Why you love to hate Kanye West

JAKE CLELAND on why Kanye West is simultaneously the most reviled and revered figure in music today.

With Yeezus dropping yesterday it’s time to take another look at the most polarising figure in music today. The first rapper with a Benz and a backpack, Kayne (sic), Taylor’s Bane, whatever you wanna call him, Kanye West has gone to the crucifix repeatedly over the past near-decade to die for our talking points, and we’ve been more than happy to bang in those nails. Everybody hates Kanye, except for the people who love him, who love that everybody else hates him. It’s a twisted Ouroboros of mutual admiration and disgust, both feeding off each other, each time reassuring Kanye’s place in music history. It’s understandable. He’s a multimillionaire who got to where he is being pretty uncompromising about his creative decisions and wherever you stand on his music, he’s kind of living the dream. Maybe you’re still thinking, “I’m not jealous. Why would I be jealous?” You wanna know?


He’s more indie than you

Oh sure, you decked your iTunes library out with Fleet Foxes b-sides and Vampire Weekend sideprojects and all the albums from Kurt Cobain’s heroes’ heroes but how many of you were listening to King Crimson before Kanye put out “POWER”? Although Yeezus puts this phase well and truly in the ground, Kanye made his name pulling from old soul tracks and hip-hop deep cuts for his samples. Hipster icons like James Murphy and Carrie Brownstein get a lot of cred for their apparent crate-digging acumen (Brownstein is even doing so in one of the latest TV spots for American Express) but Kanye makes them look like children pawing through daddy’s record collection.

In fact, it was great watching the 45-year-old critics in my Twitter timeline coming out like, “Let’s see which bands I’ve been listening to for decades Kanye decides to sample this time,” because Kanye has total dad-taste. Can, Steely Dan, Marvin Gaye, Elton John, The Turtles, these have all appeared in samples on Kanye’s records, and if tumblr has brought us one generation-defining truth it’s that Dads Are The Original Hipsters.

He dresses better than you

This is a contentious point. For some reason there are people out there who don’t see the fashion-forwardness in leather kilts and diamond-encrusted masks. And yeah, it’s hard to forget the shutter shades, which summer festival bogans still seem reluctant to give up five years later. However, even if you’re not one for bold fashion statements, you can’t deny that Kanye West is a snappy dresser. The outfits speak for themselves.

Look at this buttoned-up collar:

And check out this dude’s scarf game:

Or the salmon-coloured suit he wore at his VMAs comeback show when he debuted ‘Runaway’ to the world:

He’s got more self-esteem than you

On College Dropout’s ‘Last Call’, Kanye ponders, “I could let these dream-killers kill my self-esteem/Or use my arrogance as the steam to power my dreams.” And on Yeezus he repeats the mantra, “I am a god!” Classic Kanye stuff, of course, but unlike the hucksters at the Mind Body Spirit Festival recently held at the Melbourne Convention Centre, Yeezy offers a path to self-fulfilment that won’t run you $200.

Years before Lil B took over NYU and delivered one of the most inspiring speeches of the 21st Century, Kanye was motivating the kids with lines like “Everybody feel a way about K but at least y’all feel something.” No matter how much they hate you it’s better than ignoring you altogether. Somehow none of these lines have been compiled into a book of modern life lessons, but they’ll still be there, waiting for whenever some enterprising publisher wants to update How To Win Friends And Influence People.

Like all egotists, Kanye’s fragility rises in proportion to his supposed invincibility, but rather than seeking a path of calm and trying to disconnect oneself from the drama of the day, he makes an argument for living precariously. The harder the balancing act, the higher the highs, which is how Kanye imbues himself with the courage to get up on stages in front of the world and make his voice heard. Well, that and Hennessey. He’d probably do really well in a job interview with all his self-confidence, except for two things: he could never stand to work for anyone but himself, and he’ll never need to work another day in his life.

He’s got more money than you. Like, way more.

Even before College Dropout, Kanye was doing pretty well. Production credits on hit singles for Jay-Z, Talib Kweli and Alicia Keys not only opened doors for Kanye’s eventual rap career, it also kept him in pink polos, chains, and the rented Lexus he eventually drove into a head-on collision. That crash inspired ‘Through The Wire’, his breakthrough single, which he rapped through his wired-shut jaw.

Kanye’s net worth is estimated at around $100 million. Sure, that’s only a fifth of what Jay-Z’s reportedly worth, but it still means Kanye could probably pay your rent for a year selling off one of his cherubic Persian rugs. It’s easy to lose the scale of how much $100 million is really worth in this age of gross excess and decadence so to put it into perspective, here are some things you could buy with $100 million:

A thousand really nice cars

Most of the houses in one of Melbourne’s outer suburbs

400 tickets on Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceflight

Every season of Friends on DVD for every person you’ll ever meet in your life

With $100 million not only could you buy the best birthday presents, you could also afford to have the coolest costume if the party happens to be themed

Because of this, some folks weren’t too happy Kanye was strolling around Zucotti Park two Septembers ago with his even wealthier pal Russell Simmons, attempting to empathise with the Occupy protesters. At first glance it seems like a valid objection, Ye being as wealthy as he is, but it ignores the Gatsbyian morality of Kanye’s story.

Unlike the entrenched, corrupt influence of America’s economic leaders, Kanye took success by himself, not by profiteering from millions of uneducated poor people. Kanye is the New New Money – he may be rich, but he’s not Wall Street rich. He’s Rocafella rich, not Rockerfeller rich. This is what Watch The Throne is all about; the unlikelihood of two black rappers taking over the world. The fact that they did should be an optimistic fable for the disenfranchised masses with Kanye West as the symbol of the ideal American Dream – or that’s what he’d like us to think, anyway. What Kanye does with his self-made millions is sometimes philanthropic, but it’s more often crassly commercial. There’s nothing wealth is wasted on more than the wealthy.

Follow Jake Cleland on Twitter @sawngswjakec