Kanye, Kurt Cobain, and the Wish Fulfillment of a Musical Genre

Kanye West isn't a real person. He's the unfortunate manifestation of the ideals set forth in his musical genre. He joins a tragic and unique group, which includes Tupac, Sid Vicious, and Kurt Cobain. Each musician's life culminated in the hyperbolic embodiment of one of their genre's core ideologies. Tupac was murdered in a drive-by which, although undeniably unjust and sad, is not surprising considering he had "Thug Life" tattooed across his stomach. Sid Vicious was a hard partying punk rock star who died of a heroin overdose. Sid's demise is so befitting his occupation that it's borderline cliché. Kurt Cobain, arguably the keystone of the sad, angst-y, depressive, grunge movement, induced his own departure. Does that mean Kanye is going to be murdered, OD, or kill himself? Doubtful, because the philosophy supporting his music is deeply rooted in materialism, entitlement, and a bastardized and detached sense of extraordinary self-worth, culminating in what some might call a "yeezus" complex.

So which world had to burn in order to create the ashes from which a Phoenix like Kanye could rise? It's difficult to get from N.W.A.'s "It's not about a salary. It's all about Reality" to Kanye's "I am God. So hurry up with my damn massage," suggesting that the answer to the question falls beyond the music itself. Some evidence: Kanye's wife is a reality star, whose life exists anywhere but the widely accepted and generally experienced real world. He uses auto-tune but qualifies; "it's a tool that people use when they can't sing... [but] what it does for me is, if I sing off key, it really points that out." (Go to the 8:00 mark of this video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsNhP3Pq-zo - to see the full hypocrisy.) And, most recently, he denounced (of all musicians) Beck's artistry. So, the question still lingers: which world had to burn in order to create a Kanye? It wasn't the world of a rap, nor the world musical talent, and it wasn't even the world of "artistry," but the smoking embers atop which Kanye flexes his platinum plated wings are all that's left of the world of human accountability.

Twice, Kanye has physically interrupted the presentation of an award given to another artist, crying that an artist whom he prefers makes better art. For someone who is so keen on respecting artistry, he certainly undermines the basic tenet of art's subjectivity. Furthermore, in his most recent stunt, he has unwittingly inspired disrespect of another fantastic performer. Memes have flooded the internet comparing Beck to Beyoncé, suggesting that he is "better" than her (an incongruous argument in its own right). Kanye intervening and stepping between two artists is already a glaring example of his lack of self-awareness and accountability, but there is an even more egregious example that has astonishingly not gotten a lot of airtime. In Kanye's song "Get Em High" (2004), off his own Grammy Award winning Album, he raps the lyric, "My teacher said I's a loser, I told her why don't you kill me." Not to be a stickler, but didn't Beck say, "I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me?" Are those the exact same lyrics? No. But if Sam Smith is more than willing to pay royalties to the incomparable Tom Petty, then maybe Kanye could have at least listened to Beck's f*&%ing album.

In the same way that Tupac couldn't escape rap's thug life, Sid Vicious was so committed to Punk's nonconformity that he ceased to conform to life itself, and Kurt Cobain was wholly consumed by grunge's sadness, so too has Kanye been exalted by hip-hop's need for unchecked praise. Materialism runs rampant in today's hip-hop. Rarely in our country's other popular genres (Country, Rock, EDM, Jazz, Blues, Gospel, etc...) are physical objects and wealth touted so strongly by the artists singing. Kanye obviously isn't the only one who sings about his wardrobe, automobiles, or paycheck, but he is the most visible. To be clear: this isn't about Kanye's musical ability - is he a talented musician and does he have a hand in sculpting today's musical landscape? Yes. The dude has won 21 Grammy Awards. Is Michael Jordan a great basketball player? Yes. He won 6 championships and 5 MVPs. Is he still a notorious jerk-off and a terrible tipper? Also yes. Kanye's biggest issue with regards to his public persona and the vitriol he inspires is his inability to separate his specific talent from his general behavior.

The perpetuation of Kanye as a figurehead of hip hop's wish fulfillment puts future generations in jeopardy. It is clear that Kanye has the ears of millions and is an obvious yarn in our social fabric. For these reasons, it is important for us to reprimand him for disrupting basic social contracts. An absence in repercussions for his behavior endorses the sentiment that it's ok to lack self-awareness. Unfortunately, societal leaders who lack self-awareness run the risk of producing entire cultures with no grasp on reality. North Korea is an example of such an issue and Putin's Russia has disconcerting potential. Interrupting a Grammy acceptance speech may seem a long way from tyranny, but is not a grand signifier of a dictator defining for their population what is and what is not art?