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.

What is Art?

What is Art?

This article on Rolling Stone’s website about Wu Tang Clan’s most recent album led me to the website about the project.

If you’re not in the mood for links and reading, here’s the short version: a hip-hop group is releasing only one copy of their latest album. To hear it, you will have to go to a museum or gallery and listen. After that, the one physical copy will be sold like a work of art…possibly never to be heard again — or at least for a long, long time. (Or maybe mass produced right after sale.)

But is it Art?

Some would say, “Is it art?” and many who simply don’t get a style of music would say, “No!”

But music is art — even if you don’t like it. Like the person who looks at a [good] abstract and says, “My kid can paint that!” so goes a certain ignorance with [good] hip hop.

One may not like Wu Tang Clan; however, I can name many artists I do not like, but can still look at and appreciate their effort, what they stand for, and the conversations that arise from their work. Wu Tang Clan seems to understand this — from the linked site above:

By adopting a 400 year old Renaissance-style approach to music, offering it as a commissioned commodity and allowing it to take a similar trajectory from creation to exhibition to sale, as any other contemporary art piece, we hope to inspire and intensify urgent debates about the future of music. We hope to steer those debates toward more radical solutions and provoke questions about the value and perception of music as a work of art in today’s world.

Many may not agree with that, but I think it’s cool as hell!

Old Ways

I think the reason this fascinates me so much is it’s something I’ve thought about a lot in the past year and a half. I’ve mentioned before that if someone approached me and said, “I will pay you this nice, annual fee to write a novel every other year and several short stories each year — that only I can ever read,” I’d take their patronage. Patrons used to be more common, and in the case of Wu Tang Clan…music used to not be as far reaching as it is today.

There was a time when, to hear music, you had to be present as it was played or you didn’t hear it.

Art and Effort

For me, writing is about the work — the art in the effort — and not about the fame (that is rare for most writers anyway). I’ve thought about this very thing: creating a single, beautiful book and selling it to an individual like a piece of art. Much like a painting, what the buyer chose to do after the sale would be up to them. But there’s something appealing about a work only a handful of people — or only one other person — may ever see.

Even if this were a hoax, it’s already getting people talking, and that’s great. Even better, though, is imagining the mix of people in museums and galleries all bobbing their heads in unison as music only they and a select group of others will hear plays just for them through headphones…

…and the rest of us will only hear through their stories…

The Power of a Song

The Power of a Song

I am not afraid to admit that Adam Ant’s “Goody Two Shoes” video was a thing to behold when I was in junior high school. That ending…I did not mind it at all! But it was another song by Adam and the Ants that really — actually — mattered: “Prince Charming.”

Prince Charming

In another time, pushed way down inside the person I once was…I’m not afraid to admit that this song saved my life — and probably the lives of those who picked on me in 7th and 8th grade. I would never even vaguely condone a school shooting, but I will say I understand why a lost kid would do such a thing at a time when a month feels like a lifetime, and it’s so hard to see that a handful of years do not equal an eternity.

And so, Adam Ant’s “Prince Charming” spoke to me, mostly in three lines:

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of…

Don’t you ever lower yourself, forgetting all your standards…

Respect yourself, and all of those around you…

That first and last line in particular hit me like few things at that time in my life. Looking back, it seems like I was another person entirely, trapped in a time that only existed in a story.

Sure, the lyrics mattered to me, but I didn’t realize then what that character meant to so many people…

What Mattered

The end of the “Goody Two Shoes” video was like something come to life from the pages of the magazines I had tucked away under my bed. For others, Adam Ant was a character blurring the lines of everything sexual, an androgynous being with whom to identify. I discovered this music about the time I read The World According to Garp by John Irving — so the transsexual character of Roberta Muldoon didn’t bother me at all; in fact, Roberta will always be a favorite literary character, no matter how over-the-top Irving sold her.

Lines were blurred, and while I was definitely a heterosexual, I realized there were people who were not easy to classify at the time, but…who personified the same feelings of being on the outside looking in that I felt.

People (Are People)

I didn’t care what people “were,” as long as they were good people. When some friends came out as gay after high school…it made sense to me because we all clustered together out of strength in numbers, whether the thing we hid was that we’d been playing Dungeons and Dragons since 1978 or that we were gay all along. It hit me pretty early on: if I was friends with someone the day before I found out some secret about them, why would finding out a truth they hid for years change anything?

If you were my friend — we were friends!

I have one transgendered friend (that I know of). When I found out, nothing changed. It wasn’t a big thing to me because friendship comes from the heart. Gay, transgendered, or anyone else…treat me well, and I’ll do the same for you. Being a protective individual, I’ll even fight a little harder for those who get knocked by society than I will for myself.

Prince Charming

“Prince Charming” is a song I’ll always carry deep in my heart. As hokey as it may be, it’s a song that helped me love myself in a time when I felt nobody else did. But more than that, it ensured I later loved all my friends who were different in the eyes of so many people, but who were — and will always be — people I love as much as I was taught to love myself by an androgynous pirate in the 80s…