What in the world gave you that idea? Was it the Taylor Swift thing? Was it that time at the MTV Europe Awards where he shared his feelings about losing to Justice? Or the whole “George W. Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People Thing?” (Though to be fair, lots of people had his back on that one.) The Matt Lauer thing? Did you think the cover of Rolling Stone where he posed as Jesus was a bit much? Or did he say something online that just struck you as a bit off? Well, don’t make too much of it. Kanye is a sweetheart. He only does these things because he cares too much.
It’s true. What makes Kanye special (well, one of the things) is that he has exactingly high standards of aesthetics. He pushes himself to make the grandest art possible. That tweet about the Beatles, though arrogant, isn’t that far off. His child-like glee in making something new to amaze the world is the best part about Kanye. The problem is that Kanye views the world the way a child does, and he thinks hard work should be rewarded in kind. After all, it’s only fair. So when something seems unfair (say, the wrong video wins an award), he throws a hissy fit. But it’s a deeply principled hissy fit. (Especially if the hissy isn’t even about him. Fairness is important for it’s own sake.) As New York magazine’s Lane Brown said, “Sure, Kanye's inability (or refusal) to recognize the meaninglessness of MTV's awards shows makes him seem humorless—but it's also admirable, in a way. Why shouldn't we demand that awards go to the most deserving artists?” So yes, he may be an attention-seeking child that needs to constantly be told he’s special, but it’s all in the service of a greater good. Plus, he might be the greatest solo artist working today.
Really? That good?
You don’t win the prestigious Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics' poll a record three times in six years or earn perfect scores for your latest album because you're pretty good. The genius of Kanye is that he sees the entire world as up for grabs. He never believes that something is too cheesy, weird, over-the-top, revealing, painful or, most importantly, too far away from what hip-hop is supposed to be, and because of his prodigious skill as a producer and performer, he makes ideas soar that seemingly shouldn’t work.
So, he’s great because he’s too arrogant to think there’s something he can’t do?
Pretty much. He was rapping about boring day jobs and his insecurities before it was cool for mainstream rappers to talk about those things, and didn’t view that as a good reason to not put a raunchy club song on the same album. He’ll collaborate with pop stars like Fergie and indie rockers like Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon alike because he thinks both have something to offer and wouldn’t care what anyone else thinks. He’s made electronic dance records, arty experimental records and ornately orchestral records because he’s arrogant enough to believe he can do it all. And he’s right.
How did this guy get so good?
Kanye was born in Atlanta and grew up in Chicago with his mother, a college English professor. A fan of groups like A Tribe Called Quest, Kanye started making beats in high school and pestered Chicago producers for tips. Producer and rapper Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie (who was one of P. Diddy’s main producers) took Kanye under his wing, and by 1998 Kanye was producing tracks for the likes of Foxy Brown and Goodie Mob. His big break came when he produced "This Can't Be Life" for the Jay-Z album The Dynasty: Roc La Familia. This led to Kanye producing several tracks for Jay-Z’s acclaimed album The Blueprint, including the hit single “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” But what Kanye really wanted to do was rap. Multiple labels, including Jay-Z’s Def Jam, passed on Kanye’s early demos, claiming he wasn’t street enough. But Kanye was persistent, and eventually wore Jay-Z down and scored a cameo appearance on The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse. This led to his debut album, 2004’s The College Dropout, which is still the best place for new fans to start. At first West’s production style relied heavily on chopped-up, sped-up samples of old soul records. But as he grew more successful, he was emboldened to stretch out his sound by incorporating string sections, live instruments, dance beats, unexpected samples and pretty much anything else that caught his fancy.
What else is he up to?
He’s had plenty of extracurricular activities, and plenty of side-projects that he’s announced and never gotten around to, such as an HBO comedy series he was supposed to do. (He once called himself “The Black Larry David,” for whatever that’s worth.) He’s produced most of Common’s album Go and made records for The Game, Lupe Fiasco and T.I., amongst others. He’s lent his voice to The Cleveland Show and appeared in Entourage. A first-rank fashionista, he’s had his own clothing line, wrote a fashion column for Complex and designed shoes for Nike and Louis Vuitton. He also has the Kanye West Foundation, which helps disadvantaged children stay in school. Perhaps most importantly, he brought the renowned California fast-food chain Good Burger to the Chicago area.
Hey, don’t forget his Twitter account!
Of course not! The genius of Kanye’s music can barely be captured by words. The genius of his Twitter account is beyond words. (And we’ll have to take him at his word about the fur pillows.)