Who is Kanye West? Besides being a hip hop artist and producer, some people who are unfamiliar with him may think he is the most important celebrity in our era because of the media attention that surrounds him and his family. However, he is important but not the end all be all of attention (what are you trying to say here?). No celebrity is the #1 topic of media attention. So what's with all the press statements posted about him? What's the reason behind for all the articles written about him from amateur blog posters to scholar writers? Why does national television shows like TMZ and others videotape what he does? With Kanye, I want to know about the general public's reaction towards a celebrity's life and career, especially from a celebrity who is known for his controversial public persona.
West was seen by many hip hop fans as an alternative to the then modern trends in mainstream hip hop in the 2000's that held remnants of “gangsta rap” since the 90's including the “money, cash and hoes” stereotype from artists like 50 Cent, Lil Jon and even his mentor, Jay Z. He presented positive vibes in his music that was mainly present in The College Dropout, 2005 album Late Registration, and 2007 album Graduation. (AceShowbiz, p. 2-3) Fans and musical figures noticed West's take on social issues like health care in America, drug trafficking in the ongoing “War on Drugs,” and poverty. He also spoke about ongoing civil wars for blood diamonds in Africa in his song "Diamonds of Sierra Leone" on his second album. His fans and supporters also loved how he spoke about personal concerns like family life, materialism, self-consciousness as a person and other personal struggles people might face. The latter theme is reflected for naming his first three albums AKA “The College Series” after events that occur in young people's life while seeking education. (AceShowbiz, p.1-3)
West was also known for his public lifestyle such as dressing different compared to his rap contemporaries of the “hardcore/gangsta” style at the time of baggy jeans, bling bling teeth/chains and oversized shirts, known for wearing a pink polo and wearing backpacks where ever he went. Kanye West also attracted non hip hop fans from other music genres along with OutKast to actually listen to this music with open ears who may have put down hip hop as majorly “ignorant trash.” (Caldwell 2010) This reception was rare during this time in mainstream hip hop as it was common of fans of other music to be interested into listening to hip hop of the “alternative” style. New fans may have also become inspired to listen other artist in the genre and became of this type of music thanks to the “relatable” celebrity, Kanye West. West also knew about his musical flaws before it was mentioned by his fans and people who know about him casually.
There are references in his songs that mocked his feelings coming up as as a rapper who was told by many including people around Jay Z who thought of him as just a producer who wanted to rap, not a rapper who produced. Before his breakout, many in the hip hop industry wanted him as a personal producer and did not give him a proper chance to rap on his own accord; a topic he spoke about on his song “Last Call.” These events encouraged West to believe in himself that he could do anything he set his mind to that included making it as a big hip hop artist. He also knew of some of his theme flaws in his music including some use of “money, cash and hoes”on the side of his known earlier social themes which he himself has made fun of on the song “Breathe In Breathe Out.” He also couldn't stand bragging about himself (known hip hop as braggadocio) which he knew and tried to limit it to small doses between verses during this period.
If West knew about his flaws in his music persona, and there are positive facts about his comparison to people who are trying to get by in life, why was he so controversial in mainstream media with many people in America and around the world. Why was he criticized for his statements? I did not understand why until I grew into my teenage years, the period where adolescents try to discover themselves and begin to look at the gates of the real world. I then noticed his public persona was creating the controversy. West was controversial for his statement in his public appearances: that included award shows, his concerts, and paparazzi shoots. This was first witnessed briefly when West was grouped with comedian Mike Myers in A Concert for Hurricane Relief in 2005, a celebrity driven fundraiser in support of those who suffered during Hurricane Katrina.
West showed his emotions on-screen by diverging from his script and talked about how black people were treated unfairly compared to others during the aftermath of the hurricane. Myers tried to continue his planned script, however West said his most famous quote after,“George Bush doesn't care about black people.” (Rodriguez, 2011) West is also known for controversy at award shows: including storming out of theAmerican Music Awards of 2004 after losing “Best New Artist,” and storming on the stage of the 2006 MTV European Music Awards after losing to Justice and Simian for Best Music Video arguing he should have won it instead. Perhaps his best controversial event which sparked the public persona that he has now was his interruption of Taylor Swift at the 2009 Video Music Awards. After grabbing her microphone, he said in a temperate tone that Beyonce should have one the awards for “Best Female Video;” and that Beyonce's video was one of the greatest of all time. These events probably created an “immoral shell” of West that turned off some people from ever liking him and his musical work.
Stigma of Kanye West can be compared to other celebrities including Michael Jackson and Kobe Bryant. As a reference, scholar Allison R. Johnson (2005) created a study of public reaction to these two well known celebrities in her article,"When a Celebrity Is Tied to Immoral Behavior: Consumer Reactions to Michael Jackson and Kobe Bryant." Using sources from such established papers and books like Psychology & Marketing, Journal Advertising, and the Los Angeles Times, Johnson used the “Social Identity Theory” to suggest the level of identification between a consumer and a celebrity can impact their relationship in the future. Jackson and Bryant were used as examples because of their highly documented media coverage of accusations against, with Jackson accused of pedophilia and Bryant accused of sexual abuse.The result was that most people who identified less, or knew little, of the mentioned celebrities had stronger chances of believing their accusations as truth. In opposition those who strongly identified with these two celebrities (like being a lifelong fan), may have had trouble believing these accusations were true and may have believed the celebrity was totally innocent.
Most people who were not a fan of West or knew little about him probably believed multiple articles,videos and television shows about the negative image because of controversy he created. West has been publicly stigmatized as an immoral person with little remorse and a giant ego. He has been called “an idiot,” “a fool” and even “a jackass” by President Obama himself after West's interruption of Swift in 2009. Because of his image and the connection as a musical artist many people started judging his music harshly calling him “talentless” and “one of the worst today.” These statements are seen as untrue in the hip hop community and music circles as he is commonly ranked as one of the best artists of the 21st century by publications like Rolling Stone, Allmusic and Pitchfork Media. (AceShowbiz, Kanye West Trivia) He has also earned praise by legendary musicians such as Paul McCartney and Lou Reed, remarks that are seen as controversial by fans young and old who don't think much of West's music because of the public remarks and persona they see in the general media. Even if he is seen as a polarizing figure in not just the music world, but internationally as a person, he probably would tell you he doesn't care.
His acts of apologizing due to his actions can be mainly seen as sympathy for the public so they could consider him doing wrong. Even if he has apologized for public actions, many people who have met West personally and even “victims” like Taylor Swift have no harsh feelings towards him as she became friends with him a few months after the 2009 VMA's. She knew because of his outcry she would get more popular by people who sympathized for her. West has also marketed his musical creations in light of his public actions and events. His style of mainly soulful, social commentary of the alternative style has diminished or has possibly disappeared for good in large doses after 2007. He introduced the 2008 electronic sung 808's & Heartbreaks in light of his break off from his girlfriend, and the death of his mother via cosmetic surgery which he blamed himself for by paying for the surgery. This album turned of many fans of his earlier work and polarized people in the music industry.
However, this album is seen as a turning point for later rappers in the alternative style who diverged from the “tough” image, and wanted to sing such as Drake. West then released, after his self- imposed exile to Hawaii for a year after the 2009 VMA's, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in 2010. Seen as his best work by many music publications and fans, it combined elements of his four past albums into perfect harmony. This work was different from his first three albums vocally as West did talk about social commentary such as the concept of the American Dream (U.S. citizens goals to be successful in life with a good house and money) and talks about race problems (specifically for African Americans). But he did so in the image of a ego driven, drinking and drug using modern celebrity. West fully embraced the public perception about him on this album and would not go back to the “relatable” guy from Chicago persona, driving off many fans of his earlier “The College Series” works permanently; while also creating new fans who liked the various techniques of the album and future works of West.
Overall, Kanye West is a person representing different sides of the spectrum of the public. He shows signs of positive vibes while also seen as sap of negative fumes. He was seen as a “relatable” guy by people in the 2000's who did not relate to rappers of the “tough” or “party” styles of hip hop, but changed up his style as it did not fit the growing multimillionaire, fashion creating, controversially outspoken person of the 2010's. Whatever he does now will spark gossip bad or good and will create different reactions in the general public, from his support of homosexuality to his marriage of the controversial Kim Kardashian. However, he does not care about the people who dislike his clean celebrity persona or the fans who don't like his more ego-driven less “relatable” music arc as the man said “he would rather be a dick than a swallower” on his 2013 album Yeezus. He will always be himself. He will always be Kanye West.
Johnson, Allison R., "When a Celebrity Is Tied to Immoral Behavior: Consumer Reactions to Michael Jackson and Kobe Bryant", NA- Advances in Consumer Research Volume 32 (2005):100- 101. Print. http://www.acrwebsite.org/volumes/v32/acr_vol32_50.pdf
Biography.com, “Kanye West – Music Producer, Rapper, Songwriter, Singer” http://www.biography.com/people/kanye-west-362922
AceShowbiz.com, “Kanye West Biography” http://www.aceshowbiz.com/celebrity/kanye_west/biography_.html
Circcarielo-Maher, George, “A Critique of Du Boisian Reason Kanye West and the Fruitfulness of Double-Consciousness”, Journal of Black Studies Volume 39 (2009): 371- 401.Print. http://jbs.sagepub.com/content/39/3/371.short
Rodriguez, Jayson, "Kanye West Crashes VMA Stage During Taylor Swift's Award Speech." MTV News. MTV Networks. (2011). http://www.mtv.com/news/1621389/kanye-west-crashes-vma- stage-during-taylor-swifts-award-speech/
Caldwell, David., Monika Bednarek, and J.R. Martin. New Discourse on Language: Functional Perspectives on Multimodality, Identity, and Affiliation: Chapter 3 – Making Metre Mean: Identity and Affiliation in the Rap Music of Kanye West. London: Continuum. Print. https://books.google.com/books? hl=en&lr=&id=TQodCgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA59&dq=kanye+west&ots=riYyLbO- rl&sig=YgUZFqVwHVY-qsKHJE7FVMlEr94#v=onepage&q=kanye%20west&f=false