I was sitting on the deck of a pirate ship in a non-descript office building in San Francisco celebrating the nuptials of my close friends from earlier in the day when a voice next to me said, “I heard you like Kanye West.”
I knew it was bait. And I took it.
An hour later and my voice is straining above the usual din of pirate ship-themed bars in non-descript buildings and I’m on my second tropical drink and haven’t even really gotten past the most recent album and the whole “leather jogging pants” thing.
A week later my friend Cliff posts this article about Kanye West, Frantz Fanon & Double Consciousness by Jessica Ann Mitchell. I shared the article on my own Facebook page with the amendment, “I am preparing a Kanye-like rant on why Kanye is the most important cultural figure…. ever (Kanye was not above hyperbole).”
And so, agreeing with one of my good friend’s brother, I want to tell you why “Everyone should want to be like Kanye.”
On Not Burying the Lede
There are two things I learned back when I was doing a lot more music journalism that are appropriate for this post:
- Don’t bury the lede. As rant-heavy as this post will be, here’s what you need to know: the very things that make Kanye reviled today are exactly what we need more of. In particular, I want to focus here on why we need more men of color being indignant and not settling for labels like “brash,” “petulant,” or “pompous.” I am not being ironic when I say that Kanye’s actions are revolutionary in intent and execution. And while I agree with the thesis of Jessica Ann Mitchell’s article, I also believe that Kanye’s confrontational behavior is not simply Dubois-like “double consciousness” but as distanced a move as Kanye can make within the capitalist mechanisms his profession has entrenched him in.
- The second thing I learned as a writer was to not pull the hipser-y card and describe music by just name dropping other artists. For example, for Yeezus I wouldn’t want to say, “Imagine Metal Machine Music for the millennial hip-hop generation.” You’ll see this move from music journalists a lot and it’s a lazy one. Name dropping and using the “it sounds like” are a big no-no: “yeah man, imagine if Rick Rubin produced Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison live album and told him to only cover Hall and Oates songs but in the style of Philip Glass.” [Aside: but seriously, imagine how awesome that album would be.] While it would be convenient to throw in a litany of other artists and activists that help define Kanye’s actions I want to follow in the footsteps of his ego and focus on Kanye. As an individual in America. Today.
- (Okay I said only two things but …) I’ve written at length on this blog about how we can extend critical pedagogy vis-à-vis Kanye’s work. I would encourage educators to look here for less rant-y thoughts with clearer theoretical and pedagogical ramifications.