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Shanrah Wakefield Headshot

Kanye 'God' West: the Defense

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It's a new year, which traditionally means resolutions to embark on a diet of celery strands, spin class, and a distinct lack of your ex-lover. In pursuit of a little more longevity, I thought I'd instead resolve to implement a new approach to digesting the scary discourse of douchebags... starting with the feistiest fiancé Kim Kardashian has ever had.

Right from the opening frame of the Bound 2 music video, it's abundantly clear to anyone paying proper attention that nobody would create such a miserable abomination by accident. The fact that half the world even thought for a minute that Kanye West mistakenly believed his up-chuck of a backdrop was a realistic landscape depiction is really interesting. It's enough to make it abundantly clear that people aren't really listening, because -- and I get it -- it's way more fun not to.

The fact that Kanye West is not understood is okay. Projectile spurts of disjointed jibber-jabber riddled with contradictions and hyperboles aren't always easy to digest, especially when delivered by a self-hype junkie weighed down by enough gold chains to feed an impoverished nation.

I think it is 100 percent problematic, however, that in spite of our critical tirades, we rarely bother to listen.

As I sit down to write in defense of the man we love to chew up for breakfast along with our very own cups of holier-than-thou juice, I should note that it's not worth expecting that this will be a comprehensive and whole defense. He is not wholly defendable. The defense will rather be as "holey" as he is and as I am, because life is just a fatty chunk of Swiss cheese. Just like you are.

Let's not bother regurgitating points on Kanye the walking paradox. It's hardly worth arguing that Gucci-loving-corporation-haters don't usually rate well in the public polls on either side of the fence. His spikes his arguments with uncanny contradictions, usually all within the same stream-of-consciousness ramble. However, just because his voice is big it doesn't mean he's anymore qualified than the rest of us to be flawless in his arguments.

Kanye is imperfect. He's said this himself, loud and clear, as many times and as willingly as he's said that he's a "god", by the way. He can scream all he wants that he's done everything "to the highest level" (his favorite phrase?), but not once has he backed down on the parallel, genuine, open admission that he's "fallible", that he's still learning, and (on Kimmel) that he realizes he can be "totally inappropriate".

There are flaws in every movement, personal or otherwise, and Kanye wants to call this a movement whether you do or not. You'd probably rather call it a snotty rant at best, but I believe it deserves to be called a conversation. That's what it is. Has he not got the entire world talking about him? Throwing his clunky, uncalled-for stream-of-consciousness deliveries around the internet and dinner tables as memes and tropes?

If we're going to rant and moan about his ranting and moaning, it's only fair that we survey his ranting and moaning in its entirety. If we don't have the guts to do that, then I think we ourselves are every bit the arrogant bigots that we pitch Kanye to be.

With all his riches, pedestals, privileges, perceived liberties and most of all his insufferable arrogance which at times is like being punched in both ears simultaneously, he makes it easy for us to forget that he's a mere human being. One smart thinker who I personally would love to sit down for a green tea with is Alice Wang, author of an intelligent and thoughtful piece for Cornell University's student-run publication, the Cornell Sun. She writes:

If you only see Kanye as a crazy narcissist, you've taken away his right to be a multidimensional human being with fear and compassion and vulnerabilities.

When somebody says enough seemingly -- and substantially -- crazy things, it becomes not just easy but frighteningly enjoyable to forget that they're made up of the same bits, bones, and slushy heart matter that we're made from. That they're not unbreakable steel statues primarily put in front of us to batter and bruise for game. The best targets are those we're unable to empathize with, and on the face of it Kanye has a habit of making it incredibly difficult for us to empathize with him. You can hardly listen without empathizing.

For the sake of discussion, let's just call Kanye's conversation a mission. It's not a mission that aims to rectify obvious injustice that we stare in the face every day. He's not looking to solve global poverty or put his expensive Fendi-rejected designs on the fragile bodies of starving populations. Frankly speaking, that's not his area. He doesn't get it. He hasn't got that level or variety of perspective right now because that's blatantly not where he's at. Unfortunately, first-world problems are the only reference point Kanye West has, and will have for the forseeable future if he has anything to do with it. One thing he does have at this point in his life is anger, a lot of it, and whether or not his immediate causes are as noble as 150 philanthropists (traditionally defined) put together is hardly a question, but this is we've got. An angry, purposeful Kanye West is what we've got, and it's surely fair and productive to set the swords down now and then and listen.

Kanye is an extremist from just about every angle, and it's innately challenging to draw anything valuable from an extremist, no matter how available the good stuff is. Every movement or conversation needs extremists to throw the scales, so that balance or innovation can eventually be found. What if Kanye's convoluted thought pattern boils down to a worthwhile contribution?

He talks about the "glass ceiling" he's so furiously positive that he's hit, or the "Truman Show wall" his diamond-studded boat has rammed into, and often in the same sentence he'll call himself a "creative genius." Our egos aren't behaviorally trained to handle another person adamantly screaming that they're a genius. It hurts our ears and our hearts. "I know you're not supposed to say that about yourself," said Kanye to Kimmel, before later adding point-blank: "for me to say I wasn't a genius, I would just be lying to you and to myself."

Why isn't it OK to vocalize goals as loudly as we wish for them in our minds? We here in Los Angeles, the land of yogis and the eternal search for the positive frame of mind, spank on about affirmations. How are Kanye's self-proclamations of greatness any different? Unfortunately for Kanye, no matter how many times he clarifies that he believes he's vocalizing his goals when he compares himself to the greats of history as opposed to calling himself actual Michaelangelo, we're always going to hear it in the ear piercingly literal way he says it, but what if we forget that presumed and inaccurate framework for a minute?

Stating "I'm worth something" is profoundly difficult, as I think anyone who has ever strived to achieve a dream knows. I think that Kanye's supersized delivery of this very statement, in such a public and deafening way, delivers a powerful and important message. One that can either be dismissed for its arrogance or seen as a kind of public theatre, where we all get to see this flawed human work through basic self-worth struggles we can all relate to. In this case, he's offering us a ballsy level of honesty that is actually inspiring if we sit patiently enough and resist the easy urge to be alienated by it.

But Kanye's public theater may have significance beyond just personal self-worth issues. His verbal onslaught is in many ways complicating the bravado and self-identification that defines much of hip-hop culture. Taking the current dialogue beyond the cultural signifiers laid down by a history of oppression to one about spiritual values. In a way he is recontextualizing the conversation to revise the future of the hip-hop movement in order to forge a new identity that transcends certain very specific labels that Kanye is clearly seeking to deconstruct. In this regard, his mission/movement is inadvertently about social, political, and ultimately spiritual revolution. Agree or disagree, that is undeniably his aim. To this end, Alice Wang pulls into focus one of the most poignant things Kanye has ever said, articulated in the Zane Lowe BBC interview.

...we got this other thing that's also been working for a long time when you don't have to be racist anymore. It's called self-hate. It works on itself. It's like real estate of racism. Where just like that, when someone comes up and says something like, 'I am a god,' everybody says 'Who does he think he is?' I just told you who I thought I was! A god! I just told you. That's who I think I am. Would it have been better if I had a song that said 'I am a n****a?' Or if I had a song that said 'I am a gangster?' Or if I had a song that said 'I am a pimp?' All those colors and patinas fit better on a person like me, right? But to say you are a god, especially when you got shipped over to the country that you're in, and your last name is a slave owner's, how could you say that? How could you have that mentality?

The question of to what extent he's bragging versus immunizing himself against self-doubt is debatable, but also irrelevant. Thus far, he has self-actualized. Potentially nobody else in this world is audacious enough to stand up for what they perceive to be their personal worth, brave social embarrassment and rejection and sound like an outright twat in the way Kanye West does.

Finally, a basic point that should be as smooth to swallow as a Lindt ball: Kanye West is, prima facie, a creative genius. Precisely as he says. Don't even try to tell me in all sincerity that he isn't. As one of the most repeatedly awarded artists in music history, his albums have gone platinum time and time again and again, they've been slaughtered on the radio incessantly and you know you've had at least one or five of his beats (either ones that he produced for Jay-Z before you knew what a Kanye was, written, rapped on, or all of the above) stuck in your head for the mere sticky nature of them. Moving away from the commercial viability yardstick is Yeezus, if you care to be brilliantly uncomfortable and inspired all at once. All of this is because of Kanye West the man, not some mocked up studio-molded America's Got Talent creation. Kanye the human made it, and all that angry antagonism that we love to hate and ridicule him for is exactly what he used to craft it. Alice Wang, again, spelled it out perfectly: "Kanye's bravado and self-reflection have culminated in work that is both radio-friendly and complex."

It's worth remembering that Kanye isn't hurting anyone. He's not flitting around the clubs, pushing drugs, passing out wasted on Charlie Sheen's front lawn. He's working hard towards something he personally believes in with all his might. He's arrogant. Maybe as he goes deeper into fatherhood his perspective will shift in some way. And maybe if we listened a little more and pummeled him just a little less, the words would be more comprehensible.