Its not that I love all of Kanye Wests music so much, and I dont have a crush on him. Its just that Kanye West, through his art and his actions, makes me feel like Im not wasting my life caring about pop culture and music. He gets it. That is, unlike most pop/rock/rap stars, Kanye has a grasp of the scope of his job. To paraphrase Cher in Clueless: He wants to make things beautiful and interesting. The truth is beautiful and interesting; witness Kanyes recent TV ad-lib, George Bush doesnt care about black people. (Obviously, thats going down in my personal Great Moments in American Pop next to Your butt is mine and I dont care about money, I just want to be wonderful [Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe, respectively].) As you know, NBC censored the line from its West Coast feed; NBC is owned by General Electric, which brings good things to life, including millions in campaign contributions to George W. Bush. To read why Ernest Hardy thinks Kanye West is the hardest man in rap, click here. Probably fearing a backlash, friends of Kanye like his boss, Jay-Z, and Adam Levine from Maroon 5 felt the need to defend him subsequently in the press. (Jay-Z, being a man, admitted he shares some of Wests views. Maroon Jive Honky, who is constitutionally unable to say or do anything interesting, merely defended Wests First Amendment rights. Hes all, Free speech makes America great, blah blah . . . whether or not I agree with him blah boring wimpy white Stevie Wonderbread bleh . . .)But its troubling for pop classicists like me that West was one of the only pop stars daring to be honest and bold at that moment. I mean, arent rock stars and rappers paid to be controversial? Is Kanye the only one whos read his Pop Iconography for Dummies lately? (See Chapter 12, preface by Bono: Its a Win-Win: Exploiting Politics To Sell Records and Save Lives.) Is everyone so post-9/11, postDixie Chickenshit theyve forgotten their duty as avatar/provocateurs? Granted, nobody really likes a political rock star but, then again, if done with just the right degree of fuckup charm (precisely what Moby gets wrong), that sort of thing can be cool and refreshing. And, you know, the right thing to do. The Stones, whove just released their most overtly political song ever, know something about that. Come to think of it, Sweet Neocon?s got the kind of balls Kanye and John Lennon would appreciate: You say you are a patriot/I think that youre a crock of shit. Kanye pulls it off, and will escape CD-burning protests, in part because of the same quality that makes his music, including his brand-new, No. 1 sophomore LP, Late Registration, so universally accessible and appealing. Will Smith may want to be the most popular black man in America, but Kanye does him one better: Hell pull it off one day without pulling punches. Part of his charm is that he often sweetens his grandiosity with self-deprecation and humanity. (No one reported this part of Wests NBC ad-lib: . . . even for me to complain, I would be a hypocrite, because I would turn away from the TV because its too hard to watch. Ive even been shopping before even giving a donation . . .)That instinctual humanity also makes for better pop art. Kinda like OutKast and Missy, kinda like the Stones at their historical best, and Beck with the Dust Bros., Kanye has an intuitive respect for the stickiness of the random and awkward. In fact, trust in those creative tools may be exactly what saved West from the sophomore slump everyone expected. Only a few months ago, fans were wondering: How could a guy who had built his image on being an underdog, an outsider, an undergrounder, stay compelling and relevant as an anointed insider/superstar? Simple: Be himself. West is inherently compelling because he has a naturally unpretentious take on universal experiences. Roses, a possible sleeper hit, is like Jesus Walks and Wests TV confession the testimony of a conflicted person in a deep but commonplace situation. (In this case, watching his grandmother die of AIDS.) West has won his freedom of speech through courage, talent and ego, but he also stands on the shoulders of so many black artists, male and female, who have fought to speak their minds and show the fullness of their identities. Its not even just a racial issue, either: Its a weirdness issue. Wests success and continued outspokenness make it more possible for me, and probably you, and every other weirdo out there with a fertile mind, to rock. Or, at the very least, not feel absolutely insane and alone in a void of mechanized nothingness. And get this: He and producer Jon Brion actually make the Maroon 5 guy sound cool and genuinely emotive on the song Heard Em Say. Miracles do happen.
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