“I am the next Walt Disney. I am the next Steve Jobs.”
When you bring up Kanye West in conversation, you’re likely to be greeted with two very distinct opinions. On one hand, we have the adamant defenders, die hard ‘Yeezies’ who can spend hours attesting to West’s creative brilliance; opponents can be seen rolling their eyes, mumbling about the egotistical media junkie who had the audacity to compare himself to Jesus on the cover of Rolling Stone.
All this being said, why is it that Kanye West—a man who has clearly secured his place in hip-hop history through his outspoken tirades and lyrical antics—has failed to move past his defined role as fanatic producer/rapper into the business world like his peers Jay-Z and Pharrell Williams? Contrary to what West might have you believe, it all comes down to his ego.
“There are only two types of people in this world: haters and dreamers. The only difference between them is that haters let go of their dreams.”
Just the other week, West performed at the Bell Center, making up for the previously planned November show that was cancelled due to technical difficulties. West took 22 minutes out of his performance to give what some news outlets have dubbed a “quality of life” speech. He spoke to the crowd on a large array of topics; ranging from his potential, his hopes, his dreams, and most importantly, his legacy. Public opinion, West claimed, is what has been holding him back from reaching his greatest potential. In the speech, he acknowledged his egotistical ways and his borderline manic outbursts in the past year—but he largely dismissed them, calling them the ideals of a genius, not the ravings of a lunatic.
“It ain’t about me. It’s about y’all, and it’s about us.”
Perhaps West is exaggerating how harshly the industry has stifled his potential. His performance was nothing short of mesmerizing, exactly what you’d expect from a man who’s referred to himself as both a “pop enigma” and “this generation’s greatest rapper.” There were explosions, women dressed in what can only be described as nude pantyhose suits, an imitation Jesus, and Yeezus wearing a variety of bejewelled masks. The bass reverberated with every note and the crowd was electric. They knew every line, bounced to each individual beat; any minor change that took place on stage was noted and greeted with boisterous cheers and high-pitched squeals. West was a god among his worshippers.
“I’m a celebrity… I am God’s vessel.”
However, Kanye West is not doing himself any favours to counter the stereotypes being thrown at him by his detractors. His view that the media wants to stifle him because he is a black man from a low socio-economic upbringing is interesting when you consider that his net worth is $100 million, making him one of the most successful college dropouts in the business. West claimed during his monologue that the walls he was hitting in his efforts to produce his own clothing line were a result of corporations’ greed and unwillingness to break away from what was expected of them. Public opinion is holding him and all of the other innovators back. As he described in what was my favorite line of the night: “Someone wants to walk over here [to the Bell Center] without a coat on because they’re naturally hot inside or some shit and they tryna walk over here and public opinion be like ‘motherfucker, put a coat on!’”
“All of y’all gave my voice the power and I never take that for granted. And since you gave my voice the power, I will have the courage to use my voice whenever necessary.”
Is public opinion holding Kanye West back? Does he have a point when he says that racism and class stratification are not only alive in America but also thriving? Well, yes and no. No one can reasonably doubt that things like racism and class discrimination still exist—not just in America but also throughout the world. Public opinion too does play a large role in how we as consumers perceive people, events, and products, and West’s outbursts have arguably been overplayed to stir up a widespread opinion that he is nothing more than a self-absorbed lunatic. But West is lying if he claims he doesn’t play the media game just as hard as it plays him. Standing in a crowd full of adoring fans asking them to cheer if they agree with him is not a difficult task.
“Let’s see if they print anything I said tonight. That would be surprising.”
Ultimately, it isn’t the media, big business, or corporations holding West back—it’s his ego. I have been a fan of West for years because of his larger-than-life personality and his steadfast belief that he can do anything; but when you constantly aim for unreachable heights, one day, you have to face that even “god” has his limits.