In Defense of Kanye West

In Defense of Kanye West

I preface this by saying I know very little about Kanye West (much like many of those still criticizing him halfway into the week after the Grammy Awards). Were it not for social media and 24-hour news organizations blowing up many issues that aren’t deserving of time and space, I would only know Kanye West as the guy who was picked as the background music for what I consider the greatest juggling video ever made:

But still…as arrogant, rude, or whatever people want to say Kanye is for approaching the stage as Beck accepted his Grammy (and for flat-out interrupting Taylor Swift as she received a Grammy a handful of years ago), it seems silly that people who I often see complaining, “That’s not real news!” online…are still fuming about something that’s not “real” news well into the week.

“BUT HE’S ARROGANT!!!”

Lots of musicians are/were arrogant. Most of the people I see complaining are middle aged and older. If you like the Who…you do realize Keith Moon was far more arrogant than Kanye could ever hope to be, don’t you? In fact, popular music has always, to some extent, been based on shock value and arrogance.

While I am no longer the obnoxious person I once was, ask any close friend who knew me in my 20s: I was one of the most annoying people on the planet! I was fascinated by how easy it was to get to people and — on some level — I took perverse pleasure in being incredibly annoying. It amazed me that adults could let someone get to them so easily. Coming from that place myself, I know — had I been in a band that received any kind of attention — that I would have said and probably done all kinds of stupid/shocking things, just to get a rise out of people. So I have to think there’s a side of Kanye that thinks, “I’m going to tell everyone that I’m the best musician ever, they will all come unhinged, and I will laugh that it’s really that simple to stay in the limelight…”

By getting so worked up about his Grammys antics, people are playing into exactly what he hopes for; which, of course, ensures he will keep doing it.

Why does he do it? He does it because he knows his harshest critics almost crave the self-righteous rage as much as he enjoys the attention.

What I Learned About Kanye

I’ve heard people this week talk about how stupid and greedy Kanye West is. From what I’ve seen, he’s not. (But hey, it’s easy to say a black rapper is dumb, right?) Doing a little research, he got As and Bs throughout his education. He lived in China when he was younger — and it sounds like he adapted rather well to the situation (a sign of intelligence), despite how different it was. (He even learned Chinese, which I understand isn’t an easy language to learn.)

His mother was the Chair of the English department for a college and always encouraged Kanye to read and write.

He has created charitable foundations and given money and time to many causes [From Wikipedia]: “fundraisers, benefit concerts, and has done community work for Hurricane Katrina relief, the Kanye West Foundation, the Millions More Movement, 100 Black Men of America, a Live Earth concert benefit, World Water Day rally and march, Nike runs, and a MTV special helping young Iraq War veterans who struggle through debt and PTSD a second chance after returning home.”

I wonder how much time and money his critics have given to causes? I’m guessing, with maybe a few exceptions, it pales in comparison to what Kanye has given to others.

Like him or not, he sounds like he has a lot of decency inside, despite his occasional interruptions on stage at the Grammys.

His Musical Talents and Tastes

I’ve also heard people say Kanye is a no-talent hack with no taste in music. [Again, I’m pulling from Wikipedia, so some of this may have changed (by the list of bands, it sounds like it was written a few years ago).]

Here are some of the bands Kanye West cites as influences:

Franz Ferdinand, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Killers, Keane, Radiohead, Kaiser Chiefs, Modest Mouse, Coldplay, U2, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. He’s collaborated with Santigold, Peter Bjorn and John, Lykke Li, and Bon Iver.

Hardly a thug influenced by other thugs.

More than that, he used to feature indie bands on his website daily (he still might), hoping to shine some light on obscure acts. He’s also worked with Israeli violinist Miri Ben-Ari and, for a time, he was the only current pop star touring with a string section (employing an eleven-piece orchestra).

I won’t even go into the list of bands and albums he’s produced — it’s a big list. Even if the music isn’t your thing, producing music that makes millions — even if some of it is formulaic — is not an easy task.

Many of the people I’ve seen criticizing Kanye this week are the same people who say — with a sweeping hand — that all hip-hop and rap is terrible. (Hardly the case.) It seems Kanye has much wider and better taste in music than many of his critics.

“Are You REALLY Defending Him?”

Does all this mean I think Kaybe’s a saint, or justified in rushing people accepting awards? Nope! It’s arrogant and douchey. (Although, behind-the-scenes, I would not be surprised to find him laughing with close friends about how easy it is to get a rise out of people.) But again…it’s the music industry, and when we look at others, what he’s doing pales in comparison. [I’m using acts in the next example that the critics I’ve seen in my social media feeds seem to like.]:

Is Kanye rushing a stage and being an asshat really worse than death, molestation, and extreme racism?

You All Made Me Like Him More Than I Did Before

I really know very little about Kanye West and his music. I’m not going to rush out and buy the guy’s music, but I am going to chuckle with how easy it is for him to get attention. I like hip-hop and rap, but since I really only listen to music while writing, I prefer instrumental work because lyrics can distract me.

I suppose I’m just fascinated by how riled up people are about all this. By seeing it mentioned so much in social media feeds, I actually looked up some stuff about him and like Kanye West more than I did before everyone got mad this time around. If he really is as dumb and talentless as people claim, what does that say about those he can play so easily?

Take it from me, who used to love annoying people: the best thing you can do to one craving so much attention is to simply not give it to them…especially when they are screaming out for it.

Comments

  1. I agree with most of this, I’ve always thought the self hype was a fun game. He’s playing a bad guy wrestler and James Brown.

    I’m just still on the fence with ‘artist.’ If this gen has an Elvis or Beatles or Bowie, it’s probably Kanye. That’s when I question the attention to talent ratio. He seems to be a really good producer, but even if he’s the greatest producer… I dunno.

  2. Christopher Gronlund says:

    I will totally agree that I’m not sure this generation has its Elvis or Beatles. Or…I sometimes wonder if — now that there’s sooooooooooooo much available — if we will just never have that again. Maybe so many small bands that will never get airplay even trump the talent of those who came before. But…as radio fades and a generation turns its eyes online…we will just never see another superband like the past.

    Many artists, now, have crushed number one hits and other records, but none stand out as iconic — something that will last generations down the line. I sometimes wonder if having SO MUCH to choose from has watered down what icons once were. Kind of like, “We had 3 TV stations growing up, and only one theater in town that showed THE big movie and only that movie.”

    Now there’s so much variety that I sometimes wonder if things are thinned out…

  3. Hey there, G.

    Sometimes I wonder if there isn’t an Elvis or The Beatles (that we can see) because we’re out of the loop (we’re not marketed to, etc), and what we know of Elvis and The Beatles is mostly through the nostalgia of people who grew up with that music and transferred that cultural knowledge (and admiration/adoration) down to our generation. I have worked with a lot of young people and I kid you not, they have never heard of The Beatles, and Madonna gets a blank stare (never mind Bowie, etc.).

    When we look back, some musicians (or actors, or any other kind of entertainer or cultural figure) has their zeitgeist, and are largely unknown by future generations unless they’re made relevant and interesting somehow (Shakespeare was forgotten until the Romantics popularized him; LP’s are coming back due to hipster interest and their economic resources), and only then, to what group of people (age, class, race, etc).

    Regardless, enjoyed the post, the video, and your writing.

    W.

  4. Christopher Gronlund says:

    That’s a very good point. So many people equate experience to fact: “This is what I saw therefore, it is golden!”

    Just like with early phases of literature, phases of music had their ground-breaking moments. So…you had more room to rise up as THE thing; while now…there are sooooooooo many things that nothing will ever rise up as THE thing, collectively, again. There are many number one hits that crush Elvis, the Beatles, and the bands that paved the way, but numbers are not enough. Pop music has seen numbers that have crushed the bands so many deem as THE bands, but those bands remain a standard because nothing else was like it, and distribution channels were pretty much radio and record stores. (And people were largely force-fed the same thing; whereas now, there are more kinds of music than at any moment in time.)

    Factor in [many] older people’s natural tendency to dispel anything younger people are into as inferior, and you have people clinging to what they know, and in a desperate act to remain relevant, claiming that older music is superior.

    I think classical music is superior to even the bands I love most. Classical music is really incredible, but so many people my age and older hate it and shout, “Rock and roll will never die!!!” Clinging to nostalgia, and not seeing all the wonderful stuff out there if they dig a little bit.

    I’m not sure there’s anything sadder than someone 25 years behind the times claiming that their experience is the one by which we must all judge all we take in…

    This week on the podcast, we talked about rap and hip hop. So many people discredit the styles as base, not even realizing how much the styles have grown and permeated all they listen to. (Unless, of course, they stopped listening to new music in the mid 80s; in which case, I really feel sorry for them…)

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