When I tell people that Kanye West is this era’s Bowie, I’m not trolling. Or, at least, I’m not just trolling. I honestly believe that Kanye West is one of the most interesting artists working today.
Of course, any such comparison is disgusting. Why should one artist be pitted against another? It’s wrong to try scoring such individual careers against each other. But the comparison does have one positive, in trying to stop people from dismissing Kanye as untalented or mad, while Bowie is uncritically considered as a genius.
Bowie took some great risks. He was mocked for Tin Machine and his early love of the Internet, but he took those steps regardless of the response. The music press was cruel about Bowie’s experiments with jungle, as if they wanted more of the same, year after year. And the whole reason we remember Bowie is that he was controversial – that moment, now so overdetermined, on Top of the Pops – most people who hate on Kanye now would probably have been hating on Bowie back then. You know: he’s not great like the Beatles or Elvis, is he?
Kanye is brash and provocative, but there’s a lot of thought to it. I mean, that New York Times interview where he compared himself to Steve Jobs was an exquisitely targeted provocation. Then there was releasing Yeezus, an abrasive nasty album with no hooks when he had the world’s attention. I mean just check out Lou Reed’s Guardian review of Yeezus: “No one’s near doing what he’s doing, it’s not even on the same planet.”
Kanye attended art school before dropping out to become a producer – and a massively successful one. That work alone assured his place in rap history, before he made his own tracks. People might mock the fashion work, but Kanye has put in the time, moving to Rome to intern with an Italian brand. West is constantly experimenting and playing. Not all of it works, but hey – Bowie had Dancing in the Streets and the Laughing Gnome.
People want that hit that’s as easy as Space Oddity: the three minute track that explains the artist. Whatever. Kanye West is a fascinating artist and there’s a lot to look at. If you don’t want to engage with it, fine, but don’t assume that makes the work worthless.
If you are looking for an interesting starting point, there’s this ten minute video on The Voice as Instrument, which I love. And there’s an entire podcast series on My beautiful dark twisted fantasy, which I really need to listen to.