I love Kanye.
I do. I think he’s a musical genius and that his passion shouldn’t be held against him as a pop culture figure. But when we obsessively laud and coddle his every instinct, we’re lying to him and ourselves.
Increasingly, being a fan of Kanye has been confused for being a part of the greater Kanye cult, letting you bask in the cologne of his glory. It doesn’t. Disciples of Yeezus, your passion does not make you distinct. Besides, crucially: Kanye would never bow down before another Kanye. He’d make himself the Kanye. And while we worship him we do a disservice to his message.
Besides, we do him no favors with a blank check, just like we do a genius kid no favors by coddling them with A+++‘s. Kanye needs to be challenged. I read that he wrote the lyrics to the whole Yeezus album over a week. If it shined, that’d be one thing. But it was “eh.” It was the case of the talent slacking because he knew we’d allow it. It was procrastination. And we allowed it, slapping it with praise.
Compare that with “My Beautiful Twisted Fantasy,” a superior work he sweated over for a year and a half in Hawaii, complete with ten staggeringly great cut tracks released free. That was Kanye playing against us, our expectations. But now what? He looked us in the eye and we refused to blink. He’s bored and we feel desperate to praise him. Kanye does his best with some limitations to fight against, and he’s done his best work being doubted- as a rapper, his early career as a designer- and now, nothing.
We refuse to distinguish greatness from mediocre. It’s the emperor’s new Yeezy’s.
Are you still not sure that Kanye isn’t slacking? Ask yourself: what happened to the album he was due to drop early in 2015? What about “Cruel Winter?” What about “Watch the Throne 2?”
Crucially, what about the downward arc of his latest songs?
You can dismiss these doubts or fight against them, but wouldn’t you be glad to have Kanye’s actions speak louder than your hopeful words? Aren’t you hoping for more from Kanye than a shorthand meme worshipped as a Kardashian-level pop-figure? Aren’t you expecting, I don’t know, music?
Maybe not. Maybe Kanye has crossed the line exclusively into performance art. Maybe his survival is art in and of itself. Maybe. But maybe we’re just giving college-essay excuses and close reading for a man who does his best when told “no.”
Without rules to subvert and break, Kanye’s genius remains locked up inside him. He needs to be challenged. Even Kanye knows that: when Rick Rubin visited him during Yeezus, Rick Rubin had criticism. Kanye listened! And it helped the album. The math follows that standards and challenges Kanye is not perfect! It’s an insane byproduct of our culture to even suggest that imperfection lives in Kanye, even when it was the same imperfection that drew him towards us.
Does Kanye need cultural yes-men or does he need honesty to make his best work as good as it possibly can? Is Kanye uniquely immune to critical aid? Have we become so worshipful to the Kanye brand that we forgot the value of the Kanye man?
Just a thought.