Kanye West is at it again. Or, better yet, Kanye West is still at it.
It might be best to begin by saying Kanye West is apparently still Kanye West.
Chicago’s own diabolical genius reportedly attacked some 18-year-old out in Beverly Hills, but unlike the usual rampage against photogs, it sounds like this kid probably deserved the wrath of Yeezus.
Kanye seems to be getting progressively more… Kanye… ever since his mother died in 2007. I’m not saying his mother’s untimely death had anything to do with him flying completely off the cliff in the past few years, but an event as awful as that can affect someone in pretty drastic ways.
Since 2007 there’s been the Taylor Swift fiasco, three attacks on paparazzi, that awkward Today Show interview with Matt Lauer, a Twitter tirade against Jimmy Kimmel that seemed serious on Kanye’s end, and the manic interview with Sway last November in which, out of nowhere, Ye interjects over and over again, “You ain’t got the answers, Sway! You ain’t got the answers!”
Reading the reports and watching the footage, it’s easy to see why some people have labeled 36-year-old West something other than a rapper, producer and fashion designer. Some consider him a megalomaniac.
Kanye is almost certainly a megalomaniac. I mean if someone proclaiming himself his generation’s Da Vinci, Shakespeare, Warhol, Jobs, Jesus and Disney, more influential than the president of the United States — if that doesn’t describe someone “marked by delusions of greatness, wealth, etc.,” then I don’t know what does.
Plus there’s the notorious “leather jogging pants” idea.
But, on the other hand, if there’s a thin line between genius and insanity, then genius and seemingly insane thoughts go hand in hand.
And coming from someone who wants to hate him, there can be little doubt that Kanye West is also a genius. As a music producer he’s unmatched in the world of hip hop. His music is always shattering preconceived notions of what hip-hop music should sound like. His own eclectic taste in music — from soul to funk, from ’60s progressive rock to ’80s pop — allows him to mix sounds that shock even his hardcore fans. Not to mention his diverse ventures outside of music. But no matter how leather jogging pants may sound to you or me, at least he’s exploring his other talents, which as any reader of Maria Popova knows, is something geniuses tend to do.
And his genius goes hand in hand with recognition and success. February 10 marks 10 years since The College Dropout dropped, and he’s already won more Grammys than Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Bruce Springsteen — more than his buddies Jay-Z and Beyoncé. He’s sold over 21 million albums, more than 66 million digital tracks, has six consecutive #1 albums and six #1 singles.
What makes Kanye so unlikable, such an object of ridicule, is that he knows he’s a genius — and he seems annoyed that other people won’t recognize him as the genius he is. It baffles him that captains of industry don’t invite him to join their boards of directors, that the mayor of Chicago hasn’t handed him the keys to the city and declared June 8, his birthday, Kanye West Day. He’s still waiting for that late-night call from the White House on how to secure world peace and end hunger, all while looking fresh.
The man clearly has illusions of grandeur, but artistic geniuses have to think they’re great, that their tastes and artistic choices are the right ones, that any doubt or insecurity threatens to dilute their artistic greatness.
Despite how we tend to define the word “genius” in today’s culture, no one is born a genius. Geniuses are made, emerging from a long process of trial and error, study, brainstorming, rethinking and hard work.
Most of the people we consider geniuses are simply people who failed a bunch of times but kept moving forward with their ideas.
So it is that we love Kanye’s music for the same reason we hate Kanye: because he’s an egotistical maniac obsessed with his own preferences and talents. He’s gonna do and say whatever he feels is right, without a care for what others might say about him.
That’s how genius works, and that’s how Kanye has operated for as long as he’s been Kanye. Few people dream of being worth $100 million dollars, but something about him tells me Kanye always expected he’d be insanely wealthy. He’s just that insane.
It’s like he says in “Homecoming”: Reach for the stars, so if you fall, you’ll land on a cloud.
It may be that Kanye’s megalomania has him reaching for the stars and beyond, but even so, he’s still riding high.
[Photo: rodrigoferrari via Flickr]