Six Reasons Why He’s More Than Just An Asshole
By Wilma Qiu
The certified asshole.
The number-one fan of “leather jogging pants.”
The “gay fish.”
Despite being the brunt of a fair share of jokes and having the media paint a less-than-positive image of his character, Kanye West is undoubtedly an extremely significant innovator in the music industry.
I’m writing this, as a lover of music and hip-hop, to take a look beyond the image of Kanye created by his outbursts and buoyed by TMZ and Us Weekly. His unapologetic sound, in combination with his outspoken personality, create art that has laid the groundwork for important advances that may not be apparent at first glance.
To understand this, it’s useful to trace Kanye from his humble (fun fact: this very line is the first time “humble” and “Kanye” were used in the same sentence) beginnings to the current era. Without further ado, I present to you The Artist Formally Known as Kanye West: Yeezy to Yeezus.
Impressionism: The College Dropout and Late Graduation
2003 was an interesting year for music. The top 10 songs on the Billboard 100 at the time included 50 Cent’s “In Da Club,” Chingy’s “Right Thurr” and R. Kelly’s “Ignition” (I’m imagining my fifth-grade self singing every word of the chorus without knowing what any of it meant … *shivers*).
In other words, rap was dominated by a gangsta image that trended more toward homogeneity than creativity. But then, Kanye’s first album The College Dropout was released and broke the traditional rap formula.
The collection of songs bridged the gap between sounds of underground rap (think De La Soul or A Tribe Called Quest) with mainstream popularity. Most importantly, it introduced and popularized a new element of hip-hop: the soul sample, prevalent in the songs “All Falls Down” and “Through the Wire.” “Jesus Walks” also got me admitted into high school, but that’s another story.
Late Registration, released a year later, represented a continuation of the innovative impact of Kanye’s music. The album solidified the platform for alternative-leaning rap and used orchestral and booming sound (think “Touch the Sky”) to disrupt the then-sturdy platform of hip hop built on hoes, bling and do-rags.
Both albums set the stage for rap that had a more emotionally-aware, socially-conscious flair that could still appeal to a diverse audience, ranging from hip-hop fanatics to hard-to-please hipsters. They also built a foundation for popular alt rappers like Lupe Fiasco and B.o.B.
After two albums, it was time to re-invent. Graduation fused electronic music with hip-hop (“Stronger” and “Flashing Lights”). While it seems commonplace now, in 2007, EDM music hadn’t quite taken over the airwaves yet. Kanye’s album pushed electronic music to the masses with an already-established genre.
In doing so, he seeded the elements of mainstream success that support the full-blown powerhouses that create electronic music today. It’s hard to think that Kanye was a predecessor to artists such as Zedd and Avicii, but only six years ago, there weren’t many electronic-influenced genres on the radio.
The Blue Period: 808s & Heartbreak
This is an interesting anomaly in his musical line. 808s & Heartbreak at first seems to be the opposite of innovative — it heavily utilized the overpopular trend of Auto-Tune on the entirety of the album.
However, despite its common medium, the album’s different approach to content had a deep impact. This is where Kanye lays it all out there — sadness, heartbreak … more sadness.
Before 808s, emotion existed in rap music but was uncommon. This album opened the doorway for alternative hip-hop and R&B that appealed to our angsty sides, like the music of Kid Cudi, Drake and Frank Ocean.
The Mona Lisa: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Kanye’s masterpiece. It’s difficult to give this album due justice in a paragraph, but I’ll try.
Released after his infamous incident with a certain blonde pop songstress, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was an incredibly impressive exercise in music.
Kanye brings the threads of all his previous compositions together: the soulfulness of The College Dropout and Late Registration, the electronic elements of Graduation and the emotional vulnerability of 808s and Heartbreak. All complemented by amazing production.
The result was music that was unlike anything else in the industry. It was a new concept in its music and yet had a profoundly widespread appeal. The drama, maximalist beats and grand atmosphere all culminated in this album.
Postmodern Art: Yeezus
Released just over the summer, Yeezus is Kanye’s attempted entry into god-status (almost literally). I won’t talk about this much since its impact on the industry is still at large.
However, it definitely is a more experimental, artistic exercise and moves away from convention. Will we have a postmodern rap scene? Stay tuned.
At the end of the day, Kanye is an unapologetic, abrasive man. But it’s exactly his shamelessness that holds the key to his musical success.
The relationship between his ego and his rhymes combine to produce albums that move away from the static equilibrium that so entices the music industry. The end result is that Kanye is an Artist.
The College Dropout and Late Registration were similar to Impressionism in completely rejecting the norm in an audacious and colorful way. Graduation, like Cubism, incorporated industrial elements to reevaluate what was commonplace. 808s as the Blue Period is self-explanatory. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is Mona Lisa because of its near universal appeal and beauty. And finally, Yeezus is the postmodern art we hope to one day understand.
So, Imma let you finish but … KANYE WEST, THE BEST INNOVATOR IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY OF ALL TIME! ALL TIME!!
Photo Courtesy of Kanye West