To the meek, the enthralled, and the contemptuous, Kanye has always been an avatar of the determinist id that sits at the end of the hyper-capitalist hedge-maze. If we, like Kanye West, are to exist in a system of symbols and markers defined by forces and structures beyond our conception and control, the only way to truly find anything resembling liberation would be in embodying an Ozymandian sense of The Self.
Kanye West is a Super Saiyan whose power grows with every fight.
Some background… sort of
Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Record of a Living Being’ (1955) is a stark examination of paranoia in the nuclear age. In it, a family are attempting to have their wealthy patriarch (Toshiro Mifune) declared mentally unfit after his fear of the atomic bomb has driven him to spend his fortune on shelters, and eventually, a chunk of land in Brazil, where he hopes to move his family, his mistresses, and his bastards as a way to save them from nuclear Armageddon.
Takashi Shimura plays one of the Domestic Court counselors overseeing the arbitration. He wonders whether – in the age of nuclear proliferation, 10 years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – Mifune’s madness is so unfounded: “It is, after all, a feeling that all of us Japanese know all too well. He has gone too far, perhaps, but we cannot for that reason take his fears any less seriously.”
I feel myself aping the trademark frown of Takahi Shimura as I listen to Kanye West’s latest, “Lift Yourself.”
The music of fear
Kanye has gone too far, perhaps, but we cannot for that reason take his fears any less seriously.
Kanye West’s music has always been music of fear. Lost in the elevation and empowerment that comes when we are swept up in a Kanye track is a discord of ego, illusion, and reality that speaks to one man’s paranoiac fear of becoming invisible. This fear is key to Kanye West the performer and Kanye West the performance.
His songs have always built Kanye as a reaction to a universal yet (to him) deeply personal ‘other’: rivals, lovers, his mother, systems, structures, and most importantly, form and language. He is at his best as an antagonist, a wrecker. His identity, his art, is tied to a Saturday Morning cartoon styled ego: Scrooge McDuck come Vegeta type caricature that is as beguiling as it is abstractly off-putting. The radicalism of Kanye has always stemmed from his ability to stoke and harness resentment.
Therein lies his genius.
The golden age of resentment
We live in the golden age of resentment and Kanye West is a beat savvy Daniel Plainview wildly grinning on an ocean of oil. Like Plainview, Ahab, or heck, James Brown, Kanye is the perfect projection of the warped heart of American megalomania – the logical endpoint of the illogical trajectory of rugged individualism and cut-throat libertarianism.
Kanye’s music has always been a breadcrumb trail to the destination we now find him at, and where he is saying we secretly want to be. It may be a destination marked by ugliness, obfuscation, and (to normallos) madness, but Kanye – given the capital and cultural capital to sit at this crossroads relatively unperturbed – is banging on pots and pans and pressuring us to make much ado about nothing while confronting us with what we’ve made him, and in turn, ourselves.
Kanye’s brand is Kanye, Kanye is declared mad, Kanye’s brand is madness, but Kanye’s brand is still Kanye.
As a manic-depressive, I’ve always found Kanye West the musician somewhat dull. He’s like dexamphetamine to me. For normallos, as with dexies, he offers an album (or track) length vacation into the world of manic ego, manic energy, and manic imagination. For me, as with dexies, he offers a window into the type of mind that works in an office and punctually pays taxes.
In the rush to define Kanye as ‘mad’ the intolerably sane and plebian churners of the content-mils have failed to stop and ask if his inscrutability is merely a result of their own interminable dullness.
A fairly basic pop rapper
This is where Kanye has never failed to excite me. He’s a court jester in a court that lost its sense of humour somewhere between Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’ and the premiere of ‘The Good Place.’
He is a fairly basic pop-rapper whose shallowness is a very intentional part of his appeal. Kanye the performer knows who he appeals to. ‘College Dropout’ was so beloved by upper middle-class white kids because it offered a roleplaying guide to a life decidedly lived: oh shit, this guy is doing what he wants do and being what he wants to be, I’d like to swallow that pill and ride that high then get back to this group assignment on injury to property for LAWS4106.
Kanye has never challenged us artistically, but structurally.
He has made those who hate to feel culpable (the bourgeois, the sane, the bland) feel culpable. Kanye the performer is a mosaic of their basicness. Kanye the performance is a mutation of it.
We live in a terrifying time. A time of cartoon villainy: Trump as President, data as profit, environmental catastrophe as inevitability. What’s so ominous about all these things is that seemingly sane minds and sane lives being lead by a majority of seemingly sane people brought us here, to insanity.
So when Kanye West, the patron saint of marketable madness for the middle-class market of the ‘sane,’ releases a track that ends on Vout-esque infantalisms revolving around the word ‘poop,’ it’s not so much a matter of what does this mean for Kanye but what does this mean for those who consume him.
Is Kanye West mad and fearful, or are the times? Are both? Is carrying on like everything is normal any more sane than rapping “poopity scoopity?”
Have we rejected the fear of Kanye West, or projected it?
At the end of ‘Record of a Living Being’ Mifune is confined to an asylum where he is visited by a guilt struck Shimura. When he arrived the psychiatrist tells him: “this patient, I must admit, does disturb me…he is the first one to make me feel that maybe we are not sane. And so I wonder, who is mad: he or me?”
When Shimura enters Mifune mistakes the setting sun for an Earth in flames: “the earth is burning. Burning! At last, finally, it is burning.”
You can listen to Kanye’s new tracks virtually anywhere on the internet.