On Kanye West and black ambition

Kanye’s evolution

Kanye West

Last week, Slate’s Arthur Chu wrote a piece called Kanye West Vs. White Mediocrity. This was on the heels of Kanye’s latest public appearences at the Grammys and SNL’s 40th anniversary. I had an email exchange about the topic that I’ll partially share here.

Overall, I’ve had a change of heart about Kanye in the last year or so. I used to be the type of guy who’d say “ugh, I loved Kanye when he just stuck to backpack rap. His first few albums were so great. He should’ve just stuck to being a good producer.” I thought I was saying that as a critical consumer of his music, but I was doing exactly what this article is talking about. I was boxing him in, not allowing him to be a full person or a full artist. Now, I’m on board. I’m not uncritical, but I’m along for the ride.

Roxane Gay on Black Ambition

An Untamed State

In addition to my thoughts on Kanye, I’ve been thinking about a piece my sister shared with me by Roxane Gay. By the way, her debut novel An Untamed State knocked me out. In this essay, Gay talks about acheiving success in her career as a writer and educator but never feeling comfortable with it. This is a pretty familiar mental model for me. For all the success I’ve acheived in life, it never feels like I was meant to be successful. I have to constantly remind myself that I earned the things I’ve earned. Certainly not without luck, fortune and support, but also not without hard work and tenacity.

Some of these thoughts are present in Kanye’s maturation. Kanye, more than any artist I know, is fighting to make his success a normal thing. Sometimes that means he’s reaching for bigger, bolder things. Sometimes that means he’s allowing himself the freedom that other successful people might have. If Donald Trump and Mitt Romney feel they can run for president because they were successful in private enterprise, Kanye feels similiary that he should be able to try his hand at fashion because of his success as a music producer. I don’t know if I agree with that basic approach, but I do support Kanye’s ability to do that as much as Trump or Romney are able to.

David Oyelowo on Obama

David Oyelowo

David Oyelowo had a short interview during his post-Selma press rounds where he mentioned that Obama’s presidency has been a boone for Black narratives, actors and projects to get attention. This is not a new idea, but I liked that he got to tell President Obama about it. Despite being a hyper rational guy, I bet it was nice for Obama to hear that.

Maybe Kanye, Roxange Gay, David Oyelowo and Barack Obama can be the models that the next generation of artists, authors, politicians can gather inspiration from.