From his trendsetting fashion to his influential molding of pop’s landscape, here’s a few of the reasons to worship at the altar of Kanye. Illustration by James Ormiston.
Kanye West thrives on risk. The 36-year old musician has made a second career out of stirring up controversy and flexing his ego; he’s even named his new album Yeezus, for Christ’s sake, and after hearing the leaked copy we might just be ready to worship at his altar. Some of the stunts West has pulled would have shattered the careers of some, but thankfully (for us and for himself) West has a seemingly unstoppable bounty of talent and a track record of multiple game-changers to negate the hate. In fact, we wouldn’t hesitate to label him one of the most influential musicians of our generation—a strong statement to be sure, and one he makes himself often enough. It’s a claim backed up by some undeniable truths, and here’s five of them.
1. He’s changed the way we listen to pop music.
When West debuted “Black Skinhead” on Saturday Night Live, anyone who hadn’t heard Death Grips lost their shit. Framed by projections of snarling wolves, price tags reading NOT FOR SALE and the Ku Klux Klan, he turned politically charged vitriol into a performance reminiscent of Throbbing Gristle’s “Discipline” set to the beat of Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People”, served up to ears which probably hadn’t heard much (if any) of either. Here was distilled violence and the energy of a bomb—and it was still pure pop. The man can even take something as gratingly overused as Auto-Tune and make it sound good, completely blowing away expectations with the electro-heavy 808s and Heartbreak and wringing more emotion out of a synthesized wail than you’d ever expect. Though predicted to flop, the album is now considered to be one of the most influential in hip-hop’s history, and West’s willingness to experiment has shaped much of pop’s current landscape. It’s not only music that West has molded, however…
2. He captures the zeitgeist of the Modern Male.
In fitting with the diversity of his sound, Yeezy’s image has always gone against the grain of what hip-hop traditionally considers normal, and has influenced a lot of what defines the ‘normal’ male look (well, perhaps not with Givenchy kilts and Margiela crystal masks.) From the skinny jeans and custom suits of the 808s years to his current look of studded black leather, West always feels very now, or even slightly ahead of his time. His overall outlook is one of laid-back intelligence, his views generally liberal, and his love of style well-noted—although his popularization of shutter-shades has ensured that you can easily spot the douchebros at any given music festival since 2007.
3. He’s larger than life—in an endearingly human way.
When West made his now-infamous Taylor Swift gaffe at the VMAs in 2009, it was yet another checkmark on a growing list of outrageous, self-aggrandizing stunts and most people in the world collectively rolled their eyes. It’s these off-script moments, however, that make West so endearing. Haven’t we all, at some point, wanted to tell off George Bush on live TV (bonus points for Mike Meyer’s panicked expression) or dispute the results of an award ceremony in person? West is a character, but we still see ourselves in him—even if the image adds 50 pounds to the ego.
4. The political equation.
Injections of politics into your musical vein is not only a cool way to have credibility (provided you know what you’re talking about), it can also add a depth to your work that banal things like emotions can’t convey. Kanye has never been afraid to speak his mind about what he believes, for better or for worse, and Yeezus might be his fiercest statement yet—a statement even more intriguing following the over-the-top capitalist braggadocio of Watch The Throne. While likely broad by necessity, the messages he’s conveying are still important, and the way he’s doing it—via Top 40—in the grand tradition of past musical stars-turned-activists.
5. He has a sense of humor.
Overplayed “Imma let you finish” jokes and gay fish references aside, West is often a source of mockery, good-humored and otherwise. While it might be surprising for a man perceived to have such a bloated ego, the YeYe pop god often has his tongue crammed tightly against cheek. It’s a strange, introspective kind of humor to be sure; like much of his output, Kanye is doin’ it mostly for Kanye. You can experience a taste of it in the album skits, TV appearances (rumored Game of Thrones guest spot as Kanye Westeros is definitely not happening, though) and even in many of his over-the-top egotistical extravagances. And while his many amusing and oftentimes blatantly goofy tweets have all been deleted for the sake of Yeezus promotion, at least you can still get old favorites hand-stitched and framed.~
Kanye West’s Yeezus is out today. You can read Arto Linday’s take on Watch The Throne here.
Published June 17, 2013.