Kanye West might be the most polarising artist of all time.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest hip-hop artists and producers of all time, there is no denying that Kanye is a musical genius. However, the sad part about this is that he is very well aware of his genius.
Kanye West is seemingly always at the heart of the controversy.
Whether it is interrupting Taylor Swift at the VMAs, public freakouts after divorcing Kim Kardashian, showing support for Donald Trump or poorly worded comments on slavery- Kanye seemingly can’t help but get himself in trouble. His antics have led many people away from his music because they can’t support such a problematic figure in good conscience.
However, when it comes to Kanye, separating the art from the artist is very important. This particular artist is a very mentally ill individual and his illness is on full display on a global stage. Some of his actions are inexcusable, but this doesn’t change the fact that his drive and passion to create musical masterpieces are unparalleled and for that reason, I believe that Kanye is the greatest artist of all time.
Now that is a very bold claim to make.
Let’s take a step back. Kanye grew up in Chicago and always had an affinity for music. He started rapping in the third grade and making musical compositions by the seventh grade. He knew he was destined for greatness by the age of 13. This unwavering confidence in himself was a trait that carried on to his entire career.
Kanye’s first taste of fame came when popular artists like Jay Z and Pharell started using his beats. Soon after that, he became well known as a music producer. He was doing very well for himself but Kanye was far from satisfied. He wanted to be a rapper, but nobody was willing to give him a chance. He did not fit the “Gangster” image that rappers had at that time. He spent endless nights working on songs and trying to get a record deal with labels. Roc a Fella, which was Jay Z’s record label took a chance on Kanye, and he didn’t disappoint. As things started to look up for Ye, tragedy struck. He was involved in a car crash that left him with a shattered jaw, which had to be wired shut in reconstructive surgery. During his time at the hospital, just two weeks after his accident, he recorded his first single, ‘Through The Wire’, with his jaw still wired up.
This is just a small example showing Kanye’s love for his art and finding inspiration in tragedy. His knack for transforming tragedy into music was a trend that carried on throughout his career. Kanye’s first studio album “The College Dropout' was released in 2004. He had previously dropped out of college when he realised that school was being a hindrance in his music career.
Naming his first album after this is a testament to Kanye’s ability to embrace who he is, rather than following the herd.
His album took the world by storm and was met with universal critical acclaim. He won his first Grammy for the best rap album. The world witnessed Kanye’s raw talent for the first time and he didn’t disappoint. He then went on to release his next 2 albums, ‘Late Registration’ and ‘Graduation’ which were met with equal praise and won two more Grammys.
By 2007, Kanye was at the peak of his career and had entered superstardom. He became a household name and his music broke many records. But what should have been the happiest time of his life was one of the most trying periods in Kanye’s life. He lost his mother, Donda West who had singlehandedly raised him and supported him throughout his life, in a freak accident during cosmetic surgery. He was also going through a breakup with his long-term fiancee of 5 years, Alexis Phifer. All this culminated in Kanye going into a deep depression, and he sought music as his only respite. This led to the release of his fourth studio album, ‘808s and Heartbreak’.
The world was not prepared for this album.
808s is my favourite album of all time and has heavily influenced the music to come. What separates Kanye from the rest is his ability to take risks without a drop of doubt in himself. Even though his previous albums had been great successes, Kanye decided to change his style up completely for '808s and Heartbreak’. In this album, Kanye talks about loss, love, pain and heartache.
His tone is bleak, bitter, accusatory, defensive and self-pitying. He makes extensive use of autotune and the Roland TR 808 drum machine. His songs reflect the musings of a heartbroken lover, drowning in self-loathing. Even though he might not be a good singer, he pours his heart out into all the songs. He talks about broken promises, betrayals, regrets and goodbyes.
Despite it being considered one of the most iconic albums of all time, his album was met with mixed reviews. Kanye was breaking the mould of the tough rapper persona and was talking about feelings and emotions, something that most male artists avoided at that time. He was criticised for his use of autotune and his robotic voice, which was uncommon at that time. But as time has gone on, such music has become the staple of the industry and artists like Drake, The Weeknd, Travis Scott, and Frank Ocean, among many others have credited this album as being a major inspiration in their music.
“Taylor, Imma Let You Finish.” These familiar words are Kanye’s biggest regret.
As we all know this was what he said when Kanye disrupted Taylor Swift’s award acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Awards. This was the most controversial incident in Kanye’s career which made him the most fascinating, celebrated, scrutinised egomaniac in pop culture. This incident goes to show how deep you can fall after being on top of the world for such a long time. The entire world turned on Kanye and the media vilified him to no extent. All the tabloids could only talk about Kanye and hate for him was at an all-time high. This affected him deeply and he holed himself up in a house in Hawaii for months just working on his upcoming album. Artists who worked on this album with him called Kanye a madman because of the way he would obsess over this craft to create the perfect album.
In 2010, Kanye released his 5th album, ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy'. This album took the world by storm and solidified his comeback. Many consider this album his Magnum Opus, a perfect album and even the best album ever created. The world couldn’t help but accept that Kanye had managed to outdo himself.
The album is a maximalist high-tempo album that talks about celebrity worship, consumerism, love, wealth, sex, and escapism. He questions his actions and points a finger at fans who put artists on such a high pedestal. He talks about the problems in Black America and the Government. He criticises the consumer culture but admits that he is a part of it and can’t get out. The album has little touches of wit sprinkled throughout to balance the cynicism and pessimism in it. He also apologies for his actions, and seeks forgiveness. This wasn’t just an album for Ye, it was a way of expressing his true self to the world and telling his story. One of the best-structured albums of all time, none of the songs feel out of place and they all come together to tell a beautiful yet tragic story. The album won 3 Grammys and was met with Universal critical acclaim.
Kanye has gone on to release five more albums since then. All of them are considered by music enthusiasts classics. His influence and dominance over the music industry in the 2010s is something similar to Michael Jackson in the 1980s. He has cemented himself in the music Hall of Fame. Kanye might not be the best rapper of all time, that would be Tupac. He doesn’t have the best lyrics, that would be Eminem. He doesn’t have the best flows, that award goes to The Notorious BIG. But Kanye might be the best artist of all time. He manages to bring together all facets of music in full synergy, such that his songs give off a very unusual vibe that can’t be described but it is orgasmic to the ears.
Kanye is unpredictable, he is fearless, he is cocky, and even though this makes him a pretty shitty human being, when it comes to creating music, all of those things make him one of the greatest to ever do it.
If you are hesitant to give Kanye a try, I urge you to at least listen to ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ at least once and form an opinion for yourself. I wish I could go back and listen to his music for the first time again. I would like to end this with one of my favourite Kanye lyrics."There are leaders and their followers but I'd rather be a d*ck than a..." You know the rest.