It’s not just Drake who has been mocking Kanye West in the build-up to West’s new album Waves. Whether it’s changing the name of the album on a daily basis or his epic meltdown at Wiz Khalifa, Kanye has been unable to stay out of the headlines.
But, says Spector singer Fred Macpherson, that’s largely the point. Having enjoyed success with their albums Enjoy It While It Lasts and Moth Boys, London fourpiece Spector admire how unafraid West is at speaking out.
Macpherson argues here that all musicians could learn from West’s ability to be pure box office – and that we should stop mocking one of the few musicians to have the same ambition as David Bowie.
Kanye West is one of music’s great socialists, by Fred Macpherson
Considering what a blow losing David Bowie was, it’s important to realise that we do still have some great artists, who have the sense of ambition that Bowie had. Kanye West has the same willingness to switch up his sound as Bowie, while staying rooted in popular culture.
Given that talent and ambition, I can’t get my head around how Kanye is such a figure of ridicule, treated as someone not to be taken seriously.
“It feels as if the only people who don’t care what others think are Kanye West and David Icke.”
True, Kanye is capable of saying stupid and offensive things sometimes, as he did in his rant at Wiz Khalifa. But it’s inspirational to have someone around who believes they’re the greatest artist of their generation – and who is willing to say it.
It’s not as if West is some two-bit rapper just boasting about how good he is. His last couple of albums have been transformational in what he’s aimed for and achieved.
And he’s achieved all this while being married to Kim Kardashian, one of the most famous people on the planet. Kanye is so connected with celebrity culture, while simultaneously prostrating himself for his art.
Kanye stands out because people just don’t have balls now. You’re scrutinised to the nth degree on the internet, so criticism is there for every musician to read in real time in a back-and-forth commentary on every decision you make.
Haters are at your fingertips, ready to shut you down long before you try to claim you’re the greatest artist of all time. All you have to do is post a new song and you’ll get a chorus of “Fuck off!” from every corner of the world.
So people are less willing to say things, as they’re embarrassed by that scrutiny. It feels as if the only people who don’t care what others think are Kanye West and David Icke.
Kanye is also politically engaged, which is unfashionable. A lot of people first became aware of Kanye in 2005, when he said that George Bush doesn’t care about black people during a telethon for victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Everyone looked shocked and got him off air straight away.
That was someone coming out with a raw, honest and truthful statement that was also uncomfortable. A lot of the time, Kanye says things that are uncomfortable and annoying, but he does speak inconvenient truths that people don’t want musicians to say anymore.
All of this makes Kanye so much more interesting than most of my other favourite musicians. Drake is a brilliant pop star, but he’s not engaged in the same way. Kanye really cares about art and people and the world. You can tell how much he’s engaging by how he now recognises his flaws, apologising when he steps over the line as he did with Khalifa.
There is a playful element to what Kanye says. He follows the credo of Michael Jackson, who said “You’ve got to razzle-dazzle them.” Kanye is clever enough to know how people will react to some of the things he says, which gets people talking, for better or worse.
I’m glad to live in a time when a pop star like Kanye is around.
There’s a sadly racist element to the criticism he gets too, like the eye-rolling petition he received when he headlined Glastonbury. That showed up Middle England so much, how people are scared of change and of people who speak out about uncomfortable things.
So many people are scared of those who don’t make life easy for themselves, associating himself with people who others see as silly – not least the Kardashians, who are seen as a fame-hungry family from cheesy TV.
I’d love to see more artists with just one element of what Kanye offers, whether it’s his creativity, passion, willingness to push himself or the balance between making really leftfield music with radio hits.
He’s also willing to bring on new talent. His previous album Yeezus featured producers like Evian Christ and Arca – essentially unknowns who Kanye used when when no-one was giving them a chance. That spirit of collaboration is less fashionable these days, because people want to keep their piece of the pie. Yet Kanye makes music in a socialist, open-sourced way, with many people working on different songs simultaneously to so that it benefits from having many different minds contributing.
I’m glad to live in a time when a pop star like Kanye is around. Everyone else is trying to cash in and rehash, when Kanye is determined to find something new to say. It must be lonely when you’re so far ahead of the crowd.
People focus on the silly stuff he says in interviews, like his leather jogging bottoms, when he’ll often say amazing stuff in the same interview – like claiming that his Truman Show has now hit the painting.
Kanye is out there by himself, aware of all the bullshit. He can see things how they are.
Spector support Hurts on tour from February 11 and will announce headline shows soon
Loaded’s deputy editor John Earls has covered entertainment and sport across a range of national newspapers, plus several football and music magazines, since 1990. Follow him on Twitter at @EarlsJohn