Kanye, His Music and Public Perception

Sam Walsh
Media Theory and Criticism 2018
3 min readMay 6, 2018

Kanye West will go down as one of the most notable and influential figures for the past two decades. Controversy is nothing new for West. In fact, many would say that he thrives from it. His recent comments have put him back in the public spotlight, and again, with controversy enveloping almost everything that comes out of his mouth. Let’s look at where this controversy came from in West’s career, and how far off track this is from his usual rhetoric. It’s also important to realize the impact that West and his music have on the public and how those two things may or may not differ.

As previously stated, West is no stranger to controversy. Debates about his comments have been a part of his career since its inception. It is hard to forget West’s “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” comment during a Hurricane Katrina telethon. He has constantly praised his own work and celebrity by calling himself “the voice of a generation” and comparing himself to people and things like Steve Jobs, William Shakespeare, as well as Google. After initial push back though, the public come to agree, at least partially. Time magazine listed West in their TIME 100 most influential people in 2015. Mike Myers, the uneasy partner for West’s Bush comment, later defended West’s statement.

As to his music, West is well known for influencing sounds in the artistic community and shaping today’s hip hop scene. Though how do his songs and albums affect the non-musical public? On Yeezus, West raps about his frustration with the fashion industry that he was trying to break into. He felt that he was not getting the opportunities others were. Five years after that album came out, West has a multi-million-dollar deal with Adidas and is on his sixth line for his YEEZY fashion label. On My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s Runaway, he explained in depth the thought process behind being an asshole. Right now, I think most would agree, West is an asshole. To touch on music briefly, 808’s and Heartbreak was a move away from the contemporary hip hop lyricism that he had written until that point. He focused more on singing and the auto-tuning of his own vocals. Now, some of the most popular artists in the world are using that same formula, including Drake, Travis Scott, and Post Malone.

Now Kanye is back and speaking on controversial things again, voicing his support for President Donald Trump. Fans draped in YEEZY apparel are typing their thoughts on his comments next to a pile of Kanye West CD’s. While many have turned on West after his recent comments, his songs are still charting. A boycott has not happened against him yet, and many would argue it never will. It is a case of separating an artist from their past, or even their work. This moral conflict is the case for many more artists than just West. In an admittedly more extreme example, rapper XXXtentacion has found success in recent years despite an ongoing assault case against his then-pregnant girlfriend. Since the revelations and evidence have become known, XXXtentacion has had two albums release in the top two on Billboard’s album chart. This generation of music fans are comfortable or willing to separate a problematic artist from their work.

Kanye West has a strong grasp on how to make himself relevant in American society. Although he has created much controversy over the course of his career, many people have agreed with him over the course of time. While his music is experimental and occasionally polarizing, many of his points have carried across outside his artistry. Despite protest and disagreement with his latest comments, consumers are having a tough timing dropping West from their musical rotation. All these uncertainties help West solidify his place as one of the most memorable artists of our generation.