, commentary on the celebrity’s inability to get away from the persona he’s created for the man, and how this affects relationships. Runaway, a warning from the man screaming that the celebrity will ruin anyone who decides to keep a relationship with him. Blame Game, a fight between a woman and Kanye’s various sides, over who caused the fallout. (Personally, I could see this as the celebrity blaming the woman, and the man accusing the celebrity of driving her away) And of course, See Me Now, the celebrity almost rubbing his fame into everyone’s face.
Yeezus however seemed to be the musician telling both the man and the celebrity to take a backseat. Gritty, raw, dark, primal… Kanye at his most musically enthralling. The sounds were the musician’s work, not caring about much else. The lyrics, the man screaming at the injustices filling his world. Abandoned was the celebrity’s grandeur and refinement from MBDTF, and instead replaced with the celebrity’s in your face self centered views of himself, such as in I Am A God. Hold My Liquor, the celebrity’s ode to rough sex, alcohol, and other addictions his fame has fueled. Black Skinhead and New Slaves, the man’s take on modern day racism and hip hop culture in respect to the black community and society at large. Yeezus was a work of all three sides of Kanye coming to terms with where they stand after the celebrity’s antics. Where all of them collaborated to create an album that truly said KANYE in relation to how the media has turned him into what he is, how the fame has affected the man, how the musician craves to explore and innovate.
While I hate Kanye the celebrity, I can understand where Kanye the man is coming from. I can love and appreciate where the musician takes pride and puts effort into his work. My relationship with Kanye is a complex one. And yet, here I am. My drive to work accentuated with a Kanye mix blaring through my stereo. Unashamed of my love of his music.
I just wish the man would get to the celebrity before the celebrity fucks something up.