Understanding why Kanye is Kanye first requires understanding what worldwide popularity does to people. To paraphrase an expression – fame crazies – absolute fame crazies absolutely. This is the Michael Jackson paradigm. When you’re rich and on top of the world you start peeing on people – or molesting them – or killing them – or killing yourself.
But what’s truly crazy is that Kanye hasn’t done any of those things. In fact on the eve of his appearance at Glastonbury he’s arguably the most critically beloved pop artist of the 21st century so far. From the release of his debut The College Dropout, in 2004 (which Rolling Stone called one of the 10 best albums of the decade – in any genre) to his most recent work Yeezus (which the Guardian and many others called the best album of 2013), practically no one has been as beloved by critics and fans alike for so long.
So how has he simultaneously become a laughing stock? ‘The media takes the shit and blows it all out of proportion’ says Fetty Wap the quickly emerging New Jersey rapper whom West has championed and performed with. He adds that West’s multitude of talents tend to be overlooked because of his antics. But West learned the rules of engagement a long time ago, and nonetheless continues to play the lamb to our slaughter. As a result, he occupies a bizarre place in the zeitgeist – absolutely beloved and absolutely reviled – simultaneously – sometimes by the same people. My wife for example adores much of his music – but despises him as a person.
How did this come to pass? It all started at the very beginning of his career. That is in his pink polo shirt days.