Monday, June 17, 2013

1 Yeezy Taught Me: 7 Things I Learned From Kanye West

By: Marvin DeBose

Kanye West is undoubtedly one of the most charismatic, talented, yet misunderstood artists of our generation. Since his rise to stardom in 2003-2004, he has transcended the world of hip-hop music and become a cultural icon. At the same time, he has been the center of a great deal of controversy as well. This week, he drops his controversial, highly-anticipated (despite being leaked) album, Yeezus. Whether you're a fan of him or not, you've got to admit that there is something unique about him which distinguishes him from many musicians of not only his time, but musicians in general... and there are many things which we can learn from him as well...

1. Believe in your work, even when no one else does.

If there's one personal quality which Kanye is known for, it is his confidence, (or his arrogance, depending on who you ask). In his music, his interviews, his rants and nearly everything else that he does, his strong, nearly fanatical belief in himself shines through. Of course, many people look at this with disdain. People call him "cocky", "arrogant" and "egotistical". But few people understand Kanye's confidence within the context of his history.

Before the record sales, before Kim Kardashian, before Amber Rose, before "Imma let you finish but...", before George Bush didn't care about Black people, before the nearly-fatal car accident, before Rocafella Records, Kanye West was just another young hip-hop producer trying to make a name for himself in the music business. 

Interviewers would butcher his name, often referring to him as "Kayne West" or "Conway West". But Kanye being Kanye, would be quick to correct them mid-interview, "Um... that's Kanye West, Kanye."

When he tried rapping in addition to producing, many people told him that he wouldn't make it as a rapper. At the time, hip-hop was polarized, being focused heavily on gritty, street rap or flashy rap. But Kanye West wasn't a conventional rapper, therefore many people including record company execs didn't see his marketability. (Listen to his song "Last Call" from his 1st album, The College Dropout, to hear him tell it) 

Yet, Kanye West continued to believe in himself.

"Now I could let these dream killers kill my self-esteem. Or use my arrogance as the steam to power my dreams." -Kanye West "Last Call"

Even rapper Talib Kweli once commented that Kanye's confidence now is no different from what it was before the fame, in one interview he said, "The way he is now, he was like that before the money and the fame. He was talking about he was the best producer; ‘I’m the best rapper,’... His attitude was exactly the same."

So what people have to understand is that Kanye's confidence is a huge part of what made him a star. If it weren't for that, he probably wouldn't be the Kanye West who we know today.

Maybe we need to learn to take pride in our work and believe in ourselves a little more so we can reach our full potential... And when you put work into what you do, don't you have a right to believe in your abilities and take pride in your work?

2. Work hard to perfect your craft.

"Y'all don't know my struggle, Y'all can't match my hustle
You can't catch my hustle, You can't fathom my love, dude!
Lock yourself in a room doin' five beats a day for three summers
That's a different world like Cree Summer's, 
I deserve to do these numbers" 

-Kanye West "Spaceship"

Michael Jordan, another friend of "the Chi", once said, "Work ethic eliminates fear". Well, a huge part of Kanye West's confidence and his fearlessness as an artist is rooted in his work ethic. From the countless pre-fame summers of doing "five beats a day" as he described in Spaceship, even to doing 12 hours a day in the studio for his album, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy", Kanye has always been a workaholic.

Yet, his work ethic is shown in the quality of his music. What he does with his songs and his albums is similar to what an architect does with a skyscraper, what Martin Scorsese does with his movies or what Kobe Bryant does on the court.

You can tell that a great deal of work and focus goes into what he does, and that's something that you cannot help but to admire.

3. Don't wait to get a "foot in the door", kick in the door.

Kanye was never one to wait for people to recognize his talent, he forced people to see his talent. In his pre-fame days he would call music directors of radio stations to get them to play his music, he'd produce the work of countless local, up-and-coming hip-hop artists, and he'd even go on stage and rap during the concerts of  various artists who he'd worked with, such as Talib Kweli, whether he was invited to do so or not.

But eventually, he no longer had to work so hard to become visible as an artist because he had already made a name for himself.

A lot of times we become to passive in waiting for our big break. Yet, through his consistent focus on making himself known as both a rapper and a producer, Kanye went and got his big break.

4. Don't be afraid to speak the truth.

"You can't be afraid to die for the truth. The truth is the only thing that is constant." -Will Smith 

Kanye is one of the most outspoken artists of our time, When it comes to outspokenness entertainers, he's quite similar to what Muhammad Ali was to the Vietnam Era or what Tupac Shakur was to the mid 90s.

Right or wrong, Kanye West tells what he perceives to be the truth. Regardless of how much hostility or controversy he may face as a result.

Now sometimes the way in which he goes about telling the truth is a bit questionable, like the way in which he did with Taylor Swift at the VMAs...

Being unafraid to tell the truth has liberated Kanye in a sense. He's not a slave to his fame, and he's obviously not afraid to piss people off. But more importantly he knows the value of speaking his mind and expressing what he believes to be the truth.

"What more could you ask for? The international asshole
Who complains about what he is owed
And throws a tantrum like he is 3 years-old
You gotta love it through, somebody still speaks from his soul." -Kanye West "Diamonds"

5. Know how to OWN the things which make you different.

As mentioned earlier, Kanye West wasn't a conventional rapper. When everyone was wearing throwback jerseys, making hits with R&B singers on the hook while spitting street-oriented lyrics, Kanye West was the guy in the pink polo shirt with the Louis Vuitton bookbag on.

While many rappers of the time were (some claimed to be) "street dudes", he was the son of a college professor and a former college student. His raps were a complex blend of autobiographical tales, social commentary, braggadocio, humor and wit.  

At first, his differences were not understood, but he didn't care. He didn't change who he was to fit the standards of the industry, he made the industry change to fit his standards. Eventually, he made being "different" cool for many people in the hip-hop industry. As a result, his influence is seen in countless hip-hop artists today. 

6. Be a student of the game.

One of the things which makes Kanye the artist that he is, is his knowledge and love for music and the arts. He once spoke of just listening to countless albums of different artists from all different genres to prepare for one of his albums. He studied the work of producers like No I.D., Timbaland and Dr. Dre when it came to his production career. 

Many people criticize him for using samples in his music, yet, his ability to use samples from songs which often come from more obscure, lesser-known artists of eras pasts, and tying the message of the the sample in with the message or theme of his songs is a talent in itself. 

Kanye's the prime example of the success which can come from studying one's craft.

7. Be groundbreaking

"Did you improve on the design? Did you do something new?
Well your name ain't on the guest list, who brung you?" -Lupe Fiasco

One of the things which has kept Kanye on the top of the game for so long is his ability to keep people guessing by being creative and innovative. Plus, you never know what Kanye is going to say or do as an artist. As his life progresses, his art does the same, and many fans would agree that on every album of his career, there exists an updated version of Kanye.

On top of that, Kanye knows how to do things differently than most artists do. He's a student of visionaries such as Steve Jobs and Walt Disney. Just look at the marketing for his new album, Yeezus. The way in which he premiered his music videos by projecting them onto buildings all over the world was brilliant.

In Conclusion

Despite being one of the most talented artists of our generation, Kanye West is one of the most vilified entertainers of our time, but I ask why? It has to be deeper than just him being the the "cocky rapper".

Personally, I don't think that people hate Kanye West, the person, they just hate something which he represents. Maybe he represents parts of the person which they are too afraid to be, maybe he represents dreams they're afraid to chase, truth they're afraid to accept, confidence they're afraid to have and risks they're afraid to take.

Kanye's no angel, but he's far from the devil that he's often made out to be, but if people were smart, they'd sit back and learn from him.


  1. Hi Marvin,

    really nice piece. I have to agree with you on your observations on Mr. West. I completely understand why people might react negatively to Yey! Let's be honest, he does straddle the line between inspiring and irritant. But I really see something else.

    I see an artist who has studied his craft and appreciates those before him. And then takes what he has learned, and his obvious confidence, and dared to be greater. To be the best at what he does.

    I have and heard many times Kanye's admiration for other producers. One in particular that comes to mind is RZA. During a promotional interview for his movie Man with the Iron Fists, RZA talks very fondly of Kanye and even says how he is learning from him, completing the circle of knowledge.

    From his music videos to his image and musical acumen, I believe Kanye is doing something different. He wants to be known as one of the greats. He truly believes that what he is doing will get him a seat at the table, and this is something I admire. All the hoopla, pomp and ceremony of everything else I take with a pinch of salt. In years to come we will be talking about Kanye and his contribution to his art with as much recognition as we do for the other greats.


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