Kanye West's Changing Relationship With Art
As a twenty-something male immigrant, listening to a Kanye West album nowadays feels like checking in with my mom on her way home from work. I love her to death. I’m unfathomably in debt to the foundation her and my father have provided, and, most importantly, I’ll always answer when she calls. Still, nowadays, we’re kind going through a period not having much to say. I’m working on myself and my goals, while she’s transitioning into a new, more independent phase her life. We’re both working towards bettering our family and those around us, but the bond we once had has come to feel more like a obligation.
It’s sad, course. If someone were to articulate these very sentiments to either my mom or Kanye, I’m sure they would tear up a little. But the point still stands. While he was once a pillar balancing my fragile sense sense, the “All Falls Down,” rapper has since given me the confidence to parse the never-ending stimuli the world my own volition. That’s the role they’ve both - Kanye and my mom, that is - played in my life up until this moment. But a change has come. Clearly, it’s going to take some time before we’re all comfortable in our new positions.
To me, this new Kanye project is his most interesting to date. It lacks the context any his prior releases, despite the fact that he went out his way to establish multiple bad-guy narratives during the tumultuous rollout. The disconnect between the album’s promotional run and the woe-is-me musings about marriage and fatherhood within have many earlyreviews suggesting that Kanye is “detached from reality.” As someone who accepts him as the self-proclaimed family member he claims to be, he seems more acutely aware his constraints now more than ever. Like my mother, he’s fishing for new ways to resonate, whether through his re-energized samples or his increasingly eclectic pool features, unsure his role for the first time in his adult life.
I genuinely appreciate the effort, even if it ultimately results in him talking my ear f for another fifteen minute about his coworkers, his diabetes, my dad - wait, sorry, I’m getting mixed up here. What I mean to say is this: while the backlash he’s facing for his impish support Trump, among other reckless actions, is his to bear, a fan must remember that he’s in a transitional phase. There is potential for good, and that potential shouldn’t be prematurely extinguished by the court public opinion.
Just as he’s become increasingly disinterested with the traditional art rapping, so has Kanye begun to reconsider what registers as an album in modern hip-hop. His dedication to structure and “cohesiveness” peaked with Yeezus. Structured to play like an angry, pent-up series diatribes that condemn the human soul before the idea love saves us all, Yeezus is shaping up to become a prophetic album in Kanye’s discography. Since that moment, Ye has continuously sought to recreate that eccentricity with increasingly sloppy gestures. But, because it’s Kanye, both the rollout for The Life Pablo and, now, Ye, effectively worked; they did that thing products are supposed to do, which, course, is to sell.
If we’re being honest, they also did the thing that art is “supposed” to do. Make you feel something. Like the man he named his last album after, Kanye has continued to aggressively shift from the hyper realism his early period to a purposefully more abstract and suggestive aesthetic.
If we’re to believe Kanye West, he lives for the now. But that hardly rings true with the guy who samples Slick Rick all over his new album. At its core, his declaration for the now has always been a ploy; Kanye has always been concerned with history, as well as with what the kids have to say. It’s just that he approaches these perspectives through non-traditional manners and filters them through an undeniably selfish lense. Yet selfishness in Kanye’s eyes has never been a sin. The more money, power and respect he accumulates, the better he can challenge, mold and push culture. If anything, this is one Kanye's major hurdles as an artist: taking grand, futuristic ideas and presenting them as crucial, the now, thoughts that may actually cause a paradigm shift. All this, without coming f a deranged megalomaniac.
The Social Media Era finally became an established norm a few years ago, the Streaming Era had quietly started its reign. The conjunction these two, and the broader, continuously avalanching impact the Internet, sees society shifting towards an endless 24/7 input stimuli and output reactionary gestures. All the great artists our time will find a way to cut through this shifting culture with their individually piercing voices. I, along with many others, had simply assumed Kanye would be one them. Instead, he still seems to be actively searching for a way to truly do so.
During this past decade his career, Kanye West has quite famously left things until the last minute. But never has he been so flippant about the final product. From his early demos to the dark and twisted climax in 2010, to the fiery falling action Yeezus and his increasingly belligerent rants, he’s always been hands-on and inextricably concerned with package and presentation. Yeezus and its blank cover was a statement; now it seems like he’s taking #NoFilter Instagram pics, editing them in-app, and calling it Art.
To be fair, it’s an impossibly difficult task to take on - making cutting edge art for the masses that simultaneously maintains high taste while tangling in the weeds the now. With The Life Pablo, his first true post-streaming album, he introduced the idea a living breathing piece music. With Ye, and the rest these GOOD music rollouts, his new strategy seems to involve micro-dosing us with brief yet hopefully poignant bodies work.
Sadly, it doesn’t feel like enough at the moment. What do the rest y’all think?