There are three types of Kanye West people in this world: Those who think he’s a genius, those who respect his music but find his public persona off-putting, and those who hate him. I am firmly in the middle category, but yearn to be a true acolyte. I want to believe in the gospel of Yeezus and worship at the altar of Ye, but no matter how hard I try I find myself distracted by his obnoxious behavior and enormous ego.
But a new Kanye West was on display during last week’s Breakfast Club interview. “I’m not a genius,” he told host Charlamagne tha God. “I’m not a visionary. I’m a servant.” He also admitted he was wrong about Beck not respecting artistry. This is in striking contrast to the Kanye West of yore, the one who made casual remarks about the president and black people and frequently compared himself to Steve Jobs. Today’s Kanye West eats respectable dinners with Taylor Swift and thinks acknowledging racism is a “distraction to humanity.”
Whether or not it was inspired by fatherhood or age, the timing of this transformation couldn’t be better, what with the new album being 80 percent done and West’s continuing interest in the fashion industry. While Yeezus was universally well reviewed, some critics felt it did nothing to “shift the culture.” His entree into the fashion world, which began with an abysmal debut at Paris Fashion Week back in 2011, has been plagued by fits and starts, too. If he wants to continue to enjoy the influence he said was so important and powerful during his BET Visionary Award acceptance speech, he’s going to need an attitude adjustment. Otherwise he might run the risk of losing potential and reluctant fans.
Of course, West is not the first artist whose celebrity profile has threatened to alienate fans who have misgivings about the art because of the man. We look the other way when unfavorable or troubling realities about artists’ personal or public lives become impossible to ignore. But I don’t want to listen to West rapping about the dangers of too much power when he can’t find the patience or the respect to simply remain seated during award shows.
If you’re a true believer, though, you don’t see a disconnect between Kanye West’s public persona and his art. It’s all a part of his unassailable genius. West once played into this blind adoration by being completely unapologetic about his outbursts, an attitude embodied by the infamous Kanye Shrug. He was sheer defiance. But defiance against what? His fellow artists? The business? The world? West doesn’t have the answers, but at least now he’s starting to admit it.
True fans will no doubt lament the death of the loose cannon, but reluctant fans like me like this new “humble” Kanye. He is trying — trying — to give us the opportunity to focus on his music instead of his erratic and often misguided comments about artistry and race. I disagree with many of his remarks during his recent BET acceptance speech (particularly the part where he undermines the significance of the black experience in America), but I respect that his delivery was honest. Maybe one day we’ll be lucky enough to have a Kanye West who doesn’t make slut-shaming remarks about his ex-girlfriend, too!
Only time will tell if the new Yeezy is here to stay. If there is one truth about him it’s that he can be unpredictable. “I see stuff from the future,” he’s said. “I’m such a futurist that I have to slow down and talk in the present.” Hopefully the future has less talking, and more music. In the future, I hope to walk with Yeezus.