Kanye West is never far from controversy. If he isn’t speculating that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”, it’s probably because he’s busy accusing MTV of institutional racism. It’s flavoured opinions such as these that have cast him as a divisive figure in the world of pop music, and there’s no shortage of evidence of this tomfoolery; it’s plastered across magazines, television and the internet. Yet recently some critics have painted a different picture, portraying him as a misunderstood artist and a new king of pop. So who is right?
It doesn’t work in West’s favour that the moment at which he has achieved stardom instantaneous world-wide communication has become the norm. Ten years earlier, his unfortunate habit of deviating from the script would have been a regular talking point, but it wouldn’t have been the staple of social media sites that it is today. And in simpler times, protective managers would have ensured that many of his most outrageous remarks never filtered through to the general public. Alas for West, Twitter makes it only too easy for millions to follow the inner workings of his brain and jump on all (of his many) slip ups. In another time West may have escaped such media glare, and perhaps could have even escaped being labeled a “jackass” by no less than the American president.
There is, however, an undeniable maturity to West’s newest material. ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ does not perhaps deserve quite so many five star reviews as it has received, but elements of it are often both enjoyable and genuinely progressive. His use of video, for instance, breaks the standard model of one per three/four minute single, as he instead uses just one 35 minute spectacular that depicts a single (albeit very bizarre) story. More importantly, he seemingly embraces the portrait of himself as the fool: “They say I was the abomination of Obama’s nation”, and uses this as a platform to ruminate more thoughtfully: “Is hip-hop just a euphemism for a new religion? The soul music for the slaves that the youth is missing.” It’s not quite Shakespeare, but it’s certainly a step beyond his earlier themes (“I ain’t saying she a goldigger…”).
Of course West is a clown. It’s a necessary condition for interrupting someone you don’t know in the midst of an award acceptance speech. But although West is definitely not the great bard he and some critics seem to think he is, a comparison to one The Bard’s great recurring characters would not be unfair: West is the jester, the rascal, the fool. For, although his antics are often misguided, there is clearly substance behind it all. He may play the rogue, but don’t think he doesn’t know what he’s doing; it’s your loss if you scorn his music for that reason alone.