Julien Balbontin/THE VARSITY

Much to my mother’s chagrin, I have always had a soft spot for Kanye West. It might come from that nasty sense of glee we get watching Kanye do something outrageous, like taking the microphone at an awards show, or announcing a 2020 presidential bid. Maybe it’s the unadulterated narcissism he espouses that appeals a part of me I usually try to suppress by limiting the number of selfies I take.

Nevertheless, his recent reign in the press has disturbed me. He’s confessed that he’s $53 million dollars in personal debt, and reached out (via Twitter, of course) to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to ask for a billion dollars to fund his future artistic endeavours. If you’re skeptical, Kanye does acknowledge that he’s “personally rich” and can buy houses and furs for his family. He’s also proclaimed the innocence of Bill Cosby, who has been accused by over 50 women of various crimes, many of whom have alleged that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted them. It’s one thing if West is going out of his way to be controversial; it’s another to ask strangers for billions of dollars and express support for alleged rapists.

The casual misogyny that West has revealed through the escalation of his longstanding feud with Taylor Swift is also troubling. In a rant backstage at Saturday Night Live that was caught on tape, Kanye called Swift a “fake ass.” In yet another, he says, “she not cool no more. She had two seconds to be cool, and she fucked it up.”

These developments mirror the misogynistic lyrics of “Famous,” a track off Kanye’s new album, The Life of Pablo, on which West raps “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous.” Swift was already famous before Kanye stormed on stage to declare that she didn’t deserve the MTV Video Music Award for Best Female Video. Even if West truly feels that his antics have contributed to Swift’s fame, the idea that she owes him anything is completely absurd.

If you scroll through West’s Twitter feed, that he spends a lot of time passing comment on who should and should not feel comfortable criticizing his work. Recently, Kanye tweeted out, “TO Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, New York Times, and any other white publication. Please do not comment on black music anymore.”

How Kanye arrived at the conclusion that the named publications are, in fact, “white,” is unclear. Perhaps West is referring to the ethnicity of certain writers who review his music. If so, it’s news to me that reviewers are only allowed to comment on music made by people of their own race. I guess I’ll have to rethink that sociolinguistic analysis of “Hotline Bling” I was planning on writing.

Let’s not forget that music reviews in general are supposed to provide publicity to artists, something that actually helps them sell records. In fact, Kanye would do well to remember this if he is in as dire financial straits as he claims. His request is nothing more than an immature response to criticism, which is surprising from a man a man with enough self-confidence to declare himself: “the most important living artist” and “50 percent more influential than any other human being”.

In the end, however, I will reluctantly concede that there’s no one more able to sum up my feelings towards Kanye better than Kanye himself: “I hate the new Kanye, the bad mood Kanye, the always rude Kanye, spaz in the news Kanye… I used to love Kanye, I used to love Kanye.”

— Reut Cohen


We all know Kanye West for his music, but that is not what makes him a genius. One may think he falls into the category of technological advancement, but it’s his universal appeal that cements his influence. He achieves equilibrium between the concept and the medium; we appreciate his music to the same extent that we appreciate the aurathat accompanies it. Kanye conveys his feelings of self-worth, success, and loneliness through his music. He expresses in words what we sometimes can’t. He paints pictures with his honest and concise lyrics, and inserts humour in graphic detail. Publically, he markets himself with bravado, but TLOP (and virtually every other album) is where the real man behind the mask can be found. The difference between Kanye and the average artist is that Kanye does everything on his own terms. No one dictates his artistic output. He will not be censored. He doesn’t care about your expectations. Like any great work of art, his music tells a story and leaves itself open to interpretation. His ultimate message? Be yourself, kids, because at the end of the day that’s all you’ve got.

— Lisa Power


Kanye West is a talented artist and producer. He has been hailed as a contemporary genius when it comes to song writing, and previous albums like The College Dropout and Late Registration only confirm this. Yet, recent social media slip-ups have some people second-guessing West’s integrity, begging the question of whether or not the platform, voice, and authority that our culture grants him is justified.

Why is West given so much attention in the news and over social media? Surely he is an established musician and business mogul at the height of his celebrity and fame, however our society tends to reject the values he embraces: misogyny, superficiality, arrogance, and egoism. Is it our cultural obsession of witnessing a breakdown from a distance? This could very well be the case. 

Perhaps it goes deeper: Kanye reflects our own inner and unspoken desire for fame and vanity, meaning that our innate nature is self-centred and self-seeking, revolving around material satisfactions. Nonetheless, our culture’s fixation on celebrity reveals something intriguing; it’s as if we’re comfortable with Kanye’s presence because it reflects our own imperfections.

— Andrew Friesen

The Life of Pablo is an extravagant mess, and I’m still trying to understand if that’s intentional or not. By now you’ve likely heard of Kanye West’s seventh studio album, and not necessarily for the right reasons. Several title revisions later; a live event premiering some iteration of the album at Madison Square Garden; frequent stream-of-consciousness rants on Twitter; different versions of songs floating around online message boards like secret codes being passed between secret agents; and a botched album release on Tidal, begs the question: who is Kanye West, and what is The Life of Pablo?

Is it a gospel record celebrating fatherhood and family? A cookout album filled with featured cameos and head-spinning sample flips? An admission of mental health issues? A glaring example of tone-deaf misogyny? All of these answers might be true, but the lack of focus contributes to the perception that not even Kanye knows what’s really going on.

One moment, he’s the orchestrator being anointed by pastor Kirk Franklin, heralded into being by gospel singer Kelly Price and R&B crooner The-Dream as a gleeful Chance The Rapper delivers the ceremony. The next, he’s talking about copulating with bleached models and turning a Vogue photoshoot into an Eyes Wide Shut orgy under the eerie string-and-synth lines from Goldfrapp’s “Human” (2000).

It’s this kind of dissonance that makes The Life of Pablo sonically beautiful and lyrically ugly, easy to love and easy to hate, and by extension, a definition that can easily be applied to West himself.

Here is an artist living loudly: full of spectacle, full of contradictions and vision, more amplified than ever before on the album’s 58-minute runtime, but lacking the clarity that made his earlier records so appealing. You could go so far as to say that perhaps this is the encapsulating ‘Internet-age album’: vibrantly distracted, ephemeral, and in a constant state of indecisive mutation, here today and gone tomorrow. By now, you’re probably wondering if Kanye is a genius or just crazy. But, as he challenges listeners on “Feedback,” “name one genius that ain’t.”

— Daniel Goodman

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