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Kanye West was rowdy, cocksure, and an irate asshole up to the release of Graduation on September 11, 2007. “I’m speaking to you from the future right now. They say, ‘Music changed a lot since you first dropped.’ I said music gon’ change a lot after I drop,” he said in the introduction to Can’t Tell Me Nothing, an appetizer of a mixtape leading up to the album’s release. It was a sampler of both old sounds and new, with Kanye setting a precedent and blueprint that rap would grow to adhere to over the course of the next decade. The soulful samples that comprised his previous two albums were on the back burner; they appeared at the beginning but became second nature to a more vexed, futuristic pattern. Talk about evolution.
As endlessly inventive as the album was and impactful in the larger legacy of West, it was only one part of his benefaction. His career has been defined by his ability to constantly redefine the parameters of rap, offering social commentary in intelligent ways that challenges preconceived notations by the world, and being the kind of once-in-a-lifetime musician that dictates the direction of pop culture whenever he steps out of the house.
The legacy of Kanye is that of being in rap’s elite conversation. Like Tupac, an artist he seldom gets attached to, he’s been a socially aware lyricist that may not be as technically gifted as full-blooded emcees but surpasses them in sheer inventiveness. The energy and lifeblood he brings to the creations he makes constantly breaks expectations. No two of his songs sound alike and there’s no way to tell what he’ll do next. He has won 92 awards over the course of his career, 21 of them being the much sought-after Grammy accolades that artists seek for validation. No matter what happens throughout the course of his career, nothing will change the fact that he’s a genius. He’s responsible for many of rap’s biggest moments over the last 15 years. The name Kanye West is synonymous with virtuosity.
However, it seems as if Kanye’s on a mission to erase the legacy that he’s worked so hard to build. He’s 41 years old now, basically a dinosaur by traditional hip-hop standards. We could attribute the problematic actions to his age, but that would rob him of responsibility. He made a career about being an asshole, but now that’s evolved into something much more distressing. Because of a few months of troubling actions and album releases marred in uncertainty, the complex, misunderstood genius we know and love seems to be dead. Not only does he seemingly not exist, this ploy for relevancy seems to be slowly decaying the legacy that he’s cultivated throughout his career.
With Kanye’s industry persona being, simply, “The Asshole,” much of his early controversies can be attributed to him playing a role. During this time, though, he appeased his fanbase and made genre-pushing music. He was an excessive, over-confident genius that could back up the ludicrous statements he would give to the public. When he gave his infamous “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” quip at NBC Universal’s “A Concert for Hurricane Relief” in 2005, Black America was in sync with him. But the tide began to shift with his stunt at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards when he infamously hijacked the microphone from Taylor Swift, who was in the midst of saying her acceptance speech for “Best Female Video,” to say that he believed Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” video to be one of the best of all time. His intentions were good, but he was, undoubtedly, an asshole. He took the opportunity to rebrand himself as a true schmuck on “Runaway,” the second single from his 2010 album My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy.
It wasn’t until recently that the asshole phase of his career took a much darker turn. As he made an adversary of Obama in the early 2010s, Kanye began to stray away from his embrace of Black America that played a large part in the formation of his legacy in the late aughts. It became finalized with the album rollout for ye, his latest album problematic for a multitude of other reasons, with which he began the marketing circuit for with his public embrace of Donald Trump. The best joke to come out of Kanye wearing the Trump supporter signifier “Make America Great Again” hat was a picture of George Bush saying, “Kanye West doesn’t care about black people.”
The image went viral because with each statement and interview that came after Kanye made the revelation on Twitter—he’d been vocalizing his infatuation with the current President since 2016 during a rant at the San Jose Saint Pablo Tour stop but no one paid attention—came with even more idiotic comments. When he went to TMZ to speak with the staff, he said that slavery must have been a choice since it went on for 400 years. T.I., in an interview with Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club staff, revealed that, through discussions with Kanye, he learned Kanye was in love with the idea of Trump, not the politics.
Even after the album came out, Kanye still stumbled. When he went on Jimmy Kimmel Live in late August and Jimmy Kimmel asked him, flat out, what exactly he liked about Trump, Kanye seemed both taken aback and loss for words—like he assumed that once the album came out, no one would care about who he endorsed. When the silence grew uncomfortable as Kanye squirmed and fidgeted, Kimmel relieved him of the mounting pressure and took the show to commercial break. Kanye never answered, but he did take to Twitter to reveal that he would have responded if there wasn’t a break.
By aligning himself with Trump, Kanye played a game that he thought he could win. His fanbase stretches across all ethnicities. By supporting Trump, he knew that he would be turning his back on much of the black populace. He was banking on Trump’s supporters and the controversial storm he was orchestrating to make up for the creative slack that came with age for ye. It didn’t. ye was a critical and commercial disappointment, coming in with 85,000 full album sales and 180 million streams, combined for an equivalent of 208,000 album sales for its first week. By comparison, Graduation, back when Kanye’s legacy was intact, sold 437,000 copies in the first day. For the first week, it sold 957,000 copies.
Kanye came out of the blue on September 8 and tweeted that Watch The Throne 2 is on the way. It was confusing for a number of reasons, the main one primarily being that him and JAY-Z aren’t currently seeing eye to eye, or at least publically. A large part of Watch The Throne that made it work was just how in sync the pair was. Kanye had been working with Jay since the former produced “This Can’t Be Life” from the latter’s The Dynasty: Roc La Familia album in 2000. Over the years, their tumultuous relationship led to waves of ins and outs. Now, the two have grown apart to the point where Kanye has officially left Tidal, JAY-Z’s streaming company, and now he’s embroiled in a money dispute with it. Jay recently revealed in a candid conversation with Dean Baquet of The New York Times Style Magazine that they’re back on speaking terms, but no word on whether that means if music’s back on the table. Seeing the creative space and the mental space that Kanye’s in, I doubt that JAY-Z would commit to a full-length project with him, especially after the beautiful, somber, and introspective nature of Jay’s 4:44.
If there’s ever any indicator that an artist is in the twilight of their career, it’s when they begin to work with artists so outside of their creative space that seeing them together immediately lets you know that they’re grasping at straws. Kanye’s recently been publicizing his meetings with 6ix9ine, a rapper who often calls himself the King of New York. 6ix9ine’s music is comprised of violent shouts and loud profanity. He’s also known more for the controversy he creates instead of his music. He pled guilty in a child sex case that involved uploading a video of a 13-year-old girl engaging in sex acts. Trippie Redd recently accused him of sleeping with another underage girl, this time 15, and he’s yet to respond to the allegations. You’d think that actions of this magnitude would have a negative impact on his career, but he continues to thrive. In addition to beefing with everyone from Ludacris to Chief Keef, 6ix9ine’s the most-hated for a multitude of other reasons and he revels in it.
Kanye’s been to the studio with 6ix9ine on more than one occasion. He seldom posts who he’s with when recording his music, yet he took the time to let the world know that he’s working with the self-proclaimed King of New York. While there’s been no seeable business backlash for 6ix9ine, his collaborators often feel the sting from the public’s lack of support. Nicki Minaj has been repeatedly slandered for working with 6ix9ine when she made it clear in the past that she doesn’t support the sexual abuse of children. Kanye is similarly being dragged through the mud for his idiocy. There’s also the strange belief that 6ix9ine could be the other half of the Throne that Watch The Throne 2 will be about. If so, he could consider his career destroyed by his own hands. The world’s been supportive of him through his bullshit so far, but his brand may not be able to support a blow this big.
In 2010, Kanye probably could recover from supporting a convicted offender, but in 2018, his legacy is on unstable ice. His “asshole” character has become all but unbearable, elevating from that level to a cancerous pulp. Supporting a President who is the exact antithesis of everything he stood for in the late aughts is bad enough within itself; collaborating with a convicted offender due to declining interest and publicizing it is just as despicable. Rapper Sylvan LaCue put the idea in the public’s head that Watch The Throne 2 would be Kanye West and 6ix9ine showcasing their perceived dominance, and it doesn’t sound as unbelievable as one would think, as scary as it sounds.
At this point, everything that Kanye has done for his legacy comes into question. He’s undoubtedly a musical prodigy that is responsible for hip-hop’s atmosphere. But at the same time, he’s also a problematic supporter of anyone and anything he doesn’t understand, as long as it helps to fill in the gaps in his grasp for relevancy in 2018. When people think of Kanye this year, they think of everything wrong he’s done as opposed to every important thing he’s accomplished during his legendary run. There’s no protective barrier guarding his legacy now. It’s on the verge of decaying into naught but a mess of regret and horrendous decisions.
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