I'm in no position to judge the merits of Kanye West's music. I stopped listening to rap when you could still find Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five on the radio. These days I think it's mostly just noise.
When people tell me, "Oh, but it's technically very complicated," or "You don't understand how much work goes into it," I'm reminded of a scene from "Don Quixote": A man walks to the center of town and gathers a crowd for the show he's about to put on. The man picks up a dog and inserts a tube into its rump. He begins to inflate the canine. The crowd watches, fascinated. The dog grows larger and rounder. Eventually, the man pulls the tube out and the air escapes loudly from the poor pooch's rear as it runs away. The man turns to the crowd and asks: "You think it's easy to inflate a dog with a tube?" Moral: Just because someone works hard at something doesn't mean it's great art.
That's my disclosure for those who'd charge me with not "getting" rap music: guilty as charged.
But I do think I understand marketing and public relations, and I am astounded by the naivete of young people — black and white — who actually buy the canned rebelliousness not just of rap music but of most pop music.
West is simply the latest example of decades of hucksterism. Under the headline "The Passion of Kanye West," the rap star graces the cover of Rolling Stone posing as a bloodied Jesus with a crown of thorns. I particularly enjoy the publicity around the piece. Clearly borrowing from the same press release, publications across the country proclaim that the "outspoken rapper defends his brash attitude inside the magazine."
Ah, yes. It's about time. After all, it's so rare to find a rapper with a brash attitude. Normally they're shy, retiring types overflowing with modesty and humility. I was particularly enamored with the "aw, shucks" Andy Griffith personalities of Niggaz With Attitude and the late Tupac Shakur.
We're supposed to believe that West has been persecuted for his anti-Bush tirades and his determination to keep it real. But his biggest complaint is that people criticize him for being arrogant. "You want me to be great, but you don't ever want me to say I'm great?" he asks.
Of course, the editors also hoped to stir up some controversy, maybe even incite some religious conservatives to play to type, by exploiting the imagery of Jesus' suffering. I never went to Sunday school, but I don't recall that Jesus was crucified for being smug.
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