Artists Of The Year CMU Approved

CMU Artists Of The Year 2013: Kanye West

By | Published on Thursday 19 December 2013

Kanye West

Each weekday in the run up to the Christmas break, we will reveal another of our ten favourite artists of the year. To see each artist as they’re revealed, sign up to receive the CMU Daily or check this page. Our penultimate artist is Kanye West…

When I think of Kanye West in 2013, I think ‘I Am A God’. I think “damn croissants”. I think leather jogging pants, Kim Kardashian, baby North, and hideous candle-wax/Michelin Man heels. I think a big, livid ball of contradiction; the quiet, respectable man chatting affectionately with Kris Jenner vs the tyrannical rap star railing, raging, naming and shaming in Zane Lowe’s face, barely taking a breath. I think of all the sense he speaks, and the rest.

Hitting at the height of June, West’s sixth LP ‘Yeezus’ is by light years his most angrily anti-radio work to date. ‘Yeezus’ is built on a kind of crazed minimalism, all “reduced” (by Rick Rubin) and harsh-lit trap beats, glaring sampling (see the ‘Strange Fruit’ borrow) and acid lyrical ire, swerving hit ‘singles’ in lieu of a “sit off” (the opposite of ‘sit in’, as West terms it in his Zane interview) policy that flies like a red flag in the Billboard Top 100’s bewildered face.

“Me as Kanye West”, he told Lowe post-‘Yeezus’, “I gotta fuck shit up”. That ‘gotta’, I think, suggests West not only feels obliged by his own desire to stir the pot, shake it, then tip it on its head and stamp on the pieces, but also takes pleasure in doing so. He says it with a smile, “I want to vex you”. So, there’s that Kanye.

Then there’s the Kanye who’ll ‘explain’ his art at length, that he’s the one driving this dialogue over what he does, and what he is. And there’s the Kanye sat on a hammy chat show telling his girlfriend’s ‘mom’ that he’s madly in love with her daughter. Though, sedate as he is at those other moments, I guess in a way that Kanye wants to vex you too.

But then there’s his transparent desire to have his art appreciated and admired, a desire that’s especially clear in the case of his fashion designs. And we’ve all seen them. As a high-minded (in the sense he thinks high, sky-high) artist and designer, he isn’t interested in making things his fans and creative peers don’t think are significant. He means to impress, even if that entails getting in their space and showing them things they might not necessarily wish to see. When Kanye rants, what isn’t clear is what he’s striving for – to illuminate, to agitate, or simply to blare.

West at his wayward best (or worst, depending on how you view it) can confound, infuriate, flip perspective and leave expectation bleeding in the dust like no one else. Just compare his Zane Lowe interview to the one Eminem did with the Radio 1 DJ, which comes off pallid by comparison.

West does have his tasteless side of course – the cheap “Asian pussy/All I need is sweet n sour sauce” side – which throughout ‘Yeezus’ rubs up uncomfortably against his love for beauty, art and sophistication. You wonder – when you hear ‘Blood On The Leaves’, essentially the civil rights movement’s most haunting torch song, ‘Strange Fruit’, reduced to a petty bitch-fest – how anyone as smart as West clearly can be so dumb.

But then, that’s probably the point. And its brashness and many nasty ‘isms’ aside, ‘Yeezus’ is an immense feat of engineering, a claim one only has to look at its tracklisting and credit details to believe is real.

Featuring Daft Punk, Hudson Mohawke, Evian Christ, Gesaffelstein, Arca and West making the beats, and Justin Vernon, Kid Cudi, Jill Scott and Chris Martin (and West again) contributing on the writing, it’s not only the sound of a self-styled ‘big deal’ throwing his considerable weight around, and trying his ego for size, but also links in a vast cast of benefactors, both well known and not, ‘safe’ and otherwise.

Ultimately, what fascinates West-wise is the debate on Kanye as a man, as An Artist, as a celebrity, as a cartoon character, all things that are virtually inextricable, probably because he wants it that way. No doubt West is a genius of a kind – many-sided, endlessly daring, always experimental, with a well-deep thirst to learn, to do and be different. He wants parity in America, wants to change the landscapes of art and fashion, he wants his damn croissants.

And fortunately for him, going on our limitless fascination for all-things Yeezy, the world wants an agitator. Or, to phrase it an alternative way, it wants a ‘Black Skinhead’: