Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Deconstructing Kanye West
Kanye West is arguably one the most creative, insightful visionaries of our time. Many would also argue that he is one of the biggest a**holes and the most immature. Whatever we think or feel about him, fifty years from now it would be virtually impossible to discuss Pop Culture during the Millennial generation without mentioning the social commentary, musical and fashion contributions of Kanye West.
Since the mid 90's of his Roc-A-Fella Producer days up to the present, West has evolved into somewhat of a Pop Cultural Messianic Figure and people either love him or hate him. Coming from an educational background in Chicago, I could always see a growing social consciousness throughout West's music and that's what resonated with me. It wasn't until September 2nd, 2005 that he took a public stance and vocally expressed it during the live Hurricane Katrina telethon by stating, "George Bush doesn't care about black people" in regards to how the government handled this natural disaster. Although he later clarified his statements, West's often unpredictable social commentary began to take center stage, often to the point of eclipsing his artistic contributions. Since 2004 to the present date West is known for his anti-Award Showism. He's done everything but storm out of, publicly criticize, boycott and even take the microphone from an artist who received an award he felt she didn't deserve. Some shows have strived to accommodate this by giving West a platform to speak and this often comes back to bite them in the a**. He's walked out in the middle of concert performances and stopped performances midstream to share his philosophical views about everything from the music industry, fashion, politics and humanity. He's turned interviews upside down, he's shared his frustrations with the Paparazzi and has even announced his run for Presidency in 2020. On top of that he dated stripper Amber Rose and eventually married and has two children with Kim Kardashian who was catapulted into the limelight because of her sex-tape with Ray J. Most recently West cancelled the rest of his Saint Pablo tour dates before being hospitalized at the UCLA Medical Center for sleep deprivation and exhaustion. Through all of this, and more times than not, West has expressed very lucid thoughts on everything from capitalism, politics, human/civil rights, religion, the music/fashion industry, relationships and etc. Oftentimes his delivery is questionable. The very best interview I've seen was with Zane Lowe for BBC Radio.
"I've been sent here to give y'all my truth even at the risk of my own life, even at the
risk of my own success, my own career. I've been sent here to give y'all the truth."
I think in order to gain a sense of where Kanye West is often coming from it's important for us to consider, and strive to understand, the perspective of a Creative. Although the content and contributions may be different, as a Creative, there is not much of a difference between Michael Jackson, Phyllis Hyman, Dave Chappelle, Nina Simone, Basquiat, Sly Stone, Lauryn Hill, Jimmy Hendrix, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Pryor, Marvin Gaye and many others. To be a Creative and simultaneously exist within a racist/sexist entertainment industry that seeks to capitalize off of ones intellectual property is very difficult to cope with. Many have literally lost their mind. Others became drug addicts and alcoholics. Some left America while others walked away and became a recluse. Many died here, from a broken heart.
Being a Creative requires a person to think differently about life and solve problems in a new way. In order to do this, Creatives face fears, self-doubt and take risks that many people don't. Thought leaders; Creatives are ambassadors of an uncharted territory the world has yet to discover and fully appreciate. They are the subject matter experts of the unknown. To be this kind of person we must be open to inspiration at all times. Inspiration that often defies social norms and conflicts with the status quo. As a painter that may mean working countless hours and through sleepless nights to finally unveiling a social justice painting at a gallery owned by the very people who've fought against it. As an actor that may mean turning down the highest paid role you've ever received and Grammy shoo-in because it conflicts with your core values. As a musician that may putting your career and family security on the line to fight getting out of a record contract. As a fashion designer or model it may mean walking the long hard road of independent slow money instead of selling out your image, and images, to the highest bidder. All of these are life decisions that people often take for granted that Creatives have to make. There are many times I've literally been in my recording studio all night. There are many times I've been stirred out of my sleep in the middle of the night with an idea that I immediately start writing about. Many of these articles and chapters in my books are the result of this process. Being a Creative is like being on call from the universe because inspiration is a round-the-clock devotion to work. Although the beauty of what we manifest is timeless, the backstory, blood, sweat, tears and hours of dedication that often goes into forging such beauty is something many never see. What many also don't see is the stress, frustration and physical/social strain. As I've said, many Creatives have always strived to find various methods to cope with this in a society that tries to quantify, package, sell and often simultaneously marginalize, genius. West is not known for having a history of drug use or alcoholism. Aside from past lovers, he has not been associated with any women except his wife. The question many of us should be asking is how has he coped? I would argue that what we've seen from his off-the cuff interviews, public meltdowns and concert rants is not him simply venting or throwing a tantrum. I would also argue that this medium has become his coping mechanism; a platform he's learned to use as an outlet and form of therapy.
There's an earthly gift and worldly curse that comes along with being a Creative. On one had you may be gifted to write the most beautiful poetry or paint the most brilliant picture the world has ever seen about love, yet be companionless or experience some of the most tumultuous relationships a person could imagine. Creatives are some of the most complex, sophisticated people to understand and the perimeters of a world always proves to be a societal box not large enough to contain their spirit. To paraphrase what Dave Chappelle once said, it's easy to call someone crazy. It's dismissive. It doesn't require you to examine anything they're saying or what's behind them acting the way they do. Maybe the environment West, and countless other Creatives have been in, is a little sick. If that is even part of our conclusion, we must ask ourselves what can we do to teach them, about healthy ways to disengage or healthy coping skills to thrive? I challenge all of us to not just consider that but strive to actively seek solutions; the mental, physical and socioeconomic health of our growing Millennial and Alpha generation depends upon that.