I believe in Kanye West, but can he ever enjoy an album release without suffering some problem? Every album since The College Dropout met the butt of misfortune: familial loss, dissolution of relationships, perceived devil worship, attacks on his seeming arrogance. And with the release of The Life of Pablo, the trend has continued with a vengeance — but there's more to the story than pure drama.
Remember the footage of West throwing a tearful tantrum backstage at the American Music Awards in 2004 when Gretchen Wilson won Best New Artist? Here laid a person distraught at what he recognized as slight borne out of shortsightedness. Every other person in the world used this anecdote to put him in his place. Humans instinctually compartmentalize information based on programming, and labeling West as either “rapper” or “upcoming artist” sobered the promise of the paradigm shift he claimed to represent.
The thing is, West persevered. When old heads balked at music’s New Testament 808s and Heartbreak in 2008, he assembled his own academy of writers, singers, producers and thinkers and put out My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy two years later. It was a collaborative labor of mentorship and world-building, and arguably the best rap album of all time.
The years following MBDTF were met with mixed reception. People laughed at Yeezy's expense for an apparently endless line of reasons – his awkward transition into fashion, his marriage to Kim Kardashian. Public confidence in his ability to make relevant music subsequently dropped after Yeezus (2013), swallowed by a consensus to bury him under his presumed successor Drake.
Now West has released an engrossing, paradigm-shifting work made with the love and the participation of artists young and old that absolves him from the confounding last album. (See a pattern, here?) But once again, trouble has arrived to offset his success: $53 million of debt. What’s funny is how tangible debt is when compared to exclusion from secret societies or lack of recognition. Not that debt isn’t serious on its own, but taking into consideration West's outbursts and pleas for investment, it’s hard not to sympathize with him.
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Calling West entitled has always been an easy salvo, but let’s remember that today’s mélange of styles, sights and sounds all draw back to him in some form. Unlike his partner Cudi or numerous successors, West's never been one to rebuke imitators or discourage competitors. If anything, his intention has been to build a world where everyone benefits equally. His time in music has been beef-free, contrary to popular perception of him as a malcontent.
Think about that for a minute. If his emotional outbursts are set aside for a moment, both his feuds with 50 Cent and the Diplomats ended with him playing the bigger man and resolving the tension in the press. West even intervenes when his friends fight. Case in point: Through the spat between Pusha T and Drake and Lil Wayne came "Pusha T for President," his continued mentoring of meme-wonder Drake and shouldering of non-GOOD artists.
Footage of the YEEZY SEASON 3 listening party revealed West reveling in the joy of his guests and collaborators. He loves making people great. That every participant on TLOP steals the scene underscores West's passion for bringing the best out of people for the world's betterment — passion that more often than not trumps tact. West clearly seems to be shaken when he feels the world isn't reciprocating what he's putting out. People tend to receive revolution, or whatever West's offering, as rough and impractical. TLOP smoothed out the bad press from Yeezus and his forays into fashion. He's arguably topped MBDTF, too, and now insists on releasing what amounts to a collection of psalms for free, albeit on a subscription service.
West's faith and confidence are so high that he's bypassing proper channels and hitting social media up to reach the 1 percent. His overtures have been met with mixed reception, again. Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo criticized his “pitch” as immature, and there’s validity in her statement. Yet at the same time, West is an idealist who, after piloting culture toward fresher, more eclectic waters for over a decade, is pouring money into realizing a cheaper, more egalitarian society — and he deserves kudos for that.