Musician Kanye West is more than his music. West is a cultural icon. He is the single most responsible person for taking the rap genre from exclusively “gangsta rap” to the more authentic, diverse scene we have today. He has used his voice to bring attention to important political and cultural issues, such as questioning the allocation of relief resources during Hurricane Katrina, and calling attention to the U.S.’ for-profit prison system.
Because of all of this, West has earned intense devotion from a large legion of fans. To release his new record The Life of Pablo, he reserved Madison Square Garden stadium in Manhattan in order to debut the album and show off his fashion line. This grandiose display, titled Yeezy Season 3, priced tickets at $100, sold out immediately and was live-streamed to 22 million viewers worldwide. A New York Times article asked attendees, “How obsessed are you with Kanye West?”
West may have earned the respect of his fans, but devotion to him can border on cult-of-personality status — a dangerous notion. His Twitter rants have become infamous, lighting the internet aflame. These tirades are often dismissed as the ravings of a tortured genius, but there are a lot of concerning ideas that are frequently expressed. There are frequent undercurrents of misogyny, homophobia and racially divisive views on music criticism. Many of the same ideas are present in his lyrics as well.
For example, his proclamation that Bill Cosby is innocent is far from constructive in the current national dialogue about rape. More than 50 women have come out against Cosby, most with no personal gain to be had — and Kanye publicly doubted them. The Life of Pablo makes several references to women as property and only interested in getting with men for their money. His homophobia was evident when he felt the need to declare that he had no experience with anal sex, as if it would somehow be a mark of shame if he had. Following the release of his album, he requested that no white critics write reviews of it, claiming they can’t understand black culture. It seems to me that a musician as popular as West would be doing a greater service if he preached unity rather than separation.
While Kanye is hardly the only rap artist with misogynistic themes in his music (a fact that Kanye is aware of), his prophet-like status changes how much we should hold him accountable. There is nothing inherent to rap music that commands that women be talked about in a degrading manner. Rap is just a different technique for delivering lyrics over music. For all Kanye’s proclamations of his own greatness, he can’t seem to buck the disturbing trend.
There are fans who treat his word as the truth. He could be helping to end deeply rooted sexism and homophobia within his genre. Instead, he remains at the forefront of promoting it. Enjoy his new album, but do so cautiously. West’s artistic compass is stronger than his moral one.
Stuart is a Plan II and business honors sophomore from Lubbock. Follow him on Twitter @realreaganstu.