In Defence of Kanye West

Please let me finish.

To get to the other side. That’s what she said. Kanye West. What do these three things have in common? They are all some of our generation’s most-used punch lines. Somewhere in between now and the Taylor Swift interruption — or when he reenacted it with Beck at the Grammys, or maybe it was the countless times that he declared himself a god — either way, at some point, Kanye West became a joke. The set-up of this joke is that Kanye West has sold more than 25 million albums, nearly 100 million digital downloads, and has won 21 Grammys. His music shines light on issues of race, religion and America’s rampant struggle for power. He paved the way for countless rappers and artists to share their story and make careers out of their hardships. The punch line is that he’s vain. He thinks he’s a god. He thinks he is the most powerful. He thinks he is the most influential man in the world. And he is very, very open about it. So we laugh. And he wins more awards and speeds past any obstacle in his way and crafts a healthy happy family. But then, we remember that one time he posed as Jesus on the cover of Rolling Stone, so we laugh. He hasn’t committed any serious crimes, or spent any time in jail, or done anything to seriously harm society. Yet, JAY-Z, who shot his brother at 12 years old and was arrested for the murder of his friend in 1999, is 75% more liked than Kanye according to a 2014 survey. But he once said that his greatest pain in life is that he would never be able to see himself perform live. So we take all of his groundbreaking — or, more accurately, ground-shattering — achievements and we sweep them under the rug and we laugh.

And as we continue to thrust him into the spotlight, we continue to laugh at his wild antics. We snicker at every bold outfit, chuckle at every album-title-changing tweet, and scream with amusement every time he references his newly announced presidential campaign. Yes, Kanye West has declared that he will be running for President of the United States in 2020. Is he serious? We don’t know. Do we still mock him for it? Of course. And why? Because it is just another bullet point on his endless list of narcissistic remarks, right? But, with all that is going on in American politics right now, can we blame him? Kanye West was probably sitting at home, just like all of us, watching the Republican debate, and staring at Donald Trump right in the hair. And as he looked at that thin layer of yellow tissue paper that rests on Trump’s scalp and heard the nonsense that spills out of his mouth, he probably thought to himself, just as so many of us have: “I could do better than that guy”. So if we’re all thinking it, and we all agree with it, and we all recognize it, why are we mocking Kanye for saying it?

And we see these things online and on TV and every time we think to ourselves, “ha, classic Kanye”. And then we keep seeing them until we’ve seen them a thousand times and every time we think “classic Kanye”. We don’t see him talking about his love for his children, or his constant efforts to keep his mother’s memory alive, or his philanthropic work to battle growing illiteracy rates in Chicago through his foundation; yet, it is impossible not to hear about his latest rant vouching for his greatness. And so, we laugh. We laugh about how one of the most influential and powerful men in the world talks about how influential and powerful he is. We ridicule a man who has released six wildly popular and critically acclaimed albums for being proud of himself. We deride a man who is constantly torn down by everyone around him for being the only one to give himself compliments. Yet, in the end, the joke is on us. Because I’m sure that right now, as we continue to mock him, Kanye is sitting at home, with his heaps of money, his 89 awards, and his wife and two children, and laughing about how little everyone else’s opinion of him matters.