Arts and Entertainment

Inside the Artist: The One-of-a-Kind Kanye West

Kanye West is a unique, polarizing figure with an undeniably amazing musical prowess.

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Kanye West is one of the most polarizing figures in the music industry. Widely heralded for his creative music production while condemned for his hubris, incendiary lyrics, and comments; there is no common opinion on Kanye. However, if there is one thing that is unequivocal about him, it is his musical prowess and ability to create unique music.

The first piece of music released by Kanye was a single, “Through the Wire,” from his debut album, “The College Dropout” (2004). Recorded just weeks after he was involved in a car accident in 2002, the vocals on the song were done with Kanye’s jaws still wired shut. While not apparent at the time, the decision to record in his condition was a testament to his individuality as a rapper, a characteristic that would be upheld throughout his career. “The College Dropout,” released in February 2004, was the first of a three-part, education-themed series, including “Late Registration” (2005) and “Graduation” (2007). All three of the albums in the series received widespread, critical acclaim and solidified Kanye’s place as one of the greatest rappers of his generation. “Jesus Walks” on “The College Dropout” was a gospel ballad driven by a sample from the ARC Choir that earned Kanye both a Grammy and a BET nomination for best gospel artist. “Stronger” on “Graduation” is a synth-driven house track, with samples from Daft Punk, that has remained one of Kanye’s most popular songs.

Just over a year after “Graduation” was released, Kanye put out his fourth studio album, “808s & Heartbreak” (2008). In stark contrast to his previous albums, “808s & Heartbreak” was slower, more somber, and more melodic. On almost every track, Kanye sings, rather than raps, making the music much more raw and emotional. “Street Lights” is a calm yet upbeat song driven by soothing autotuned vocals. Its lyrics, “Let me know / Do I still got time to grow?” makes Kanye at once introspective and intimate. In “Coldest Winter,” he sings, “If spring can take the snow away, can it melt away all our mistakes?” signalling Kanye’s struggles to adjust to his newfound celebrity, especially just months after his mother had passed away. It was the most personal and expressive project the singer had put out, and has arguably remained so.

Following this, fans eagerly awaited for more. What they got was “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” (2010), Kanye’s fifth album, which was intriguing and unique in a number of ways. Kanye enlisted artist George Condo to create five official covers for the album, all of them in a similar style surrounded by a thick, cherry-red border. Widely considered to be Kanye’s best album and thought by many to be a perfect one, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is the pinnacle of Kanye’s musical career. It contained many of his best works, plus additional songs like “Runaway,” a beautiful, nine-minute collaboration with Pusha T. “Runaway” begins with a single note played on a piano that evolves into a riff that stays throughout the entire song. Kanye’s vocals start over a minute into the song in which he discusses the scrutiny he is under as a public figure, slyly referencing the names he has been called. About six minutes in, the vocals and drums stop abruptly, with only the minimalist piano riff remaining. A highly-processed, guitar-like melody sung by Kanye remains in the final two minutes. This is, of course, an unorthodox way of producing a song. However, Kanye’s musical genius allows him to produce music like this that still tops the charts and are favorites to many. This upholds his rejection of conventions in popular music today.

Since “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” in 2010, Kanye has released a number of projects and collaborations, including “The Life of Pablo” (2016), “Yeezus” (2013), “ye” (2018), and “KIDS SEE GHOSTS” (2018). As with all of Kanye’s albums, each has a very specific niche that distinguishes it from the rest of his discography. Not only has Kanye successfully hopped between genres, but he also has dabbled in the use of various musical tools like autotune, vocoders, and synthesizers. While some think the processed sound of his music is unpleasant, each new Kanye album is an experiment for him, and we as listeners get to be a part of that adventure.

Over the years, the singer has drawn a lot of attention for his music. He has also received a lot of recognition, most negative, for his public appearances and comments. He has become famous for announcing himself as a God, claiming that slavery was a choice, and, of course, interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards (though she wasn’t the only victim). While some speculate that all of these have been calculated publicity stunts, it remains clear that Kanye will do what he wants and will act irrationally, regardless of the consequences.

More than any other characteristic of his, this spontaneity and disregard of judgement is what makes Kanye a unique figure. Regardless of how his actions might affect album sales or people’s opinions of him, Kanye does what he wants. It may not have been the wisest decision to record his debut single with his jaw wired shut following a car accident, but Kanye did it anyway. It may not have been the wisest decision to cut Taylor Swift off on national television, but Kanye did it anyway. While artists usually refrain from writing songs that exceed five minutes, Kanye wrote one that was nine. Despite the risks, he pulls it all off, and very successfully.