I’ll preface this piece by clearing the air and saying this—Kanye West is a genius. It’s been almost three years now since his masterpiece of jarring and uncomfortable electronic music production was released, titled Yeezus, following My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which was hailed by Pitchfork as the Best Album of the Decade and on Rolling Stone’s list of the best 500 albums of all time. His music is defined as hip hop or rap, but often goes beyond simple categorization, bringing not only a new meaning to production, but to collaboration—his work with people like Justin Vernon, Nicki Minaj, and Paul McCartney creates aggressive and beautiful commentary on life’s social, emotional, and physical complexities.
On January 8, he announced that his new album, entitled Swish, would be coming out soon. On January 16, he changed its name to Waves, but on February 7 he told his followers on Twitter that “there may be a secret album title.” He then proceeded to tweet its initials: TLOP. With this announcement he also created another contest: whoever guessed the album name would receive a pair of free Yeezys and tickets to a show in Madison Square Garden. This show simultaneously released Yeezy Season 3, his new fashion line, and his album. The name The Life of Pablo is supposedly referring to both the drug lord Pablo Escobar and artist Pablo Picasso—a fusion of Escobar’s power and ruthlessness and Picasso’s art that transcends traditional labels and borders.
The predictably unpredictable artist is accused of being a misogynist, an egotist, and a narcissist to an enormous fault. These are all completely accurate assessments, and they all can be very problematic. But many of the things people find fault with come from the fact that he does what he wants; there’s no question about that.
During his MSG show, he started a “F*ck Nike” chant. After Hurricane Katrina, on a program to raise money for the Red Cross, Kanye stated that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” while Mike Myers stared into the camera beside him like a deer in the headlights.
Kanye’s willingness to go off script goes hand in hand with his tendency to truly believe in the work he’s created. He believes that the art he makes—the clothes, the shoes, the music, the short films—is changing the world for the better. He’s not going to self-deprecate because he is never going to play into what the media wants: a humble person who directs his accomplishments to others. But there is something alluring about this type of self-assuredness, especially when it’s deserved. As Sarah Urist Green, an art curator, said on the Art Assignment, “Kanye doesn’t need our validation, and that’s exactly why he deserves it.” This, however, inspires as much criticism as it does love because he takes his products seriously—and that isn’t what everyone wants to hear.
Regardless of whether or not you are inspired by his anthems of gospel and self-love and his collaborations with almost every other type of artist and musician, to not recognize him as a multidisciplinary, “true” artist, and to mistake him for an egotist who is too crazy, too loud, too unpredictable, and too black would be a grave error. Kanye’s release of seven straight platinum records is no mistake, especially when each one is drastically different from the last in terms of complexity of production, message, and composition. Each one explores a new facet of his life and his ability as a producer and a rapper, which is a great feat in and of itself; it is one that most popular musicians cannot put to their names. He’s one of the only major rapper-producers in the industry and has directed his own short film. Yes, he’s, as Green said, “a multidisciplinary-new wave-artist.”