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Kanye West’s Arab Spring, Or: Terminal Hype Velocity

Will Kanye West’s need to prove himself ever reach a terminal point? I’m not talking about a point at which West will look back on his works, say, “Good enough,” and throw in the towel (I doubt anything short of an untimely demise would elicit that reaction), but I’m curious if there will ever come a point at which West’s need to paint himself as an ever taller tale will stop being awe-inspiring and will instead just become awkward.

Consider the situation as it stands: Despite being one of the most recognizable human beings on the planet (and rich, and widely regarded as a legitimate “artiste”), Yeezy is still running around like he has to write beats just to keep the lights on. Even his victory laps have a touch of desperation.

An underdog identity has been part of West’s self-imposed mythology since the College Dropout days, but even when rapping on an album whose ostensible theme is how he and his mentor have achieved super-human levels of success (Watch the Throne), West talks with a paranoid persistence about how the world is trying to tear him down. Jay-Z’s swagger makes it sound like he has an unshakable ability to deal with his shit, whether that shit happens to entail slinging rocks in the Bronx or going toe-to-toe with Russian kleptocrats. West, on the other hand, sounds desperate to prove himself to…well, himself, I guess.

Sometimes Yeezy’s lust for attention yields impressive results (see below), but this behavior also raises questions about how much further the envelope can be pushed.

There are two causes for this speculation, one being West’s unveiling of his latest clothing collection at Paris Fashion Week, the other being his stated ambition to film a “Runaway”-style video in the Middle East. His rationale for this latter project is that he wants to “highlight [Middle Eastern] culture accurately” (similar to the realism with which he portrayed the real-world travails of comet-based bird-women?).

Both of these projects are, on a fundamental level, ridiculous. If they wind up becoming legitimate artistic pursuits, it will be thanks to West’s talent for setting goals so outlandish that they somehow become admirable on their own terms.

As far as the possible reception of these two projects, West’s upcoming video looks like it has a better chance of pushing its ostensible insanity clear into the realm of art. Reactions to West’s clothing collection (his second) at this year’s Fashion Week were lukewarm at best, though a remarkable improvement over his performance last year, for which the world’s fashion critics dipped heavily into their strategic reserves of snark.

West’s career has been a concatenation of ridiculous, self-imposed aspirations (rapper, actor, director, designer, genius), all of which he has somehow achieved. His Waterloo hides somewhere in these ambitions, and he moves ever closer to it by virtue of his simple inability to quit while he’s ahead.

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About the Author


Shane Danaher's affection for pop music has peppered his adult life with a variety of aesthetically rewarding and financially disastrous decisions. After moving to Portland, Oregon for college (because that's where he heard Modest Mouse was from) Shane has wound up participating in the music world in roles ranging from 'drummer' to 'promoter' to 'bathroom floor scrubber.' He has toured without money, written about almost every band ever to have come out of the Pacific Northwest, and one time traveled all the way to Los Angeles just to see a catch hip-hop show. He currently resides in Portland, where he writes about hip-hop, pop and rock music for a variety of publications. He still plays drums. He wants to meet Kanye West.

Posted in: Hip Hop Music


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