No one has to pay attention to Kanye West. Really, it’s fine to ignore what the producer/rapper/fashion designer (yes, he’s legitimately that) is up to. And lots of people are uninterested in Kanye– if you choose to believe their social media pronouncements. There’s definitely room for playfully dismissing a pop culture lightning rod, such as feeling overly inundated with the blue-black/white-gold dress, showing disinterest in the presidential race, or even light-heartedly boasting in your ignorance of the latest Kanye-related awards show controversy. But whenever people dismiss Mr. West, they typically express their disdain for the man, announcing that he’s in their mental waste bin because he’s their idea of trash. He’s an “idiot”, “spoiled”, a “punk that does not deserve any attention at all”, or worse.

People don’t know that they believe in a caricature of Kanye West.

People say they tune out Kanye because they’ve had enough, so to speak. Event Kanye has appeared a few times in recent years, with his interruption of Taylor Swift’s MTV Video Award acceptance speech still standing tallest in the zeitgeist. He’s since called himself the next Steve Jobs, jokingly asked a handicapped fan to stand during his contest, and false-started another interruption of Beck’s Grammy acceptance speech before stating Beck should give his award to Beyonce.

These few moments have set his persona in stone for many onlookers, and thus propelled the “Kanye is trash” sentiment. Meanwhile, there are hours of video that paint West in a much better light. His music, interviews, and interactions with fans often reveal a self-effacing, vulnerable, and decent human being. Again, there is no obligation to sink time into watching Kanye West speak or perform. But broadcasting a harsh opinion of someone based on a sliver of his public life–especially when there is so much other material that more fully displays his humanity–falls short of a loving disposition that believes all things and keeps no record of wrongs.

Despite the popular narrative that Kanye picks up his ball and goes home when he doesn’t get his way, he actually faces the music and answers blunt criticism willingly, often in his own lyrics. Charlamagne tha God, a shock jock radio host whose sole mission is to antagonize guests, gets to regularly give Kanye a piece of his mind. Not because Kanye finds the Breakfast Club morning show a necessary promotional tool, or because the criticism rolls off his back (lots of -_- faces in the upcoming clip), but because he values its impact in a culture he cares so much about.

While he hasn’t gone to the lengths that Snoop Dogg or 50 Cent have to present a cuddlier face to the world than their hardcore personas, Kanye has had some very tame moments on camera. He’s opened up about his family life and baby pictures on Ellen, and his turbulent moments are typically buttressed by longer, more generous looks at the man. The following interviews show Kanye behaving badly and Kanye playing nice, respectively. In the first, he launches into a tirade, disrespecting Sway, one of the most beloved figures in hip hop who has also helped Kanye’s career tremendously. In the second, he endures the “Breakfast Club” treatment from Charlamagne while toning down his rhetoric about Beck and the fashion world.

There are sound bites in both videos that could depict an angry, irrational egomaniac, but Kanye’s frustrations are much more grown up and empathetic than we give him credit for. The following details from interviews, as well as some quick facts about Kanye’s life, reveal a man much different from how he’s characterized by popular opinion and media. They humanize West, inviting us to love and critique the man rather than indignantly dismissing the persona.

  • Kanye’s early adulthood was devoted to becoming an artist, a route he scrapped to pursue music. Many people doubted Kanye as anything more than a producer until he went solo with “The College Dropout” and subsequent hit albums that set the pace for hip hop at large.
  • Kanye wants the best in clothing and sneakers to be accessible for cheap, so that blue collar urban folks can have a more beautified life.
  • Kanye invested (and lost) $13MM of his own money trying to break into the fashion world.
  • Kanye says his over-the-top rants (“I am Walt Disney! I am Warhol!”) were ploys to get the attention of companies that were slow to give him creative opportunities—a strategy that worked.
  • Kanye admits that his ego can be disruptive to his artistic output. Specifically, he mentions being tempted to take a Nicki Minaj verse for himself (not an uncommon move) so that she wouldn’t outshine the album on which it would appear.
  • Since he’s become a public villain, Kanye feels an obligation/freedom to be brutally honest, giving voice to ideas that other people couldn’t express without taking a hit in public perception.
  • Kanye respects Beck as an artist and regrets his phrasing.
  • He’s apologized for the Swift incident. He’s now friends with Swift, whose career was, if anything, boosted by Kanye’s mic snatching.
  • Kanye has rained on the parade of awards show winners. On the other hand, he has given his own awards to artists he felt were more deserving.
  • Kanye feels compelled by his Christian faith to use his talents to make the world a better place.

People don’t know that they believe in a caricature of Kanye West. The entitled, self-obsessed hack that he’s known as wouldn’t sit through interviews with people who joke about his wife’s sex tape, repeatedly cop to his mistakes, or work hard to give upcoming talent opportunities to thrive.

Healthy mockery is one thing, and there have been some brilliant satirical treatments of Kanye’s public behavior. But throwing around mean-spirited insults is more common, and also more roundly condemned by Jesus (Matthew 5:22). This is not harmless apathy, it’s antipathy. And it’s unchristian.

So please, do a better job of ignoring Kanye, if you’re so inclined. If not, do a more loving job of listening.


5 Comments

  1. This was really helpful for me. I was content to ignore him before, but now I want listen to him.

  2. Good article-while I find Kanye’s antics good for comic relief, I have found myself warming up to the guy lately. There does seem to be another side of him that could be warm and likeable. Maybe it’s the press he gots on fatherhood, I don’t know. Your article kind of validated my feelings about him.

  3. Thank you for writing this. I actually found it because of criticism of your opinion elsewhere, and I’m glad I did. I knew nothing about Kanye before reading this, except that nobody seems to like him. Now I’m actually interested, and kind of impressed.

  4. kanye is a self aggrandizing egomaniacal individual who followed in the footsteps of madonna.
    okay, he has talent, he thrives on contraversy.
    now, explain the kanye wearing a crown of thorns image on the rolling stone cover a few years back.
    I am sorry you found the need to apologize for mr. west. I agree, he has talent and became a force to be reckoned with, but that image is a bit much. I don’t really have much of.an opinion yay or nay about most of pop culture, mainly because like bubbles in a champagne glass, most pop stars are ephemeral. what I do have an opinion on is when people like the wests, or a blue and white and gold dress matter more than darfur, or the middle east or any social inequities.
    wasting space on pop culture is fine as a once and awhile diversion, but it ia beginning to be a full time occupation for too many.
    please, do us all a favor and give equal time to real issues.

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