Reconciling Kanye West’s recent behavior with his iconic music

Kanye West and braggadocio are a more compatible duo than anything (outside of peanut butter and jelly). They are inseparable. One could describe Kanye as having a rebellious streak, but that implies that rebellion is just one part of his character. Rebellion is Kanye’s ethos. He even said as much in the recent, instantly viral TMZ interview, where he explains his decision to wear one of the infamous, Donald Trump-endorsed “Make America Great Again” hats as “feeling a freedom in doing something that everybody tells you not to do.”

That boundary-transgressing, instinctively contrarian personality is who Kanye has been for as long as we have known him. His first album, the wildly successful College Dropout, was filled with sociopolitical criticism and other themes we now associate with rappers like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. Then came the famous moment at a 2005 benefit concert for victims of Hurricane Katrina when he proclaimed that President George W. Bush did not care about black people, a statement that shocked a large segment of the white American population that had not come to grips with racism in a post-Civil Rights era. That declaration, however, made perfect sense when considering Kanye’s personality. For all the arguments on whether artists’ private lives and personal opinions should influence our consumption of their art, Kanye’s standing in that debate was always clear. He was his art, and his art was him. There was no distinction, and there was never meant to be.

Ostensibly, Kanye has never changed in terms of his self-aggrandizing, boisterous and narcissistic claims, but it is undeniable that 2018 Yeezy is vastly different from the 2005, 2010 or even the pre-Trump 2016 version. He may have slightly changed the reasoning behind his outlandish public statements, however. Where his previous anti-government, racism-exposing statements in his music and public appearances had grounding in life experiences, his musings now resemble those of a white philosophy major several hours into an acid trip. Saying that 400 years of slavery “seems like a choice” is not the type of anti-establishment rhetoric that made Kanye famous and successful. It is, however, something a headstrong person would say if they felt they were being explicitly told not to say it.

Of course, Kanye’s recent flurry of tweeting and public appearances is not random  — he claims to be releasing two new albums soon, and this is why his recent tirades are particularly important. Yeezy’s fans have split into two camps following his recent behavior – those refusing to listen to this album under any circumstances, and those now professing even more excitement for new Kanye music.

To the former faction: If you have a problem with Kanye and his recent forays into racism (or disapprove of any number of Kanye’s other questionable recent decisions and statements), don’t support him. That is your prerogative, and it is understandable. You will not be alone. If you are part of the latter group, however, and are now more excited than ever for new Yeezy tunes, it is important to remember several things.

First, as previously mentioned, Kanye West and his art are one and the same. If he refuses to separate his art from his politics, shouldn’t we do the same? To be clear, I am a fan of Kanye’s work, especially his earlier albums – Dropout, Late Registration and his magnum opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. But is there really something so unique about his music that you would choose to overlook racist and ignorant comments when there are myriad other rappers who are just as talented and significantly less problematic?

The answer to that question is probably obvious – yes, Kanye is incredibly unique. His music is beautiful, his lyrics powerful and, of course, there is a deep emotional connection – songs like “Heartless” and “Good Life” defined many a Kanye fan’s childhood. Those songs, frozen in the time they were made and the time we first heard them, can stay that way and keep us forever young. But at a certain point, we stop buying new stuffed animals and dolls for ourselves because attempting to recapture the glory of how life used to be is often a futile pursuit. Is Kanye a Beanie Baby, destined to fall by the wayside as time goes by, or is he an ornate piece of jewelry, received and cherished at an early age and held on to through good times and bad? The choice is yours, mine and ours.

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