Have you ever found yourself saying “I can’t stand Kanye West” or “Kanye is such a jerk”? Don’t front, we all have at one time or another have had our “I hate Kanye West moment(s)”. But the real question is; has Kanye West changed or have we changed on him? Clearly he has changed sonically as most great artist do with longevity. Michael Jackson, Prince, & Madonna’s sounds changed drastically over the years (not comparing Kanye to any of them, just stating an example of mainstream longevity). But did Kanye’s arrogance/confidence ever change over the years? Was Kanye’s arrogance at the beginning of his career more attractive to listeners because he was the underdog at that point in his life?
Kanye told us on his first album The College Dropout “I could let these dream killers kill my self-esteem or use my arrogance as the stream to power my dreams. I use it as my gas, so they say that I’m gassed but without it I’d be last, so I ought to laugh”. Many would consider Kanye’s debut album The College Dropout to be his magnum opus. On that debut Kanye told you everything that he was at the moment and everything that he was going to be in the future. Imagine the confidence that it had to take in the early 2000’s to walk into Baseline Studios wearing pink polos rapping about dropping out of college. Meanwhile your fellow Roc-a-fella label peers were draped in throwback jerseys and rapping about life on the block.
The College Dropout is about a rapper from humble beginnings but is far from a humble album. It’s more of a “YOU AIN’T GOT THE ANSWERS!” album. Kanye is telling everyone on that album that thought traditional routes through academia were the only routes to success that they are WRONG. Kanye is telling the followers of that ideology that “you did everything that they told you you were suppose to do and you still aren’t making the moves that I am or have the money and success that I have. But this is the Kanye that everyone claims to like right? The only thing that may have changed is how well people are able to relate to the issues that Kanye is vocal about. The average listener can relate more to majoring in a major because their parents wanted them to other than the frustrations of not being included in the circle of fashion elites. Tho Kanye’s problems are now millionaire problems the manner in which he expresses his frustration is still the same. The same man that exploded on live television and said “George Bush doesn’t care about Black People” is the same man that proclaims that the fashion industry marginalizes Black fashion designers. The fight is different but the approach of the fighter is the same. The general public just doesn’t feel strongly about the causes that Kanye West is standing up for these days. Maybe we’re looking for Kanye to be this passionate about police brutality, but as he said on his outro Last Call from The College Dropout “I ain’t tryin to mess up my promotion”. Then there is the Kardashian elephant in the room.
Kanye is married to the woman that made being famous for being famous an actual thing. The woman that fueled attention, interest, and hate into actual fame. A woman who many feel benefits from white privilege and ethnic features at the same time. Kanye had to know that the union between the two of them would inherit him some of her haters off the top. But if you’ve been a consistent listener to Kanye West over the years you would know that he has been checking for Kim Kardashian for years. What man can really blame him for shooting his shot?
Let’s not forget once upon a time a mainstream Hip-Hop artist had to look a certain way, talk a certain way, and be from a certain area of town. To be in Hip-Hop’s mainstream your clothes had to fit a certain way and you had to have some level of street cred. There was definitely a conscious community/underground scene in Hip-Hop which is a whole different thing but to be the biggest rapper in Hip-Hop many of those things had to be in place. The bridge of these two worlds came in the form of Mr. Kanye West. I always say that Kanye West snuck in the game. As a producer he gained relationships, studio time, and rare chances to rock the mic with some of the best. Early on even if you didn’t want any Kanye bars on your joint you wanted his beats so you gave him a pass and let him on the track. Kanye used all that energy and momentum to create his life’s work in his debut album The College Dropout which was telling the Kanye West story up to that point. On that project you could see him bringing together the two worlds of the mainstream of Hip-Hop with his Roc-A-Fella affiliation and his Talib Kweli connection (who brought him out on his first tour). Who remembers when Mos Def introduced Kanye at Def Poetry Jam as “The Future Of Hip-Hop”? For better or worse Kanye West is responsible for the next wave of Hip-Hop from 2004 and beyond. Kanye is responsible for killing Gangsta Rap in the mainstream. Even artist that are at the top of the game right now Kendrick Lamar, Chance The Rapper, Drake, J. Cole, etc have Kanye West to thank for breaking down that wall in Hip-Hop’s mainstream. Kanye used his affiliation with Jay Z and Roc-A-Fella to shed some light on artist like Talib Kweli, Common, Mos Def, etc.
Another big factor in the launch of Kanye West’s career was the success of The Dave Chappelle Show and Dave Chappelle’s taste in Hip-Hop and musical guest. Dave brought the conscious Hip-Hop community onto television to perform when no other show on television would. Continuing to bridge that gap between the conscious Hip-Hop community and the mainstream while Kanye was doing it with his music. The performance of “Two Words” on The Dave Chappelle Show was epic. This was a performance on cable television where Kanye West, Mos Def, & Freeway were all performing at once at the same place. Once again we have Kanye West to thank for that. We have Kanye West to thank for He and Common’s performance of “The Food” on The Dave Chappelle Show to get us all excited about Common’s upcoming classic album “BE”. So let’s think again, do we really hate Kanye or did we never really like him in the first place?