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You decide – should we still be supporting Kanye West?

As Kanye’s upcoming album DONDA faces inevitable delays and he rents out a room in the Mercedes-Benz stadium for over $1 million USD a day, should we still be backing him as an artist and public figure?  

Kanye West – producer, fashion designer, artist – has been causing a buzz the last few weeks as the world waits for his latest album, DONDA.

Though it was first promised to be released last Friday, it has now allegedly been pushed back to next week. His pricey listening party event in late July cost upwards of $100USD and spectators reported that while most of the tracks played showed promise, they ultimately sounded unfinished and more like ‘sketches’.

All of this is hardly surprising, especially if you’ve followed Kanye for more than a few years. His behaviour has always been outlandish, erratic, and controversial.

Whether it be interrupting Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMAs – a moment that is now cemented in pop culture infamy – or throwing out insane takes such as ‘slavery was a choice’, West has always been unapologetically off-the-wall.

His last few projects have been similarly rushed and chaotic. Each has either been dropped onto streaming services in a rough state, requiring later tinkering and post-release work, or they’ve been underwhelming and rushed out the gate.

West seems to write lyrics mere minutes or hours before they’re pushed out, too, often resulting in a diluted and confusing final product. It doesn’t seem like much has changed with DONDA, at least thus far.

For all his strange behaviours and comments, he remains as much of a cultural icon as ever, so firmly engrained into the fabric of contemporary hip-hop that his legacy can never really be tainted.

Despite his newer, more right-leaning political opinions and increasingly reclusive, billionaire lifestyle, fans still cherish Kanye’s influence, yearning for another album that sounds like his soulful work of yesteryear.

It has been such a permeant part of his fandom that he even made a meme of it in 2016’s Life Of Pablo.

Kanye’s changing image and artistic output over the years goes deeper than just his albums, however, and reflects various societal issues that have developed throughout this century.

West himself is a billionaire, owning more land and assets than any of us will see in our lifetimes. He uses his reach and online presence to confuse and shock, recklessly tweeting and deleting thoughts as they come, regardless of truth.

One minute he is a Trump supporter, the next he’s promoting the latest Yeezy sneaker line, rolling political discourse, pseudo activism, and new-age marketing all into one giant, bewildering spectacle.

In many ways, his evolution in image has reflected the nature of modern discourse. Reactionary, erratic, and without much meaningful consequence.

As he rents out the Mercedes-Benz stadium for eye-watering amounts of cash, it’s worth asking – should we really still be supporting Kanye West as an artist and public figure?

Is he still the voice for the people, the hard-working producer who called out homophobia on public platforms in 2005? Or has he become an entirely different beast, lost inside the wealthy echo-chamber that is so dominant in our current era?


The case for favouring Kanye West

First off, it’s worth noting that Kanye will always be one of the biggest cultural forces in music. His revolutionary chop-and-cut approach to samples within instrumentals drastically changed the landscape and scope of hip-hop.

From his breakout album, College Dropout, to the grandiose eruptions of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye has proved time and time again that he is one of the greatest artists to utilise aesthetic, image, and production in compelling ways, broadening the possibilities of hip-hop as a means of expression.

This remains to this day. West has produced many, many albums even in the last few years, creating beats for Pusha T, Nas, and most recently Lil Nas X on his latest single INDUSTRY BABY. To say he is no longer creating music and generating a buzz would be untrue.

Kanye has also pushed forward a conversation around mental health and bipolar disorder specifically, for better or worse.

His back-and-forth public statements about race, Trump, and anything in between have forced many fans and listeners to at least engage with the topic of mental wellness.

His ex-wife Kim Kardashian was very vocal about the condition during their time as a couple, asking for understanding in 2020 during one of his manic states. To have such high-profile celebrities be open like this around an often-misunderstood condition is a positive, even if it is a little unconventional.

To that end, though, it could be argued that tabloids bask in Kanye’s inconsistent states when they do swing round.

TMZ ran many videos and ‘extended cuts’ of his office outbursts in 2018 when he was in full pro-Trump mode and denouncing slavery as a form of legitimate discrimination. Nobody forced West to be there, of course, but there is no denying that the publication saw the monetary value in this moment and ran with it.

I’ve no doubt that die-hard West fans would point out that he is not a beacon of moral guidance, nor should that title be thrown onto him when he has never intended to be one. If West was ever a man of the people, it was placed onto him by listeners rather than his own artistry.

Should we really expect him to have views that perfectly align with his progressive peers? Perhaps that is an unfair box to place an artist who is complex and prone to re-invention.

The man himself has expressed his frustration before around this subject – describing limits as a ‘level of ignorance’ that isn’t worth anyone’s time.


The argument against Kanye West in 2021

Boxing creatives into labels or specific lanes is limiting, but West is also hugely successful as a result of his supporters that have followed along for two decades.

You wouldn’t think that from his recent album rollouts, mind. Misleading statements, pushed back delays, overpriced and poorly made merchandise, and radio silence on a mountain of unreleased projects are but just a few of the behaviours that West engages in every year.

In an age of socio-political upheaval and capitalist disdain from Gen Zers, West’s uber-rich lifestyle in the hidden depths of Wyoming feels alienating and off-putting. He is now more akin to Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos than the average everyday citizen.

For many of us, capitalism has actively made living more difficult, but for West it has exponentially improved his quality of life. This is relevant because College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation all discussed meaningful topics that resonated with listeners.

Whether that be educational institutions and colleges exploiting young people’s aspirations, criticism of George Bush and the media’s representation of Black families, or blatant homophobia within hip-hop, West used to be an active and resonant voice of change.

He wasn’t perfect; one of his earliest songs ‘The New Workout Plan’ is deeply misogynistic, but his messages were heartfelt, meaningful, and charmingly earnest. His view was outward and relatable.

This has largely changed since then. West is now incomprehensively rich, surrounded by materialism, preaching about his love for God from the safety of the mountains.

He no longer represent the values he once upheld, instead filling the zeitgeist with fleeting moments of outrage. Trump, presidential runs, and shoe launches are all self-serving displays intended to widen his capital and build on his mountain of assets.

Bezos may have phallic shaped rockets, but Kanye has Yeezy sneakers and records. Fans that pay hundreds for listening parties and merchandise only to be disappointed are contributing to the cult of West, perpetuating an idea of a man that no longer truly exists.

It is unfair to expect a forty-something man to guide the youth in the same way he once did, but it’s equally foolish to expect West to write lyrics and produce songs that bring back the feeling of his noughties work.

He is firmly cemented in the 1% and that will not change.

 

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