Words by Jamie Delves
There’s a folder on my desktop full of photos I’ve pinched from Tumblr. Among photos of mid-century Swedish furniture and hilarious memes I’d fail to explain, there’s one of a board in a primary school classroom asking, in letters cut out of card, “What lifts you up?” The children’s answers are written on balloons floating upwards. One says “bees”, another says “a big hug”, one – rather disturbingly – says something sexual, but one, says “Kanye West”.
I love Ye. There’s no choice but to Stan, in my opinion. I even wrote my dissertation about the opening three tracks of his grandiloquent opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. My ancient English Literature department didn’t seem to feel it. Who said love was ever easy? If there’s something everyone has, it’s an opinion about Kanye. And now is an especially tough time for a Ye super-fan. Not that it’s ever been breezy. Even though I’ll stick with him through thicc and thin, he dishes out a lot of thin. Like casting himself in 2009’s version of Girl Interrupted and mic-jacking trembling teenybopper Taylor Swift. Or marrying the mother superior of the tenuous-celebrity sorority house. Those were difficult exploits to reconcile.
Or, more recently, when he awoke as an evangelical Christian with amnesia about his own fragrantly decadent past. One who chastised an old black lottery-winner for wearing Gucci at a Jimmy Kimmel show, and then performed in confirmed douchebag Joel Osteen’s mega-church. I winced, cringed, shuddered and sighed. My Yeezy recovery strategy was going to need some steroids. Especially when it wasn’t that long after he went on TMZ, a cardinal sin anyway, and made ambiguous statements about slavery. After which, of course, and worst of all, he didn’t use an apostrophe in the text on the ‘Ye’ cover. Sacrilegious.
After you spell it all out like that… it’s been a pretty rum decade. So what motivates the superfan? What atones for all these gaffs and faux pas, these hypocrisies and paradoxes?
Is it because Kanye could make the hardest beat known to man out of a recording of Al Green sneezing? Or because, other than American presidents, he’s one of the very few people who has spoken uninterrupted in the Oval Office for 20 minutes?Perhaps the reason is that he’s discarded more timeless tracks that your favourite artist’s even thought of, made a strange alien shoe out of algae, or rhymed “antidote” with “tree and the rope” while talking about being “choked up” by music.
For me, without doubt, a strong debt I feel I owe to Kanye, much like with Dilla, is for introducing me to gloriously radiant, and sometimes obscure, soul music that I would have no chance discovering myself. For bouncing over genre and industry barricades like he’s on a pogo stick designed by an architect and decorated by a French Fashion House. And then unflinchingly absorbs the heat and hate disruption naturally incurs, making it less painful for those that do the same in his wake. He tells the artists who follow him that it’s all one and we should put the labels down and celebrate. Create where we can and push culture forward with the same feverish compulsion for experimentation he possesses. He showed Trump a picture of a hydrogen-powered plane he wanted Apple to build as a replacement for Air Force One… Much like with my dissertation, the authorities weren’t feeling it. Trump scoffed. But Kanye meant it.
When accepting an honorary doctorate from the Art Institute of Chicago, Ye stated with calm confidence, “I’m going to make all of our lives easier.” Some laughed raucously. His face straightened in dark bemusement. Some then whooped and a gentle applause broke out. Whether it’s the child who printed Kanye’s name in a balloon being uplifted. Or the earth being saved by algae shoes hydrogen-powered planes. Or the threads deep in your nervous system being tweaked by spiritually arresting tones he’s made playing with the human voice. He means it. What he does, beneath the pomp, hubris and ceremony, Dr. West does to make our lives easier and better, even if he desperately infuriates us in the process.