"He is crucial to the advancement of Hip-Hop culture, and music in general... Please, make him feel welcome! Kanye West!" famed BBC Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe trumpeted in front of a crowd that was about to cause the historic Abbey Road to burst at its seams, IN 2005!
Do you think you could even think of the name of another artist that was causing the entire world to collectively fanboy in 2005, let alone one that is still doing it today in 2015? I mean if I go dig through the Billboard charts from 2005, we see the names of people whose legacies have been recently been set in stone, as they all have retired to traditional upper 1% life. Let's take a look at some of the other artists that were spitting that straight fire in 2005: we won't talk about Mario, you may remember him from his 2005 *mood-lighting-on* hit "Let Me Love You" because that's a bit like messing with a three-legged cat, he's got it hard enough already. In the #2 position for the year, 50 Cent sits (most likely making it rain on Ciara) with his hit Candy Shop, but if we compare and contrast the life of our protagonist, Mr. West, with 50's life today, Kanye is still sitting pretty on the top of the charts while 50 spends more time on E-Trade than in the studio, and while Kanye's glorified Roshe-Run sneakers are fetching more than $1000 on Ebay, 50 is still to graduate from his affectation for those flat-billed hats your delinquent, suburban 8th grader cousin steals from the mall and refuses to take off in church.
Yet, both artists, while looking at the issue through an economic lens, have evolved in very similar ways. 50 Cent has matured, transitioned from ghetto blasting anthems to some realer issues, at least realizing his street cred disintegrated with every dollar synthetic suburban soccer moms spent on Vitamin Water. But let's get real, he is more of a cultural icon than a trend setter. Nothing 50 could do today would effect our lives much, if at all. Kanye on the other hand just sold out another pair of sneakers with his name on the label. While his lyricism has matured as well, with Yeezus just being his latest transitional period, the decision to strip bare the beats and lyrics and show imperfection after the gilded pomp and perfectionism of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, he has managed to maintain his street cred by keeping true to his promise of falling in love with a porn star and producing music that hip-hop fans really don't have a choice but to listen to religiously, for even if they didn't like it, so much of the community did that they simply have to listen to keep up. His work has been a stalwart of the essential playlist that has defined hip-hop culture for over a decade. If one of your friends wanted to bump to some of the latest rap caviar, Yeezy is the only one that you might have had on your first Ipod that you still might have in your favorites on SoundCloud.
But what is the difference between 50 and Yeezy? I won't tease you; In this humble writer's opinion, it is a little something called the Realness. It is said that true art connects to the human experience, and that is why it is able to transcend barriers like language and culture. For some reason, something in our brain naturally understands that a dope beat, no matter where it comes from or the skin color of the artists who made it, is still a dope beat, and our dance moves, regardless of awkwardness, are a universal way to communicate how much we are feeling the vibe. And that trait has been slightly abused by a lot of artists of our time. They have figured out the formula, found the secret recipe of catchiness, melodies and infectious beats to tap into our wallets while being uninterested in the Realness. It doesn't matter who they really are, for we only care about the curated idea of the artist that sells us records. No one wants to look underneath the curtain and reveal the sham of Oz. Just as long as we don't look too awkward swaying to the beat, standing at the bar wishing someone would hit on us, we don't mind too much.
But those people who don't really care too much, the ones who are happy as long as their under-functioning, drunken brains can recognize a chorus or a baseline have never been Kanye's target demographic, and that is what has preserved his success. This type of fan is fickle, as 50 Cent and his companions on the 2005 Billboard chart know all too well. As soon as they start to tire of the catchy hook and manufactured baseline, which is fairly fast seeing as DJs as a group typically, have no mercy with a hit and will play it until its proverbial wheels fall off, and then you end up wanting to claw your ears off when you hear Fetty Wap in the bathroom of some trendy restaurant that has a brunch menu and home-brewed kombucha on tap.
While it is not to say that you aren't going to hear one of Ye's tracks in the club, the difference is that the majority of his tracks were not made with the club in mind, but the listener. And we are seeing today that more and more artists are following his lead, as we have seen the maturation of both A$AP Rocky and Kendrick Lamar with their most recent works this year, and I predict we will see a similar trend with other artists that can afford the decrease in radio spin time, like Drake. It is with this increase in honesty, sophistication and Realness these artists can create better, more loyal fan-bases that will prevent these rappers from befalling the same fate as their predecessors. Kanye's method is proven, and although he is a massive dick at times (You can't just call Beck a fraud at the Grammys and expect a simple apology to cut it...), his fan-base is more than willing to forgive him, because they respect him as an artist and he continues to challenge them. Which is apparently enough to make people do some crazy things, like pay up to $5000 for some of the coats in his upcoming collection. Art's commentary on the human experience brings out passion in many people. Kanye's loyal army of fanboys are no different, and I believe their insane reaction to everything Kanye touches could actually be a good thing, a shift in the center of rap culture, from the dream of making money to the dream of making art.
This bio is dedicated to all the teachers that told me
I'd never amount to nothin', to all the people that lived above the
buildings that I was hustlin' in front of that called the police on
me when I was just tryin' to make some money to feed my daughter, it's all good baby baby