Kanye the God?: A Response to Pigeons & Planes “New God Complex: The Reinvention of Kanye West.”
With the recent release of G.O.O.D. Music’s Cruel Summer, there have been plenty of album reviews so I’m not going to bore you going over every single track like everyone else. One editorial related to the album masterminded by Kanye West that caught my eye however was “New God Complex: The Reinvention of Kanye West,” by Brendan Klinkenberg over at Pigeons & Planes.
In his article, Klinkenberg talks about how Kanye West has evolved as an artist and a person since his College Dropout debut back in 2004. At the same time, the author seems to both idolize the current Kanye’s opulence and mourn the loss of relatable Kanye that broke out of Chicago eight years ago.
“Judging lines on Cruel Summer as if they’re from the perspective of a College Dropout-era Kanye is inflexible. His references to clothes, cars, and money used to highlight an endearing character flaw, but now they are part of his mission statement. Kanye’s original contradiction-a guy who wants to display socially conscious lyricism but can’t help rapping about Mercedes and Polo-was part of the reason he was such a breath of fresh air: he felt like a real person. That self-recognition of his own complicated nature seems to be missing as of late.”
Even on his earliest records like College Dropout, it was clear Kanye was aspiring for more than what he had where he grew up, like anyone would. And there’s always been more to Kanye’s material ends than simply attaining the car or the girl or the chain. What Klinkenberg identifies as an “endearing character flaw” in his earlier albums (wanting material things even though he knows it’s secondary to character) is the same trait that he later sees as lack of self-awareness. So what changed? Now that Mr. West has the ability to make his lyrics into reality that’s a bad thing? What many who have criticized Kanye for his material obsessions have failed to realize is that he is still pointing out hypocrisies that he sees in the world around him, except now his perspective is from someone who has the material things whereas before he was speaking as an everyman without those opulent possessions.
If you were able to plot the discography and subject matter of Kanye West on a line graph, the most major turning point in his sound would undoubtedly come from 808’s and Heartbreak. Before 808’s, Kanye was still the metaphorical common man of the rap game. Even after College Dropout gained him fame and fortune, West’s subject matter continued to look at the world from the point of view of someone who aims for greatness but in reality, is one misstep away from losing everything. Late Registration and Graduation still have that awed, almost naïve view of the riches that exist in this world and complete the trio of “college” albums. Even if Kanye hadn’t lost his mother and girlfriend, events which prompted the stark shift in sound seen on 808’s, it would have been logical that he would have gone in a slightly different musical direction. 808’s and Heartbreak is to Kanye West’s music what the Ice Age was to evolutionary history; once it happened, there was no going back to the past.
After a two-year break from releasing music following 808’s, the shift in Kanye’s thinking is apparent in his releases of this last year and a half. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was almost universally hailed as a classic. The subject matter of the record relates extensively to celebrity, consumerism, and excess but also highlights the pitfalls that come along with the opportunities afforded by that celebrity. One would be hard-pressed to say that tracks like “Hell Of A Life,” “Lost In The World,” and “Blame Game” glorify the material lifestyle that Kanye found himself in due to his massive musical success. Although West might have transitioned from being the relatable Kanye we all fell in love with on College Dropout, his subject matter was much of the same in that he was speaking about the trappings of wealth, even though now his perspective was from the inside.
The themes that Kanye broached on MBDTF were the same that he delved into even more deeply on Watch the Throne and more recently on Cruel Summer. While Klinkenberg sees Kanye West flaunting his recession-proof wealth and forgetting about where he came from, it is also possible to see the same extremely self-aware Yeezy that has been there from the start. Watch the Throne gave us “luxury rap” and explored the possibility to create change through wealth while also mulling over how no amount of money could make one happy or the feeling of acceptance. In “New Day,” both Kanye and Jay-Z talk to their future sons about their failings and their wishes for the future and Kanye still gives us that self-aware smirk that Klinkenberg talks about following his verse on “Primetime.” Kanye also doesn’t forget where he came from just because he has all the possessions he could want. “Murder to Excellence” touches on violence in the streets of Chicago and racial prejudices that no amount of money can overturn, proving that West is not limited to speaking about the world that immediately surrounds him.
One would be mistaken to fault Kanye for speaking about the world that he lives in because he’s being real to what he knows and sees. Even though his music has changed, that awareness of the world around him has remained a constant. Whether it be on College Dropout speaking as the new-comer/ninety-nine percenter pointing out the flaws he sees in the rap game from the outside looking in, the stark change in his sound on 808’s and Heartbreak to match the passing of his mother and separation from his long-time girlfriend, or the past year and a half encompassing MBDTF, Watch the Throne, and now Cruel Summer. Those last three studio releases have seen Kanye evolve once again, touching on the double-edged sword of celebrity and excess while at the same time not forgetting the problems that face the common man. Kanye West may not be the most relatable artist anymore but that doesn’t mean he’s lost in a self-centered universe of Dom Perignon and cheetah-print clad women. The evolution of Kanye West as a person and as an artist still sees him pointing out the problems that he sees around him, with even less regard for the consequences now that he can afford them. Kanye is not only one of the most talented pure musicians of this generation, he is also a man who is aware of the world around him almost to a fault and is not afraid to speak out when he wants to see change. I, for one, am excited to see the progression of Kanye as he approaches his second decade in the limelight.
 Unless he decided to make LSAT’s or Grad School, that is.
 Rusty Ryan would attribute this inside knowledge of a wealthy lifestyle to the workings of The Illuminati.