In Defense of Kanye West

Kanye West is an asshole. But who cares? He’s not here to make friends. That refrain, echoed by dozens of reality tv show contestants, is exactly what too many of us have forgotten in our condemnations of him. Like the wannabe-models on ANTM and the cuisiniers on Top Chef, he’s not here to find a BFF. He’s here to win. And, let’s be frank, that’s exactly what he’s doing.

West has been involved in his fair share of controversies over the years: 2005’s AIDS-is-manmade-and-intentionally-delivered-to-African-villages comment; “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”-gate; the whole Jesus thing on the cover of Rolling Stone; the paparazzi airport beatdown; and a handful of other mini-scandals duly accompanied by all-caps rants on his blog.

But the drama came to a head, as you certainly know, last September: Who could forget the Taylor Swift debacle? (Taylor herself certainly can’t, as she demonstrated pretty pathetically in her VMA performance earlier this month.) After the asshole-rapper-interrupts-young-country-star debacle made headlines and blog proclamations around the world, the vilification promptly began. Kanye West, once the perfect candidate to voice our collective angst, became the most hated man in the world. What he did was wrong, low, and humiliating. By his own admission, “Beyonce didn’t need that. MTV didn’t need that and Taylor and her family friends and fans definitely didn’t want or need that.” But who died and gave us the right to moralize?

I repeat, Kanye West is not here to be our friend. Our relationship with him is pure capitalism: he offers up some goods and services, and we pay–or we should, at least–for the pleasure of enjoying them. He should therefore be evaluated on the basis of those goods and services and on his contributions to the genre, not on his manners.

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West’s most recent musical output, a smattering of tracks released through his G.O.O.D. Fridays initiative, has been as much about the tunes as about the method through which they’re delivered. Ever the self-aware and perspicacious artist, he’s been quick to realize that even his star power, as huge as it is, may not be enough to successfully battle the changes in the music industry. Given the dwindling of record sales, the growing threat of privacy and the mounting emphasis on singles over albums, West has devised an ingenious and impressively new-media plan to lead up to the release of his fourth LP later this year: every Friday, he releases a brand-new track, fresh off the presses, for free download on his blog.

For the past five weeks, he has delivered epic, if unpolished, tracks featuring the likes of Bon Iver, Raekwon and Nicki Minaj. Most of the songs have been no less than masterful (aside from an unfortunate verse from Swizz Beatz  on last Friday’s “Lord Lord Lord”). Seriously. I’m hard-pressed to think of another rapper who can on a single song weave between doling out advice (“Now we ain’t all gon’ be American Idols/But you could at least grab a camera, shoot a viral/Take the power in your own hands”), politics (“Bring our troops out if Iraq/Keep our troops out if Iran/…Now the question is how we gon’ stop the next Vietnam”) and, well, hoes (“She ain’t give you ass?/That p***y fictional”). But, I digress.

The real impact of the project has come from West’s knack for doing exactly what he wants. (He pretty much sums it up on “Power”: “No one man should have all this power.”) He gets his friends to jump on some tracks, bypasses the middle-man and, in the process, has managed to singlehandedly make music interesting again. It took, for a example, a handful of tweets and a couple of days for West to produce one of the most unlikely collaborations of the year: a remix of Justin Bieber’s “Runaway Love,” featuring Raekwon the Chef.

Of course, a lot of credit is due to his Twitter account, which quickly accumulated over a million followers and through which he’s managed to regain control of his message and his career. Over the course of some six hundred tweets, we’ve been introduced to self-reflective Yeezy, remorseful Yeezy, Yeezy the artiste and, of course, asshole Yeezy. And while bloggers, journalists, fans and haters sit around arguing over his merits and failures and pathologies, he’s laughing all the way to the bank. More power to the asshole.