Creative Undercurrents - Kanye West

Fri, 2017/10/20

 Of all the words and traits the public-at-large might associate with Kanye West – prolific producer, braggart, media mogul, washed-up mess – a wholesome success story might not be one so commonly thought of. However, this Grammy-interrupting and game-disrupting artist is truly one of the most inspirational people in today’s contemporary music society.

              Beginning his career over a decade ago, Kanye’s first breakout single Through the Wire was recorded not in a studio but rather in a hospital bed after a vicious car accident left his jaw broken and wired shut for six weeks. But a legitimate medical setback that would have ruined other people’s careers – let alone lives – would not be allowed to ruin him. Delivering lines with muffled voice, a broken face, and prolific apologies, his determination to launch his career off the ground – in the face of giving up or listening to legitimate medical advice against it – should be a point of motivation.

              Kanye’s first three albums, “The College Dropout,” “Late Registration,” and “Graduation,” all received widespread acclaim as he developed his style, rapping over gospel samples and meticulously self-produced beats. Each album grew more radio-friendly, turning just slightly more into pop with each release. Songs like “Gold Digger” and “Stronger” from this trio still remain some of his most well-known songs.

              However, the more recent half of his career is defined by innovation in the face of personal struggles. For example, his fourth studio album “808s and Heartbreak,” which came on the heels of a significant breakup in his life, dropped to only moderate commercial success, but its revolutionary use of synths and autotune have since been adopted by popular music and have defined much of pop music since. His more ridiculous sixth album “Yeezus“ experiments with musical aesthetics that border on harsh-noise and gritty lyrics, and his gracious return to gospel music on “Ultralight Beam,” the opening track to his seventh, 2016 album “The Life of Pablo” is still touted as one of the best songs of the year.

              However, all of this innovation and openness to public criticism has come at a considerable cost to Kanye’s mental state, a tragedy often apparent in successful artists.

              The lyrics of his recent releases are riddled with self-doubt and an odd sense of loneliness in his fame, exemplified by these lyrics from "Pinocchio Story", the closing track to “808s”:

What does it feel like, to live the real life, to be real / Not some facade on TV that no one can really feel / Do you really have the stamina? / For everybody that sees you that say, "Where's my camera?"

If ever the struggle of the popular sadboi, with so many people around him but none of them really there for him, Kanye does it spectacularly. However, he developed these ideas more in his next album, widely considered his best, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.”

The inner struggle as defined by this album is what has defined the spirit of Kanye’s work since – that of crippling self-doubt versus absolute narcissism. He is a man pulled two different ways by the same media, surrounded by both his adoring fans and harshest critics.

When you are such a major player in the field, how can you sustain yourself without total self-assurance, this inward and outward confidence? If you can’t even believe in yourself, in your work, then there’s a real chance that nobody else will.

However, when so many people in the industry try to tear you down and define you by your imperfections and public gaffes when you only accept the absolute best from yourself, how can you not doubt yourself at every turn, at every lyric and every beat?

These problems express themselves through intense feeling of sadness and abandonment in "808s", “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s” simultaneous boasting and breaking down, and the screaming-into-the-void style of “Yeezus.”

However, with his album “The Life of Pablo” released in just as messy and sporadic of a state as Kanye’s personal life at the time, I don’t think I have any other choice than to be extremely and unironically inspired by his music – maybe not the product itself, but his ability to bear through and make it. Kanye is undeniably a man who puts himself through Hell when writing and producing; a man with these many problems who still manages to produce masterpieces on the same level for a decade should not be taken lightly.

If nothing else, in the face of his problems, Kanye West is a man who never settles and who believes in himself. Even if you can’t enjoy all of his music, he deserves the same respect that any hard-working and innovating artist in the field does.  

Take somebody who loves themselves so completely, even with all of their imperfections, as an inspiration, because if we could all love ourselves as much as Kanye loves Kanye, then I sincerely believe that this world could be a better place.