Kanye West: His Influence Term Paper

Pages: 11 (4130 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 11  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Music

Kanye West: His Influence and Impact on the Modern World

When Kanye West debuted on the music scene, he did so in a lasting and powerful manner. West has been able to produce albums with lasting critical and popular success, thus securing his name as one of the music's greatest and most influential people, easily placing him among the ranks of some of the most legendary -- such as Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. However, West is often fodder for the tabloids and the legitimate press due to his outspoken nature. West has receive a tremendous amount of attention for the remarks that he's made to the press -- remarks which some say are just the self-absorbed blatherings of a celebrity and which others say are just the throw-away remarks of someone who examines his life with a microscope and a tremendous amount of hubris. However, given the intense influence and success that West has had in music, given his desires to work in the fashion industry (particularly in haute couture), and given the obvious intelligence of his music, it's definitely worth asking if Kanye West is actually engaging in meaningful commentary about race and class in America with many of his outspoken remarks? Furthermore, is West's concerted efforts to work with acclaim in the world of high fashion actually more of a sociopolitical move which seeks to even the playing field of race relations?

Career and Music

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Kanye West will be the first one to assert just how powerful he is, though perhaps one of the elements which has kept him in the spotlight after all these years is the fact that his records sales remain consistent. One of the saving graces that allows West to be so outspoken and which makes people want to continue to listen to his outspoken remarks is the fact that he stands on a pillar of his records sales and commercial success: this is an important point to keep in mind, as these successes are precisely what prevent West from resembling the archetypal figure of the "crazy man" yelling random, incoherent pieces of speech from the street corner. It's important to bear in mind that West has been on the music scene since 2004 when he debuted with The College Dropout.

Term Paper on Kanye West: His Influence and Assignment

Later in 2005, Kanye West graced the cover of Time magazine, something that rarely every happened with any artist; the title of the magazine dubbed Kanye as Hip-Hop's Class Act. "The lengthy article details the contradictions of The College Dropout and of West himself, who admits that when starting out in hip-hop, 'It was a strike against me that I didn't wear baggy jeans and jerseys and that I never hustled, never sold drugs.' In April, Time had tapped West as one of the year's 100 most influential people" (people.com). This remark is important to bear in mind as it demonstrates that even West understood that while he had made it in the rap industry, he had done so in a manner which was incredibly distinct from other artists: when it came to the rap industry, West was not just a success; he was also an anomaly. West's acclaim was a truly remarkable feat because most people in America had just begun to learn his name a year ago. The fact that Time Magazine dubbed Kanye with this title so quickly is a result of his presence and his album sales. Kanye debuted onto the music industry scene as a bit of an overnight success: it seemed as though just overnight people not only were listening to his music, they were listening to his music by the millions. Overnight Kanye West deemed a star by the music industry. However, what has kept him a star is the fact that he keeps producing music that people want to listen to and that people will pay to listen to in droves. When it comes to the world of rap, West is not just influential, but he's not afraid to experiment, something again which makes him something of an anomaly. In 2009 Kanye's album 808s and Heartbreak was more experimental with more singing and less rapping: it was an expression by Kanye about much of the sadness he had experienced in his life -- this marked a level of vulnerability that other rappers didn't allow themselves to have or to experience. Just look at the reaction to Kanye's 2010 album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: not only did it top the charts of Billboard 200, but it was deemed a work of genius: "Rolling Stone says it's 'his most maniacally inspired music yet…Nobody halfway sane could have made this album,' while Spin praises it as 'a blessing'" (people.com).

Perhaps part of Kanye's success as a rapper was in connection with the fact that he was different. Some critics argued that he rescued rap "from the dismal swamp of stripper-chic and 'gangsta' ghettocentricity into which it has sunk. West's music is a delightful confection of odd juxtapositions and eccentric lyrical concerns; a sound that exemplifies hip-hop's recombinant aesthetic" (Muwakkil, 2006). Kanye was different from the roots of the "hip hop nation" that had underscored rap (Keyes, 2002); West was educated, he was just as clever and his music was distinct. Kanye West, through his music, has managed success, but success on his terms, success while playing by his own rules and has demonstrated that as an artist he's not just an anomaly, he pushes boundaries, which is yet another reason one should not be too surprised he has decided to take on the Caucasian-dominated world of high fashion. West's tendencies to push boundaries, through his music, through his remarks and through his actions demonstrates how he continually seeks to address the imbalance permeating throughout society on his own terms.

Political Influence

However, the depths of Kanye West's power, desire to push boundaries, and tendency to call things as he saw them, were felt acutely during Hurricane Katrina, when West memorably made the remark, "George Bush doesn't care about black people" during a concert on NBC for hurricane relief. Such a remark seemed flippant, and it seemed ill-planned and it made it look like Time had made a mistake by putting him on their cover and deeming him as the smartest man in hip-hop. The statement was so controversial, and Kanye was still so new to pop culture and to the music industry, the remark really did seem like he was simply risking his newfound popularity with a cavalier remark. However, during this time, West's album got to number one on Billboard charts, outselling the competition by over half-a-million records -- again evidence for the fact that his commercial success in music set up a pillar for him upon which to support his outspokenness.

However, West's controversial remark about Bush seemed to have sparked his popularity, increasing it in unprecedented amounts, as controversy is definitively one way for more people to discuss one and to increase's one's notoriety in the eyes of the world. "The resonance of West's comment (T-shirts emblazoned with his remark sparked a minor fashion trend and the internet swarmed with knock-off renditions of his hit 'Gold Digger' featuring substitute lyrics about George Bush) reveal just how hip-hop has expanded its influence beyond entertainment. The clearest voice to emerge from the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina didn't come from the civil rights fraternity; it came from West" (Muwakkill, 2006). This demonstrates not only the power of West, but also the power of pop culture as a whole. The fact that the most memorable thing said about the tragedy that was Hurricane Katrina was said not by activists or people in politics, but Kanye West, demonstrates how celebrities have a tremendous amount of pull when it came to current events.

Furthermore, West's comment was so blunt and so opinionated, that it really got America talking about the connections between Hurricane Katrina and the issues of race. While that might not have been West's desire when he became a rapper -- he may not have desired to become a sort of a spokesperson for his own opinions, or to discuss race in America, but this is something which has turned out to be a clear outgrowth of his power. "I don't think he started out to use this forum to exemplify his political consciousness.' Donda West told me in a recent conversation. She is the former chair of the English Department at Chicago State University and now serves as her son's manager. 'But he was given the kind of talent that would attract attention and then he had the kind of consciousness to have something to say.' He didn't intend to be so political when he first started, she said, 'but now he feels that he has no choice, that he's been called to it'" (Muwakkill, 2006). However, it's important to bear in mind that Donda's comments were made almost ten years ago, and she is not alive to see, hear or process the things that West… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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