Dating, Relationships, & Sex, Pop Culture, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

Why Kanye Matters so Gotdamn Much

Panama: so i know a lot of women who absolutely love kanye west and i can honestly say i dont get it. like i cant tell if they want to be with him? or if his swag is attractive to them or what…

kanye being an attractive human being is an oddity to me

Champ: i think they like what he produces and what he’s capable of producing more than anything else
the art more than the artist
i mean, i guess that explains why guys like paul mccartney and lyle lovett have had their pick of beautiful women
the idea of kanye matters more than he does
well, not more, but just as much
women love big ideas and potential more than they love us, lol
and kanye is a big f*cking idea
Panama: that is true
Champ: but yeah, you’re right. he’s a sex symbol who women don’t seem to want to have sex with
its weird. i’ve never believed any of the “kanye’s gay” rumors, but i have a hard time believing he was sleeping with amber rose, or anyone for that matter
Panama: good point
Champ: but, he’s also admitted to a porn addiction, and i’ve heard from a few sources that he’s not particularly shy about whipping it out in public, lol
Panama: apparently a lot of guys aren’t
i’ve had chicks tell me numerous times of dudes i know who they’ve been with on some one-on-one hang shit and dude will just pull his shit out
Champ: i knew a guy in college who’d hand women business cards with a pic of him holding his wang
i always wondered who took those pictures for him
Panama: lol

Midway through our latest podcast, I made a completely extemporaneous remark about Kanye West being one of the most important black people in the world; a statement so extemporaneous and unexpected you can hear the shock in my own voice when I said it. This surprise was largely based on the fact that I didn’t believe a single word of what I had just said.

But, because the verbal edit button–a device allowing you to delete reckless things you’ve said before anyone actually hears it–hasn’t been invented yet, I went full speed ahead, citing Kanye’s pandemic effect on our culture as proof of my statement’s truth. Surprisingly, the more I spoke, the more I realized this theory wasn’t that far fetched. Culture–the way we behave, how we interact, and what we believe–f*cking matters. And, regardless of how superficial you consider their particular contributions to be, our living and breathing cultural determinants–our Jay-Zs’, our Kardashians, our Beyonces–f*cking matter too.

Kanye, his brand of unabashed and simultaneously insecure self-confidence, and the art this volatile mixture created, has done more to spearhead this current era of hip-hop androgyny we live in than any other entity. Ironically, this makes him a bit of a throwback. His visceral emoting and occasional bouts of hyper-heterosexual aggression hearken back to the 80′s, when lascivious and sexually ambiguous performers such as Prince, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Boy George ruled the airwaves. I’m not suggesting Kanye is in fact bi or homosexual, but his particular type of emotiveness is unlike any we’ve seen in hip-hop, and by osmosis he’s helped to pave the way to mainstream acceptance and embrace for (among other things) Drake, skinny jeans, Lady Gaga, Rhianna, blazers, Nicky Minaj, eyeglasses, B.O.B., blogging (yes. blogging), Lil Wayne, frohawks, and Twitter.

Despite all of this, I’ve always wondered what exactly it is about Kanye that allows him to wield such a cultural influence. How the hell does this tiny guy from the Chi have so much power? While his persona is (somewhat) original in a hip-hop context, the characteristics contributing to this persona are completely unoriginal. His critically lauded sample-heavy and soulful production is somewhat of a copy of music the RZA was making in 1995. While he’s definitely improving as a rapper, he’ll never be confused for a “natural” like a Nas or even a Scarface. And, by the time “The College Dropout” was released, the emotive eccentricity and eclecticism he’s known for had already been “done” (and, arguably, done better) by Andre 3000. He’s basically an HD compatible betamax.

The insane buzz over his two relatively underwhelming new singles (“Power” and “Hear Me Now”. Although, I have to admit I love “Hear Me Now” and the “Power” remix) have helped me figure it out: It’s not Kanye himself as much as it’s the idea of Kanye–and what we think he’s capable of–that matters so gotdamn much. This explains why each of his albums (even the sucky ones I eventually allowed to grow on me) are cultural landmarks even among those who love hip-hop but hate him and/or his music. This helps me understand how we’ve allowed a man who has made entire albums based around the idea that college is a sham and publicly admitted to not reading books (ha!) to be the de facto musical spokesperson for the young and college educated African-American. This even explains why (many) women are completely infatuated by him despite the fact that they probably wouldn’t sleep with him if given the chance.

With Kanye, it’s not so much about who he is or what he’s accomplished as much as it’s who we want him to be and what he just might do. While he has definitely produced, the power we’ve given him lies in the fact that his otherworldly range of personality makes him potential personified, and this makes him completely unstable and completely impervious to prediction—exactly like culture. He’s a living and breathing cultural cipher for our Id’s and expectations (whatever they might be), and he matters so gotdamn much because we need him to.

—The Champ

***By the way, If you haven’t done so yet, check out “The Black Blog Tea Party“, The Champ’s latest piece at Clutch Magazine***

Gigi Van Deckter

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a contributing editor for EBONY.com. He resides in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes.

  • P.

    Regardless of how much of a douchebag I think he is, he gets a free pass in my book solely because the Kanye shrug was one of the greatest things mankind saw this (last? I can never figure this time sh*t out) decade.

    • Honey

      i agree with P. 100%. kanye’s music is great, pure and simple. and he creates most of it completely on his own. i love people who write AND produce their own stuff. not to mention he is actually saying something meaningful…well usually lol. even when he’s not, the things he says are highly entertaining, clever, and quotable. these things, compared with his overall image and outrageousness, make him a star. he will be remembered for a very long time, along with the rest of the greats i think. and rightly so.

      i think his “power” also has a lot to do with the fact that he says things that people feel but don’t have the nerve to say, and this touches people. he’s just very raw, and people feel that. i went to his “glow in the dark” tour a few years ago, and i was amazed not only at the quality of the show but at the number of people (all races, both genders, various ages) who knew every lyric and truly felt those words. it was a beautiful thing. is he the voice of our generation? maybe…i’m not sure if i’d go that far, but you would certainly think so being in that arena.

      p.s. it doesn’t hurt that he has all that respect in the industry. dude has collaborated with everybody who’s anybody, from jay-z to jeezy to justin beiber. his market is ginormous.

      • Honey

        just re-read P.’s comment and realized he was talking about the “kanye shrug” and not kanye’s music….so i take back the whole agreeing 100% thing lol. i was talking about the man’s music and sh!t. geez, i need to go to sleep.

    • http://www.pinchmycheekie.wordpress.com Cheekie

      Right? I mean, that shrug can be applied to a ton of things. Like, I can’t even shrug anymore without it naming it “Kanye.” In fact, I think I like that.

  • fixedwater

    All I can say is he doesn’t matter to me

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com The Champ

      that doesn’t matter

    • http://www.pinchmycheekie.wordpress.com Cheekie

      LOL, I knew it would only be a matter of time before someone said this. Which…valid.

      Guess that can be said about everyone, though, right?

  • http://lizburr.com Liz

    Is this a Why I Love Yeezy post? Cuz I’ll go in.

    I don’t really wanna have sex with Yeezy. He doesn’t really do it for me, but I still love him lots. His thirst to want to improve himself and his art is what attracts me most. It inspires you to want to do better for yourself, and it makes you want to root for him too. I’m not into egos but Kanye’s ego is like none other. Besides that, I do like his word play, which is why I used to like Jigga so much (not so much anymore; he’s getting old; literally). I could do without his gaudy tastes in interior design as of late, but he’s def cool in my book. I just hope this new album isn’t wack.

    And I love our podcasts simply because you can’t edit yourself which is great because your obsessive editing drives me nuts. In a nice way, of course.

    • http://twitter.com/naimafiasco TheTalentedMs.Fiasco

      YES! I totally agree. I don’t find him attractive. He actually looks like my brother in law A LOT, so it freaks me out a bit. Anyway, I just think he is extremely adorable. He just seems so genuinely into what he does and he produces some great albums. I am definitely a stan! :-/

      • morningjoi

        Double co-sign! My chicks and I are all big fans of Kanye. Not one of us ever calls him sexy, fine, or drool over the idea of sleeping with him. SImply put: he’s one of the most interesting people in the limelight right now, and – right or wrong – he always goes hard.

      • Sula

        You guys have captured it quite nicely.

        And what The Champ calls the Huge albeit insecure self-confidence definitely rails me in.

        I do heart Kanye a whole bunch. I want to give him kisses and stuff and go sit in the park with him while he shares his vision with me and sh!t… :)

        • http://www.thepowermixer.com bizchick

          omagawd. I caught a tear sharing this vision of him sharing his vision with you. ’cause I totes feel like that ma damn self, lol. it’s sick really how much I adore him.

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com The Champ

      I don’t really wanna have sex with Yeezy

      thanks for making that clear, liz

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      His thirst to want to improve himself and his art is what attracts me most. It inspires you to want to do better for yourself, and it makes you want to root for him too.

      kanye actually inspires you to be a bigger, better, and greater person? i think this is the first time i’ve heard anybody say that kanye inspires them to be better.

      • Sula

        You need to hang out with different people. :)

      • http://lizburr.com Liz

        yeah what Sula said. When Kanye was his hungriest?? Back during college dropout days? do u not know the story behind through the wire? lol. He’s always been thirsty, aspirational. today hasn’t changed, its just from a different angle. some see it as all ego but part of his ego thing is that nobody else is better than him, so he has to constantly be better than himself. before then, it was that he was so great, but people slept on him…but he’d show them one day.

  • http://awordorthree.com Crystal Marie

    Maybe if I start talking about important I am and golden goblets, I too can convince others that I matter. O_o

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com The Champ

      or you can just join the illuminati. that always seems to help

      • http://www.pinchmycheekie.wordpress.com Cheekie

        Or the VSBluminati. Where e-celebs reign and sh*t. o_O

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      it worked for lil wayne. nobody ever considered him as the “best rapper alive” until he started saying it with every other line on the first Carter album. next thing you know, folks started saying, “hey, is lil wayne the best rapper alive?”

      if you say something enough, people will start to wonder if its true…then people will start to believe it.

      it’s why i’ve been calling myself sexxy for the last decade. visualization breeds actualization. or some such freudian f*ckery.

      • http://www.pinchmycheekie.wordpress.com Cheekie

        “it’s why i’ve been calling myself sexxy for the last decade. visualization breeds actualization. or some such freudian f*ckery.”

        Mmmhmm. The 3 thing, though? That’s true.

      • V Renee

        it worked for lil wayne. nobody ever considered him as the “best rapper alive” .

        Actually I’ve been saying it since “Lights Out”. What can I say, I’ve always been a fan. *Kanye Shrug*

        • http://verysmartbrothas.com The Champ

          Actually I’ve been saying it since “Lights Out”. What can I say, I’ve always been a fan. *Kanye Shrug*

          wow. you’ve been wrong for a long time

      • http://awordorthree.com Crystal Marie

        This last line is begging me to say something extremely rude. But I’ll refrain, bc you’re nice in person.

  • Andi

    Aww I love the podcast :D I found that comment a touch out of left field as well, but you did a good job defending it.

    While I don’t think Kanye is the cultural maven he thinks he is (voice of my generation…. really?) I do think he paved the way for this new breed of emo hiphop where we talk about out feelings. Feelings beyond lust and pissed offedness anyway. Now we have Drake talking about how he loves the fame, but he hates the fame, but he’s soooooo over it, and Wale kvitching about how girls in high school wouldn’t talk to him, and BOB who is a ghost in a machine and you can’t see past his shades. Don’t look at me!!! …Sorry just had an emo moment. Anyway, I do think Kanye has fashioned a new school of hip hop, but cultural icon? We’ll see….

    • Andi

      You know what’s interesting? I feel like more people would give Kanye the musician his deserved props if Kanye the personality wasn’t such a douchebag. It’s hard to like someone who clearly doesn’t give a rat’s hind parts whether you support them or not…

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com The Champ

      While I don’t think Kanye is the cultural maven he thinks he is (voice of my generation…. really?) I do think he paved the way for this new breed of emo hiphop where we talk about out feelings

      that’s the thing, if you’ve managed to alter a pretty widespread culture (hip-hop) you are a cultural maven (even if your effect might have been accidental)

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      douchebag though he may be, kanye is definitely a cultural icon. right now, he and lady gaga are probably the most significant measures of where hiphop and pop music are. kanye, lil wayne, gaga, beyonce and to a lesser extent rihanna and jay are all the people folks are paying attention to and we’ll be referencing 20 years from now about this era. what they do inspires other people to do sh*t.

      heck, bc of kanye, i’ve been trying to date a racially amibiguous bald headed light skint woman. and i hate mannequins.

    • http://www.pinchmycheekie.wordpress.com Cheekie

      “I found that comment a touch out of left field as well, but you did a good job defending it.”

      Right, I mean from what Champ has said…it makes sense. But, I still think he’s just as funny unedited as edited, which is no easy feat. Panama, I can’t compare because that ninja is always unedited. Consistent self.

      “While I don’t think Kanye is the cultural maven he thinks he is (voice of my generation…. really?) ”

      LOL, yeah see, we’ll never compliment Kanye better than he compliments himself. We can say he was the best thing in the history of the word “best”, and he’ll still be all, “Um…I’m better than that, peasant.”

  • http://calmpleks.wordpress.com Calmpleks

    It’s becoming more acceptable for men to be emo in general. Whether your theory of Kanye’s influence effects that fact is probably a chicken-or-egg argument. Maybe he exists to the magnitude that he does because we’re different as a society, thus allowing other rappers like Wayne and Joe Budden to show their emo side.

    Either way, I’m tired and I need a hug.

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com The Champ

      It’s becoming more acceptable for men to be emo in general. Whether your theory of Kanye’s influence effects that fact is probably a chicken-or-egg argument

      i’ve thought about that as well. maybe kanye just rode the anti-50/anti-bush backlash, and happened to be in the right place at the right time

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      joe buddens has ALWAYS been an emo rapper. in fact, that’s his whole schtick, putting too much of himself and his emotions out there on the table. hell, it might be the reason he always manages to date banging chicks.

      you know what i actually blame this entire emo-guy debacle on?

      von dutch trucker hats.

      i know they’ve always been popular in cali, but when they caught on nationwide, rappers started wearing them. you cant’ rock thug attire with a von dutch hat. so they had to change their wardrobe. everybody looked like pharrell at this point b/c he ALWAYS looked like a skater dude. well once our eyes were opened to skater culture, guys started wearing skinny jeans and next thing you know, everybody looked like they were the guys rappers used to beat up. you cant talk hardcore in skinny jeans, so folks started rapping accordingly.

      von dutch is responsible for the emo rapper.

  • http://www.iamyourpeople.com I Am Your People

    * THIS POST IS ON A THOUSAND BILLION TRILLION!
    * I love how creative Kanye is. Love or hate the “Power” video, it’s something brand new. I even give him props for having the balls to make 808 & Heartbreak.
    * I have mixed feelings about him unleashing Amber Rose upon the world
    * , Aziz Anzari’s parody tweets of Kanye are hilarious

    • http://lizburr.com Liz

      It took me a minute, but 808s really grew on me. That album speaks to me in a way no other piece of music has. I know I sound extra emo but it did lol. It made me laugh, cry, feel sorry for him, wish him well, etc. It might be my fave Yeezy album for some odd reason, even though I enjoyed the others a lot.

      • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

        i’d like to commission a study on the people whose favorite kanye album is 808s and heartbreaks. i feel like its a big arse support group waiting to happen out there. i haven’t listened to that album in years at this point. and have no intention of ever listening to it again. the only song i liked on it was “welcome to heartbreak”

        do you need a hug Liz?

      • Sula

        Don’t worry about sounding Emo…

        I was part of the first wave of supporters of 808′s & Heartbreaks (well documented on this here VSB)… but I don’t understand people who don’t like it… It’s strange… This stuff is pure, unadulterated feelings on beat… Just dope.

        And Panama, I’ll sign up for the study. :)

      • V Renee

        OMG – ME TOO!!!

        I absolutely LOVE 808. I seriously listen to the album all the way through at least twice a month. And that’s saying A LOT!

        I like any artist that makes me really believe and feel what they’re singing/rapping.

        • http://www.thepowermixer.com bizchick

          yep, fave album after college dropout. withoutadoubt. you captured it perfectly liz. he has this confluence of emotions in 808s and I especially felt his pain. that last song in particular got me shook up when you think about the context.

          Here’s this guy with his heart on his sleeve, momma just died, broken engagement, complaining about his lost loves and loneliness to a foreign crowd. they don’t know what the hell he’s saying, so they’re yelling with heaps of joy at all the wrong moments (he’s talking about death and despair and they’re all “yayyy Kanye!!!!”) which highlights the loneliness of fame. He’s practically crying on the mic about something that is coincidentally going on right then and there. Because it’s a live performance it makes it that more real.

          I think that’s it. Kanye is just real.

          I wanted to imagine some kind of time-space continuum leap, jump in my CD player (yes, those still exist) and give him a hug. Shit I still wanna do that, lol.

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com The Champ

      I love how creative Kanye is. Love or hate the “Power” video, it’s something brand new.

      how integral do you think his “brand new-ness” is to his popularity?

    • http://www.pinchmycheekie.wordpress.com Cheekie

      “* THIS POST IS ON A THOUSAND BILLION TRILLION!”

      You win the award for aptly doing a Kanye impersonation on a Kanye-related post. See? This is why you my people.

  • miss t-lee

    Kanye’s a sex symbol? Huh? Where? I’m sorry but no. I don’t know any chicks who are fawnin’ over Kanye…not a one. As far as his music goes, ehhh. I seem to dig his beats/verses that he does for others more than I do anything he’s done on his own. I don’t even own any of his stuff. Then there’s all the bytchazz behavior as well, let’s just say I’m not a fan. *oh yeah Champie I dig you on the podcasts, especially the Pittsburgh accent…lol

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com The Champ

      Kanye’s a sex symbol? Huh? Where? I’m sorry but no. I don’t know any chicks who are fawnin’ over Kanye…not a one

      lol, a few of them have already come through today.

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      speaking of pittsburgh accents (but not really) how come i don’t believe at all that wiz khalifa is from pittsburgh. he dresses, acts, talks and swags like he’s from cali. thru and thru. if it wasn’t for his incessant “pittsburgh” hat wearage and chain, i’d need to have his mother tell me straight up that he’s from pitt.

      • http://verysmartbrothas.com The Champ

        thing is, there are certain parts of pittsburgh (homewood in particular) that have COMPLETELY mimicked the west coast since the mid 90′s. If you walked down Homewood ave, you’d really think you’d stepped on the set of Menace to Society, right down to the “cuz” and the blue dickies and bandanas.

    • legitimate_soul

      Kanye’s a sex symbol? Huh? Where? I’m sorry but no. I don’t know any chicks who are fawnin’ over Kanye…not a one.

      ^Agreed! Like. not. never! He’s asexual to me. He’s definitely male, not gay, but there is no sexual heat to me what so ever. I wouldn’t be surprised if he could reproduce on his own (like the science books would say).

      • Sula

        But y’all are basically saying what The Champ said… No?

        • legitimate_soul

          Hey, Sula :)

          I thought Champ was saying despite that, some women still find him sexy or attractive. I do not. Not at all. So I thought that was different than what Champ was saying. Am I wrong? I could be wrong :) The idea of someone being a sex symbol you don’t want to have sex with is absurd. Then they aren’t a sex symbol in my book. You just are really fond of them, I guess, lol! I don’t even know if I’d even call it a crush, because even a crush wants a kiss. I don’t want none of that with Kanye.

  • Shay

    I begrudgingly admit that Kanye West makes good music. If I acknowledge anything more then that, then his over inflated ego might knock the Earth off it’s axis.

    Dude epitomizes what it is to be an attention wh*re, so I give him his props as being a talented musician, and keep it moving.

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com The Champ

      I begrudgingly admit that Kanye West makes good music. If I acknowledge anything more then that, then his over inflated ego might knock the Earth off it’s axis.

      see, i really don’t think kanye’s ego is bigger than any of ours. i just don’t think he has much of a superego

      • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

        since i dont know what that means, i’m gonna take it as disrespect…

        • Phidelity15

          There’s always a way to insert that line into a conversation…Kevin Hart is effing hilarious!

      • http://www.pinchmycheekie.wordpress.com Cheekie

        “see, i really don’t think kanye’s ego is bigger than any of ours. i just don’t think he has much of a superego”

        So, do you think the difference is that he vocalizes the ego we all have? Because that’s what he thinks. See, “Down, All Falls.”

        • BlkBond

          I agree Cheekie—I was telling a friend of mine that Kanye is like the mascot for a generation of young adults, that’s why we relate to him so well and feel his music.

          Bond.

        • Phidelity15

          I actually believe Kanye does it to a beat and makes it a lifestyle. We all bite our tongues and don’t say what we feel at the time some bs is going down (call it superego or tact, its the same thing). Our superego keeps us employed and his id keeps him relevant and us entertained.

      • Sula

        And I don’t understand why people don’t see that? Kanye is a self-proclaimed insecure dude… Knowing you are good doesn’t mean you have an ego. Sh!t, I know I’m smart and I’ll say it to anybody who wants to hear it… If that means I have a superego, then I guess… *’Ye shrug*

        • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

          it doesnt mean you have superego. it means that perhaps you don’t have much of a superego…like kanye.

          • Sula

            Am I slow or is your sexxyness too much for me because, yeah, I didn’t get that.

            • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

              get thee to a dictionary or wikipedia and look up superego.

              it doesnt mean “really big ego”

      • Shay

        Actually, yeah, I can get down with that explanation. His superego is gimpy, and does an inadequate job of managing his id and his ego.

        • Shay

          …but that doesn’t change the fact that he is an attention wh*re that I refuse to support financially. Some people see a tortured artist and an iconoclast. I see a spoiled a*s man child throwing public temper tantrums, demanding validation for what he’s supposed to do.

  • brotherspanky

    i kind of do and kind of don’t want to weigh in on anything concerning ‘Ye, mostly considering that he’s the type of dude that will probably google himself and read everything that everyone writes about him and then link it to his blog.

    Case in point, him being a ‘representative’ of this era that we live in. I think that he is a by-proxy or de facto representative because of his insatiable self-promotion, which is the essence of American (and Hip-hop) braggadocio. The fact that he advertises fashionable purses simultaneously is just the classic consumerist icing on the cake.

    he may not be the voice of a generation, but he does quite a job of generating his own voice.

    And cosign on the Aziz Ansari bit.

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com The Champ

      he may not be the voice of a generation, but he does quite a job of generating his own voice.

      nice play on words and sh*t (even if i dont agree)