Kanye West & Michael Jackson: American Prodigies
Updated: Feb 2, 2022
Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragement, and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak.
“Kanye West is a genius” is a redundant statement, but every time he does something new, I’m reminded that we have no frame of reference for the capacity of genius every time it presents itself. The Donda roll out is a perfect metaphor for Kanye Wests place in culture, we never know what we're looking at until we have the enhanced vision of hindsight to look back in awe, & marvel at the genius we had just unwittingly experienced. We just saw one of the greatest pieces of performance art in human history & didn't realize it till it was over.
I wasn’t alive when Michael Jackson was dropping albums. I’ve heard stories but I’ve always had music on my phone.
When I talk to older people about music, their stories sound so exciting. They're always bragging & boasting about the variety of legendary artists they had access to that dedicated their lives to the artistry & provided once in a lifetime experiences. All of my favourite artists come from the 60s & 70s because of the level of dedication their was to artistry at that time. It wasn't as easy to make a record, record labels needed stars in order to make back the expenses they would spend on things like producing the record, printing the vinyl's & distributing the record.
Record labels in the early 20th century but specifically in the 60s & 70s would have artist development camps, everyone would have to know how to make a song, how to dance, how to perform, how to move an audience, they would have to be refined before ever seeing the light of day. The barrier to entry was much higher so there was much more work done in order for artists to hone their craft & create musical experiences. Now anyone can make a song anywhere & nobody pays for music anymore. Record labels began signing the artists with the most views. With the rise of streaming & the internet, the incentive to make music an experience disappeared. We're mostly sold lifestyles now, music is usually used as a marketing tool for brands nowadays. Every YouTuber is also a rapper. There isn't really a need to dedicate time to making good music, making a great roll out, making great videos & creating an entire experience for the project.
When I try to compare my experiences of listening to music, to the stories I hear from older people about watching the ‘Thriller’ music video for the first time, or watching the Martin Scorsese directed ‘Bad’ music video for the first time & how it was a monumental occasion for the entire world, Kanye West is one of the only artists I can name in my lifetime that has continuously created genuine experiences every time he drops an album.
I had always known of Kanye as a kid but everything I learned about him as I got older is what made me respect him. I went back and I listened to what he was saying in College Dropout, Late Registration, Graduation, 808s & Heartbreak, I listened to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, I watched the Runaway film, I heard Yeezus & I listened to the interviews. In every single one of those albums Kanye made radical & honest remarks, he crafted soundscapes that would influence decades to come, and created experiences with each ones roll out, whether it be a movie, an interview, a controversial statement or an overall legendary moment. Kanye West was this incredible musician with a passion for life, creation & creativity that couldn't be manufactured, to the point where he split his jaw in half due to a car accident on his debut album & he rapped about it with his jaw wired shut.
The production on every single one of his projects could compete with any album ever crafted, sonically speaking. The music is so layered with melodies, strings, orchestras, horns, hip hop drums, samples from across the globe that leave you in awe. From the sped up soul samples of College dropout, to the stripped down harsh industrial sounds & smooth Russian samples in Yeezus, this music was always one of a kind. The lyrics are always poetic, filled with substance, humour, stories, ego, personality & wit. They're uniquely Kanye. The music videos are consistently strange, eclectic, artsy & well made. He clearly had a very particular taste & perspective from the start. Kanye West was this sophisticated black vanguard that was leading the charge of evolving culture, art & intellectual thought through this Hip Hop renaissance.
I've written so many versions of this article over the past month, firstly because I had no idea what I was looking at, & secondly, because of how meaningful this album is in this mans career, because of how meaningful Kanye West is to me, to Black people, to America, to the 21st century, and I mean this in all sincerity, to the human race.
There's an interview from the 90s where Oprah Winfrey is speaking to Michael Jackson, & she brings up various tabloid rumours, and he politely tells her that if he was in a room with Michelangelo, he wouldn't ask him about tabloid rumours, he would ask him to breakdown the techniques that go into his genius. So often in our culture we don't embrace genius, we're quick to skim past it, dim it down, tear it down, give our opinions for hot takes, or talk about the sensationalism surrounding it. I will not be talking about Kanye West vs Drake or any of the usual sensational headlines that follow Ye's name. I believe this project, & Kanye West as an artist, deserve much more praise, understanding & respect than he seems to be getting.
Kanye is our generation's Michael Jackson, there’s no one else, in any facet of culture, that is outworking & outdoing that man creatively, but you wouldn't know it because of how the media chooses to depict his genius. There’s no underground album that you can play me, there’s no broadway show that you can show me, there’s no book that you can read me, there's no movie that you can make, that’s more iconic, sincere, beautiful & legendary than what Kanye West has just done, at age 44.
This was a story over 20 years in the making that we have been a part of. Donda is an album named after his actual deceased mother who raised him alone a lot of the time, their relationship is already heavily documented, his song 'Hey Mama' that he notoriously dedicated to her is a chart topping hit, he publicly said he blamed himself for her death because if he hadn’t moved to LA she’d still be alive.
He’s also going through marital issues during the creation of this project, in the most exposed relationship in human history, while being a billionaire genius person & all the perils that comes with that.
Donda is also the name of Kanye’s design company, it's his baby, his rocket ship into the future. It’s creative philosophy is to put creatives in a room together with like minds in order to simplify & improve everything we see, taste, touch, and feel aesthetically. That sense of collaboration presents itself all throughout this project.