When talk of oft-hated mythical figures arises, people either think about the Loch Ness Monster or Kanye West. West receives undue hate from puritanical elitists as they dismiss him as irrelevant, painting him as an untalented peasant – an outsider violating the sanctity of a sterling industry. Why do these elitists despise him with such self-righteous fervor? What has he done that offends the general public? Well, at the risk of sounding condescending, let me repudiate the same old ranting tirade I hear about his lack of talent every time he is brought up in a discussion:
He’s not a musically untalented peasant. The guy’s actually a very talented producer who has made highly innovative music. His sonic metamorphosis has been one of unrelenting undulation. Kanye started it off with a sound marked by Soul and R&B inspired beats, drizzled with a lush and silky string accompaniment i.e. his first two albums: The College Dropout (2004) and Late Registration (2005).
The sound subsequently rocketed to the other end of the spectrum – ending up somewhere between pop superstar and chauvinist rapper. His next album, Graduation (2007) – the sonic equivalent of him coming to terms with the newfound fame, was characterized by an increased amount of electronic and synthesizer influenced backing.
Perhaps his most introspective album came next. 808s and Heartbreak (2008) was an attempt to reconcile his musical career with the death of his mother. The sound was something ineffable – not quite pop, not quite melancholia, and not quite rap. It was an experiment, and it worked. It bares soul; it has a unique depressive stripped down aesthetic marked by a heavy use of auto-tune to convey unusually solemn lyrical content.
We arrive then at his magnum opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010). The album is a castle built on foundations of musical maximalism and hip-hop. It’s a constant outcry against modern day capitalistic culture, while at the same time it celebrates it. The dichotomy is at first is hard to understand, but Kanye has always had a polarizing relationship with late-stage capitalism. He sees the worth in the ability of the every-man to achieve something great, while hating the ability of the system to mold you into something that you despise. In a nutshell, it’s an album about capitalism saving him and killing him at the same time. It was critically acclaimed by nearly every musical publication, and also lauded to be one of the best albums of the decade.
His most recent release was perhaps his most abrasive, reductionist, and minimalist work. The album Yeezus (2013) favored a grungier, acid house, and industrial influenced tonality. I see it as the natural succession of 808s and Heartbreak, but this time, Kanye is happy. He has a beautiful girlfriend, a burgeoning musical career, and boatloads of money. The lyrical content focuses around this, and also eschewing modern day racism (he sees it as a byproduct of the capitalist structure, still having a salient presence in his life). The album is probably his happiest album since Graduation, and yet it sounds corrosive. But it did win its due accolades, placing itself on many “Best of The Year” lists.
If by this point the sonic experimentation fails to impress you, then you should know that he’s garnered over 350 nominations for different musical awards shows, won twenty-one Grammies, and every one of his album’s has been critically lauded in various different publications spanning every platform possible. Blind luck for six albums in a row spanning over eleven years? If people have to resort to such paradoxical conspiracies to defend the vestigial view that he is an untalented imbecile, then we might just have to admit that his music does hold merit and relevance.