Poor old Kanye. Nowadays he can’t seem to catch a break. Mocked and berated by social media and the general public, we can’t help but question why such a successful and influential figure in the music industry is often viewed in such a negative light? Kanye is talented, relevant, and more importantly, seems like such a nice guy! Who doesn’t feel a tug at their heart strings when poor Kanye speaks with a heavy heart that his greatest pain in life is that he will never be able to see himself perform live? And who doesn’t admire his humble yet self-assured way of thinking when he states ‘I am Warhol. I am the Number 1 most impactful artist of our generation. I am Shakespeare in the flesh.’ I don’t know about you, but that’s the level of humility I can only aspire to.
It’s clear that Kanye’s glowing personality can’t be the cause of all this hate. So maybe it’s because of his success? This seems more plausible! They don’t hate you Ye, it’s all just jealousy. After all, Kanye West is one of the biggest selling artists of all time, with 32 million album sales and 100 million digital downloads to his name, as well as 21 Grammy Awards, inclusion in Time magazine’s ‘100 most influential people in the world’ list twice and his own clothing and shoe brand to top it all! Could it be that Kanye is simply a victim of the level of criticism expected for an artist at his level of success? But then why is he so much more of a divisive character than any other successful rapper in the game? Can you really imagine the people getting this worked up about Drake?
Before we get into why Kanye has been so cruelly victimised by the general population, let’s take a step back and look at Yeezy’s career so far. Kanye grew up in Chicago with English teacher mother Donda West and father Ray West, a former Black Panther. He had a middle class background, and was always passionate about writing raps and poetry. Dropping out of Chicago State University was the push he needed to make his debut album College Dropout, which was immediately critically acclaimed. His next album, Late Registration outdid the success of its predecessor. It includes singles ‘Gold Digger’ and ‘Touch the Sky’, two songs that achieved mainstream success to such an extent that you can barely avoid hearing them at any throwback night even today. Cue four more commercially successful solo albums, a string of hits including ‘Stronger’, ‘Power’, ‘Monster’, ‘All of the Lights’, ‘Mercy’, ‘Clique’, ‘Black Skinhead’… I could write a thesis showing how Kanye eloquently manages to use his musical innovation to capture and create music trends of each individual era. But I’m not here to talk about Kanye’s success; I’m here to discover why despite his success and talent he is still so loathed by so many people.
The first explanation is simple; he’s asking for it. Let’s face it: Kanye is an idiot. He has been involved in so many ridiculous, attention seeking, unnecessary controversies that it’s no wonder that everyone berates him. Cast your minds back to the 2005 live television broadcast where he claimed that President Bush didn’t care about black people, recall the time he called himself the modern day Jesus on a talk show. The words ‘Imma let you finish’ make me cringe slightly. (Kanye opened with this infamous phrase when he interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance of her 2009 MTV VMA Award). Even last week he made headlines by tweeting ‘BILL COSBY INNOCENT’. This controversy for the sake of controversy certainly doesn’t make Mr West a likeable figure. However it doesn’t explain why he is an object of hate and ridicule so much more than other rappers. Think about the rap game. It would be ludicrous (get it) to think that Kanye is the most offensive rapper there is, or the most worthy of hate. Don’t we remember that Chris Brown physically assaulted Rihanna in 2009? Surely that heinous act should provoke more of a backlash than arrogant tweets? Tupac was arrested in 1993 for sexually assaulting a 19 year old girl, and yet he is globally worshipped and hailed as the greatest artist of all time. Both Lil Wayne and T.I. have been jailed for weapon possession. Eminem has been charged for armed violence in 2001 and is known for holding far more controversial opinions than Kanye, and yet he is generally revered by the general public, with fans believing that his talent gives him the artistic license to be controversial and politically incorrect. Why then is this not the same for Kanye? Why is it that Eminem threatening to murder his wife and rape his mother is less publicised than Kanye’s arrogant yet ultimately harmless rants? Maybe, just maybe, it’s because Kanye isn’t being judged as a rapper, but as a media personality, with all the public scrutiny that the title entails.
And so we get on to the Kardashians. Before I begin, I wish to congratulate myself for getting this far without yet mentioning Kim Kardashian, which I believe is a feat in itself. Yet the reason for Kanye’s public plight falls to some extent into the hands of his wife. Kim and Kanye, or, don’t hate me, Kimye, were married in 2014 in the most highly publicised wedding to hit social media since Kate met Wills. Their wedding photo was the most liked picture on Instagram, reeling in a whopping 2 million likes. They are one of pop culture’s most seminal couples, to such an extent that it’s rare to visit social media without stumbling upon the Kardashian clan in some shape or form. So maybe the intense scrutiny under which his wife’s family have created their empire has also effected the way we view Kanye? Maybe in marrying a Kardashian, he has become one himself. Being a Kardashian has meant that every ill-timed comment made by Kanye is given 100 times more attention and scrutiny. He is no longer viewed as a rapper, but as a reality star. In an attempt to become the master of all trade, an expert in all professions, Kanye’s personal life has become another one of the many innovative products that he endorses. Think about it; people laugh and sneer at Kanye’s arrogance for calling himself the best artist, not just for the arrogance of the statement, but because in pop culture he simply is not viewed as the artist that he is. The label of reality star is an unfairly reductive one that ignore Mr West’s vast contribution in shaping the music world both in the past and the present. As a reality star, every action is scrutinized, judged, and ultimately dismissed. It is because of this reductive label that Kanye can get away with the increasingly ridiculous things that he says (*cough* 2020 presidential elections *cough*) without being taken seriously. But it is also effecting the way he is viewed as an artist. Maybe this explains his frustration and arrogance as a reaction against the way he is mocked in the public eye? That may be a bit of a push. However the point still stands: next time you mock or loathe Kanye West, think about whether you are hating the persona or the artist. Maybe it’s time we start granting Kanye the same ‘artistic licence’ and exemption that we do to other rappers. And if he’s still an idiot then at least we tried.