Music

Who Will Survive in America: A Kanye Roundtable

A discussion among four staffers about everything Yeezy’s taught us.

Illustration by Ruby A.

Illustration by Ruby A.

I’m willing to bet that you already have an opinion on Kanye West. He’s maybe the most divisive celebrity around—he’s called an egomaniac about as often as he is a genius, and everyone I know has different reasons for either loving or hating him. My own feelings about Kanye are EXTREMELY POSITIVE—his music is one of my failsafe tools for self-care, and I have a different track to suit every feeling (“Monster” when I need to rage out, “Clique” when I’m super excited, “Lost in the World” when I need to believe in love). Kanye is so much more than a performer—he’s also a consumer of, and groundbreaking commentator on, lots of areas of modern culture. I consider his interviews academic texts that should be studied as key reference points about art, fashion, race, fame, architecture, film, technology, and music, all of which he speaks about frequently and brilliantly. There are so many things Kanye cares about, and he wants the world to care with him.

That list includes himself, which, depending on your attitude, is totally awesome or really off-putting. I was recently talking about Kanye with Jenny, Julianne, and Amy Rose, and we discovered that we’re all on the “awesome” side of that divide. We agreed that what people take as Kanye’s arrogance is really just confidence, and wished we could talk about this to the WORLD. Then we were like, duh, we can! So we had this Very Official Roundtable about our love of ’Ye. No matter what your feelings are about Kanye West, I hope you’ll come away feeling less “Bound 2” the criticisms you might have of him!! OK, sorry, that was terrible. But we learned a lot from one another, and hopefully you’ll appreciate this discussion, too.

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Jenny started the conversation by talking about how Kanye’s rap career blew up in late 2002 after he was almost killed in a car accident. His jaw was fractured in three places, and he was forced to take time off to recover. Before that, he was known as a producer (he worked with Jay Z and Beanie Sigel, among others), but not as a rapper or a performer. He used his recuperation period to make something of his own, and the result was “Through the Wire,” which he performed literally through the wire that was holding his injured jaw shut.

The video starts with a title card that reads:

Last October, Grammy-nominated producer KANYE WEST was in a nearly fatal car accident. His jaw was fractured in three places. Two weeks later, he recorded this song with his mouth still wired shut…so the world could feel his pain!

That paragraph was what made Jenny a Kanye fan: “It was so ridiculous and childlike in a way, and yet so urgent and moving,” she said during our discussion. “What an exquisite thing to have escaped death and then, while you’re still recovering from having nearly died, wanting to make a song, and then actually recording that song, and then wanting everyone to experience that feeling of getting to live and make things.” The song, she pointed out, “exemplifies everything we love about Kanye: his total unwillingness to peddle in false humility, his big ambitions, how he’s both his own harshest critic and his biggest supporter, his SUPREME EXQUISITE TASTE, his rather large capacity to laugh at and make fun of himself (as long you’re laughing with him, NOT at him), his self-awareness, and his vulnerability.”

Critics love to call Kanye an egomaniac, but there’s something very positive and powerful about believing in the art you’ve created. When Spike Jonze interviewed him in 2007 (see video above), Kanye said, “The bottom line is…I’m a fan of really great stuff. So, you know, by the fact that I’m really great, by default I’m a fan of myself.” Later in the same interview, he elaborated on that notion:

I’m not supposed to say how great [my work] is. Somebody’s supposed to come in and be like, “Aw, man, that is just the craziest shit I saw in my life!” and I’m [supposed to] be like, “Oh, do you think so? For real?” That’s ignorant! Actually, that’s disrespectful to the person who just said it. That’s me acting stupid, like, I didn’t know it was good…. What my grandfather told me to say is, “You got good taste!”

“It took a while for all that to sink in, but it’s really inspiring,” Jenny said. “I always find a way to lessen my achievement; I fail to show other people that I’m proud of my work, even though that’s why I share it in the first place. There’s something so radical and simple about taking pride in what you do.”

Last year, when I read this piece by Anna F. about unapologetically loving and believing in your art, all I could think about was Yeezy. As girls, we know how heavy the pressure is to be humble and modest about our achievements and to not take up too much space. People of color experience that same kind of pressure (and for women of color it’s at least twofold). Kanye knows that people want him to act eternally grateful for being allowed entrance to the club of Black People That White People Care About (Sometimes), but he chooses instead to have confidence in his craft, to appreciate its worth, and to make sure everyone else sees it too. As Julianne puts it, a lot of the criticism lobbed at Kanye after every public interview he does “comes from people not wanting to see a black man who won’t shut up, and who prominently displays his ego (which, frankly, is pretty commensurate with his talent). These are things that white men do all day long without ever having to field the vitriol that Yeezy does.”

He’s also unafraid to call out racism. Maybe you’ve seen the video above, from a 2005 fundraiser for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Kanye was scheduled as a speaker and given some prepared lines to read alongside the actor Mike Myers. Kanye went totally and unexpectedly off-script, making a desperate and emotional plea on behalf of the hurricane’s neglected survivors, most of them people of color. He also called out the media for their unfair portrayal of the black families who lost their homes, and added, as Myers stared straight ahead like a deer in headlights, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

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21 Comments

  • maryjanesandconverse March 11th, 2014 7:53 PM

    this article is perfect ♥
    sums up all my feelings about yeezy

  • woahmeredith March 11th, 2014 8:39 PM

    So like for actual years now I’ve been considering getting “Yeezy taught me” tattooed on me somewhere, because Yeezy did teach me so much. Racism, Hip-hop, dreams, fashion, and I’m eternally grateful for his work. But then it also sounds like Yeezy taught me some other things, sexual things, in the context of the skit…. so maybe not?

  • tturnthenoiseon March 11th, 2014 9:26 PM

    TO BORROW WORDS FROM AMY ROSE I FEEL LIKE I’VE BEEN PUNCHED IN THE GUT IN THE BEST WAY POSSIBLE <3 <3 <3 thanks Rookie wowza I'm speechless. Excellent job, Brodie

  • sadie lidji March 11th, 2014 9:32 PM

    kanye 4eva and eva

  • socialspecial March 11th, 2014 10:22 PM

    Wow, hadn’t thought about him that way, really made me see him, his art and everything he stands for in a new light, thank for the different view in things rookie.

  • irismonster March 11th, 2014 11:31 PM

    yayyy (or should i say kanyay? hehe) i love this all so much. i was brought to kanye very recently by lorde and south park and will not ever go back. he really is a genius, i hate the fact that when i tell people i like kanye, they just assume i mean it in an ironic way. i don’t.

  • jamiesond March 12th, 2014 3:38 AM

    really a genuinely good read I started around 11 now it’s 230 am CT that’s crazy but It is true growing up you want to be great/famous/rich or whatever else but Kanye West and countless others wanted to make a name for themself and make a product/craft that they are happy with and make it something with character and essence and truth that all comes together into “dopeness”. (yeah i like this)

  • Aili March 12th, 2014 9:10 AM

    It’s difficult to form an opinion of him. Definitely a controversial artist. I think it’s great that he’s creative, speaks about racism and defends his dreams. But what disappoints me, which wasn’t mentioned in the article, is his use of fur. It’s really cool when people wear whatever makes them happy, but I don’t think it’s justified in the case of wearing fur for fashion. Art shouldn’t make animals suffer.

  • onlykhenzo March 12th, 2014 12:24 PM

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU
    This has summed all of my feeling about Ye and even my internal struggle of ‘can I be a die hard fan girl but not like that he said this or did that’. I’d also never considered other perspectives of the ‘Imma let you finish’ incident of ’09.

    This roundtable could not have come at a better time. I’ve been feeling really uninspired or just disenchanted about the stuff I’ve been doing lately but this just granted me a sense of purpose.

    “… it was such a long road, a constant struggle, and a true labor of love to not only convince my peers and the public that I could be an artist, but to actually get that art out for the world to hear… I wake up every day trying to give something back to you that you can rock to and be proud of. Ten years later I am still the same kid from Chicago, still dreaming out loud, still banging on the door. The doors may be heavier, but I promise you WE WILL BREAK THEM.” @kanyewest, 10 Feb 2014 (ten year anniversary of The College Dropout) ~~~~~ so many feeeeeelllsss

    http://www.glitterdaiquiri.com

  • the_smartorialist March 12th, 2014 2:43 PM

    “They classify, you know, my motivational speaking as, like, rants.”
    Kanye West

    YOU GUYS. I have been waiting for this article for forever. Kanye-loving feminists always.

  • xosabrinarose March 12th, 2014 4:14 PM

    This article is actually perfect. I LOVE Kanye so so much and this summed up why in the best way possible.

  • painting_the_roses_pink March 12th, 2014 4:46 PM

    110% I’m showing my bae this article! Kanye is his idol. He’s also wants to go into the music industry, he works so hard producing and mixing hes almost always in the studio. I liked Kanye’s music, but I’ve never really delved deep into researching him as an artist. Thank you so much for this article rookie <3

    http://aroseofadifferentcolor.tumblr.com/

  • rhymeswithorange March 12th, 2014 7:14 PM

    AMEN!
    Whenever I tell people I love Kayne they are always surprised.
    I will just have to tell them his music is “academic texts that deserve to be studied as key reference points about art, fashion, race, fame, architecture, film, technology, and music, all of which he speaks about frequently and brilliantly”- totally agree!
    Also agree that his use of women is not great, glad that was brought up.

  • amescs March 14th, 2014 4:12 AM

    THIS IS SO GOOD I LOVE U ROOKIE

  • flocha March 14th, 2014 6:00 AM

    yesss I have only just got into Kanye recently (kinds late to this party haa) but I totally love his message and his music, and tbh whatever you think about him you can’t deny that the music world would be boring as hell without him

    http://whimsicalprocrastination.blogspot.co.uk/

  • farawayfaerie March 14th, 2014 12:05 PM

    I FOUND THE ANSWER IN A QUOTE FROM GRIMES:

    “There’s a psychology to success. I was reading all these biographies and watching documentaries about people who are successful. It seemed like the only thread amongst everybody is that unflinching, “Yes, I can do this and I am the best.” It’s a personal rhetoric that you can develop. Like, if you go and tell journalists, “I’m the future of music,” then people start printing that. So I’m just going to tell everyone I’m making the future of music. I’m going to force the situation to happen.”

    That’s exactly what Kanye’s doing, and people have been doing this for ages. Here Boucher even says that it’s the attitude every successful person needs, and yet Kanye is put into a ranting box of who does he think he is, it’s not his place to be successful