Kanye West - genius or asshole?
Not feeling the love for Kanye? Superfan Brian Morrissey sure is. And he’s in the mood for sharing . . .
Kanye West is often placed in one of two brackets - genius or asshole. But does it actually matter that Kanye says ridiculous things? Does it matter that people hate him for it? None of it bothers me. Argue if you like, but beyond the headlines and bloated soundbites, there is a body of work, a movement and a message that is as important as any in the 21st century.
US comedian and polymath Dave Chappell described the first time he met West as “like Mohammad Ali in Olympic Village. He just knew he was going to get the gold.”
West’s debut, The College Dropout, was all backpack rap and mixed humour with boastful claims and in-your-face arrogance. Even now, the tempo of the album can be hard to grasp, it’s like trying to read a book with a cartoon blaring in the background. This came after years of making raps for some major artists, most notably Jay Z. Kanye had a hand in every stitch of the album’s creation. He was immediately doing something that separated him from others in the field; he made classics. All Falls Down was every genre of popular music rolled into one and Jesus Walks was a song about spiritual hunger, a gospel song for the club. He was bringing an artform from the street to the mainstream.
Late Registration and Graduation were more sophisticated versions of the formula; the hits kept coming, the humour continued. West’s profile grew with the hijacking of the MTV music awards and his declaration, live on TV in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, that “George Bush does not care about black people”. This wasn’t just celebrity bickering or award-show controversy; he had just called out the most high-profile figure in politics on national television.
808’s and Heartbreak was a major shift and would sculpt the sound of hip-hop in its wake. Then came the masterpiece, My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy. Previously Kanye might have been a gimmick, now he was the genius. He had evolved beyond hip-hop in a way no artist had done before him. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver was one accomplice on this project. It was an unlikely collaboration which came about after West called Vernon asking to sample the Bon Iver song Woods, before inviting him to Hawaii. What they produced together was hailed as a masterpiece.
Watch the Throne and Yeezus cemented Kanye as (in his own words, of course) “the biggest rock star on the planet”. Throw in the GOOD music project, essentially his own label, the movie he shot in Quatar, the rangers for Nike and Adidas, his fashion label – the list goes on – and you have a considerable body of work for a 37 year-old.