The Cult of Kanye
I fell into Kanye in autumnal Hong Kong in 2004. We had just seen the video for “All Falls Down” on TV and I loved it enough to add Kanye’s debut album onto my mom’s record store shopping list. Like most pre-teens, my life was in a state of constant flux. I moved from one Catholic school to another, and had gotten a tattoo without parental permission. I had also just given up on Linkin Park and needed new music to hinge my identity on. And there I was, 14 years old, recently freed from the oppression of braces, and a newly minted Kanye West disciple.
I relied on him like a tub of Ben & Jerry’s after a stereotypical rom-com break up. Bad hair day? I had Kanye for that. Broke up with my gross boyfriend? One or two tracks, easy. Nearly failing out of an expensive college? I had nearly three Kanye albums to help me get through. On the day I received my notice of graduation, I went out to get a massive Kanye-themed graduation tattoo on my right forearm—my dominant hand which I would use to help rule the world, like he did.
On the day I received my notice of graduation, I went out to get a massive Kanye-themed graduation tattoo on my right forearm—my dominant hand which I would use to help rule the world, like he did.
But Kanye is a polarizing love-hate affair. Some people hate him because they see the inanity of his lyricism; others will question if his music should even be categorized as such. Purist sneaker snobs dismiss any iteration of the Yeezys as trash from the jump, because they can’t handle that it’s the highest-grossing piece of sports footwear not created by a man in sports. Hyper-educated literatis think of Kanye as a sign of the intellectual apocalypse, after having been invited to lecture in schools they themselves couldn’t get into.
On the other hand, you can like him for just about as many reasons as you don’t. You like him because he’s charming and funny in an interview, and his sound bites are perfect for Instagram. His songs bump from the club to the confi nes of your room. You like Kanye because he makes clothes with people you want to make clothes with, too. Or simply because the people you like also like him.
This year, we’ve been treated to an Apex Kanye, just when we thought that Kanye couldn’t get any more Kanye. In preparation for the greatest album of the world, he decided to let the contents of his mind drip 140 characters at a time onto Twitter, leaving all of us drowning in a sea of contradiction and confusion. He is a mystery, and we just don’t get it anymore. Is his son, Saint, real? Has he gone cuckoo from the Kardashian air, enough to declare Cosby innocent? Did he really love his laptop that much? How did he get himself $53 million in the time between Christmas and Valentine’s Day to produce his Season 3 fashion show? And why was he begging Mark Zuckerberg for a billion dollars on Twitter?
This year, we’ve been treated to an Apex Kanye, just when we thought that Kanye couldn’t get any more Kanye.
For many, this is the crucial jump-off point where they decide: “No, F U Kanye, you are too much. I am done with you.” Think piece after think piece has come out denouncing Kanye as the genius fallen from grace, the one who effed up and lost his mind, his money, and his credibility. He had created a lane so far from his own individual beliefs that he is no longer relatable. That at the end of the day, his cult comes in two forms within a spectrum: his admirers and detractors wafting between the idea that he is the greatest of all time, or no good at all. That he is metaphysically unique, or just like any other rapper in the game.
In the end, the idea is that when the cards are stacked, Kanye is the type of person who you can and cannot become, all at the same time—and these extremes are what make up the unexplainable force of power that is Kanye West.
This piece originally appeared in our March 2016 issue.