During February we take the time to celebrate black heroes in history. Names like Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglas, and Martin Luther King Jr. come to mind. For millennials, heroes come in the form of cultural icons and the biggest cultural icon of our generation is arguably Kanye West.
Now that may be a tough pill for some to swallow; that someone as outspoken, abrasive, and narcissistic as West could be a role model, or even a hero. But he is.
Just ask these folks.
Kanye west is my hero
— tucker (@Tuck__Dog) February 17, 2014
But really kanye west is my hero, no liiiiieeeeeee idgaf how gay I sound
— Ozymandias (@sirfelipeespino) February 14, 2014
— Brendan Campbell (@bcampbell95) February 19, 2014
— Tyson Barnett (@TwoLiterLopez) February 12, 2014
Are these people crazy? How can they consider this dude a hero? Do they even know what hero means?
Well, since you asked here’s how dictionary defines hero:
-A man [or woman] of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities
-A person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal.
-A sandwich. (I’m sure someone from the East Coast fought to get that included.)
To me, a hero is someone who serves as an icon or role model to others; their acts resonate within their community and ripples through their culture.
When Kanye West released College Dropout he was my hero. He made it cool to be different. And I don’t mean Andre 3000 different when dude was wearing leopard print fur vests and bellbottoms. I mean different in the sense that he was rocking cashmere sweaters, rapping about Jesus and talking about his obsession with pornography. He wore his heart on his sleeve and would make sure you noticed how nicely it matched the rest of his outfit. At the time I had moved from the city to the country and was kicking it with rednecks, riding four-wheelers, busting guns (BB), and listening to Mac Dre. Kanye told me it was okay to love Jesus, Jenna Jameson and Jamba Juice as long as I was staying true to myself. Word.
Do older generations consider West a hero? Probably not. They see him as the guy that got mad about leather jogging pants, being refused royalties for his sneakers, and things not being “Ralph, though.” Those things all pertain to products and materialism, not cultural advancements. Well, guess what old people? Hip hop is a culture, and Kanye West definitely advanced that motherfucker.
Let’s use Yeezus as an example. West kicks it off with “On Sight,” a track filled with so much grit and dissonance it prevented some fans from giving the album a fair chance, myself included. He later clarified in an interview with Zane Lowe what the intention for the sequencing choice was and how it affected the album’s critical reception:
And you know, originally “Blood on the Leaves” was supposed to be first … which, psychologically, I know would have changed certain Yeezus naysayers about the album. It wasn’t that time for me. I didn’t want to come up there and perform. A lot of times, music can be presented as a service position. But I wanted to take a more aggressive approach with music.
West has proven time and time again that he can make hit records. So when he chooses to essentially say, ‘Fuck what I did, this what I’m doing’ it’s powerful. It’s the kind of statement that make him an icon.
At the end of the day we’re all speculating what Kanye West will do next, but he hasn’t been afforded enough time to reach his full potential, nor articulate what his ultimate goal is. During a recent conversation for Interview, British filmmaker Steve McQueen asked West if he’d be able to extend his success in music into other fields, to which he replied:
One-hundred percent. Easy as cake, easy as pie. Too many people are scared. But it is my job to go up every night and talk about this kind of shit. It is actually my job. I’m like a broadcaster for futurism, for dreamers, for people who believe in themselves. We’ve been taught since day one to stop believing in our own dreams. We’ve had the confidence beaten out of us since day one, and then sold back to us through branding and diamond rings and songs and melodies—through these lines that we have to walk inside of so as to not break the uniform or look silly or be laughed at. So I hope that there are people out there laughing. Laugh loud, please. Laugh until your lungs give out because I will have the last laugh.
We’ve been told our whole lives that we can accomplish anything we put our minds to. Then we were handed promissory notes disguised as diplomas. It helps to have someone remind us that there’s still hope, that we can accomplish what we set our minds to, and for many of us Kanye West is that person.Photo by 13thWitness