The notion that ego and talent (jerk or genius) are mutually exclusive is a 21st-century invention. In the everybody-wins-a-prize-for-trying era, it often feels as though the general populace values good intentions and mediocrity over the Kanye West model, which is to believe yourself capable of greatness and to strive for it without apology.
Nobody is more acutely aware of this than West himself. And, perhaps most terrifyingly for the traditionally conservative commentators of the American mainstream media, he’s not afraid to talk about how racism intersects with criticism of his work and thoughts.
In an interview with BBC Radio presenter Zane Lowe last year, West referred to the outraged response to his song ‘I Am a God’ (from Yeezus): “We got this other thing that’s also been working for a long time where you don’t have to be racist anymore. It’s called self-hate. It works on itself. It’s like real estate of racism. Where, just like that, when someone comes up and says something like ‘I am a god’, everybody says ‘Who does he think he is?’ I just told you who I thought I was, a god… Would have been better if I had a song that said, ‘I am a nigga’? or if I had a song that said ‘I am a gangsta’? or if I had a song that said ‘I am a pimp’? All those colours and patinas fit better on a person like me, right?”
The thing is, to prioritise discussion of West’s outbursts over his actual art is in itself an act of silencing.
Clem Bastow “Kanye: Jerk or Genius?" | The Big Issue