Kanye: He IS a god
Aside from celebrities accused of crimes, Kanye West is perhaps the most controversial figure in pop culture today. His reputation is that of an arrogant, unpredictable man who has often violated industry norms; for instance, by interrupting Taylor Swift’s VMA acceptance speech in 2009, to insist that Beyonce should have won instead. Many of my friends call Kanye an asshole, even if they do enjoy his music. In light of Kanye’s heavy baggage, one can very legitimately question whether he deserves recognition as a leader at all - so why is Kanye a champion in my eyes? Kanye possesses many of the leadership qualities that I most wish to develop in myself.
One of the best selling artists of all time, at over 32 million albums sold, Kanye has achieved critical acclaim and industry success in the face of tragedy and personal setbacks. As the child of divorce, Kanye developed a stronger relationship with his mother than with his father, a subject that has appeared in many of his songs, including “Champion” on “Graduation.” When West shattered his jaw in October 2002, he kept recording with his jaw wired shut; rather than giving up on his dream, he used the injury as inspiration for his debut album. Kanye’s mother passed away in 2007; afterward he said, “It was like losing an arm and a leg and trying to walk through that.” Even so, Kanye kept recording.The VMA incident, while entirely self-inflicted, nonetheless caused Kanye a great deal of emotional distress; President Obama himself called him a “jackass.” The fact that Kanye rebounded from such an incident commercially and continued to appear in the public eye testifies to his resilience.
Again and again, Kanye has converted the saddest moments of his life into innovative works of music. Many of his songs reflect his emotional struggles as a superstar, particularly “808s and Heartbreak,” which speaks to the loneliness of fame on “Welcome to Heartbreak” and on “Streetlights.” Later, Kanye worked on “Only One” with Paul McCartney, a song he dedicated to his deceased mother, and to his daughter North West with fellow celebrity and wife Kim Kardashian. Though Kanye clearly struggles to control his emotions, he also possesses the remarkable ability to create beauty out of sadness. His honesty and vulnerability in his artistry offers comfort to fans who have lost their own parents, or struggle with depression and feeling as though they belong. As a leader, I hope to follow his lead in finding positivity in the darkest moments of my life. Although I want to make better decisions in guiding my public image, when I do make mistakes, I also want to be as vulnerable as Kanye in speaking about my struggles.
In fact, when we step back from his negative media reputation, Kanye’s genius and ambition becomes abundantly clear. Like many great leaders, Kanye is incredibly driven to produce the best work that he can, in an innovative manner. At the age of 5, Kanye was already writing poetry; his passion for poetry, creativity, and hip hop would grow throughout his life. He sums up his ambition to create music: “I’ll just do what I want to do. More than anything, I just want to deliver art.” In a world in which we are increasingly encouraged to be “well-rounded” and to become experts in a variety of field through search engines and applications, Kanye stands out for his single minded ambition. Kanye knows what he wants to accomplish, and he has his ambition to thank for his critical acclaim.
Many artists settle for replicating old sounds, but Kanye aspires to accomplish more than simply selling hip hop music. Since he first entered the hip hop industry, Kanye’s work has not only been pervasive and influential; it has also been innovative. Kanye is incredibly perfectionist. He is known for obsessively tweaking his albums, which often leads his releases to be postponed, but also increases the quality of his work. His debut album “The College Dropout” was hugely critically acclaimed and innovative for its use of soul music samples. Of course, other artists soon began copying West’s method; as a result, Kanye resolved to innovated his sound on his next album, “Late Registration.” He deviated from rap completely with “808 & Heartbreak,” which relied heavily on auto-tune. Perfectionism is not always a positive, but in Kanye’s case, it drives him artistic success. Details are key in an industry like hip hop that focuses so heavily on lyrics, beats, and sampling; similarly, in the legal industry, which I hope to enter post-graduation, details are essential. Leaders cannot stop at what is expected of them; they must rise above the standard to innovate and set a new standard within their field. Since he entered the music industry less than 20 years ago, Kanye has accomplished exactly that.
While I dislike many of Kanye’s qualities, such as his reckless attitude and lack of self control, some of our most respected leaders - like J.F.K., who was a womanizer, or Woodrow Wilson, who was very racist - were deeply flawed in other ways. Like other great leaders, Kanye is far from perfect. Nonetheless, his resilience, his artistry, and his innovation have earned him my respect and admiration.