Why Kanye West is (mostly) right

(the root)
(the root)

Sena Adjei | Staff Writer

If you’re a Kanye West fan, you’ve just had one of the most overwhelming and dizzying months in years. I mean taking part in the contemporary lemming-like suicide mission to successfully cop a pair of his infamous and coveted Yeezy Boosts, stressful. Within the last month or so, West has announced an official release date for his long anticipated seventh studio album (finally), proclaimed the revival of his G.O.O.D. Friday music release tradition leading up to the LP via his wife’s Twitter (with limited success), released an official tracklist for the album (which doubled as a star-studded signing board), changed the name of the project (again), and waged a full frontal assault on rapper and Taylor Gang founder Wiz Khalifa as well as his ex-wife Amber Rose and their child, all for perceived disrespect.

Kanye West has not often been known for his subtlety, and though his 23-tweet long twitter rant and the subsequent fallout contains some impressively dense and subversive material, ranging from West’s unbridled misogyny to the true etymology of the term “KK” in the modern age. Doubtless there is enough to talk about in this tweet-based civil war to substantiate at least a couple dozen Op-Eds– but that’s not what this one is about.

This one is about the culture.

The conflict between Khalifa and West is just another example of an endlessly recurring tale in the rap genre, but set with constantly changing actors. Hip-Hop’s obsession with originality and authenticity is one that has ignited countless cage-matches, but being derivative isn’t inherently a negative thing, and is done either consciously or unconsciously by artists across the board, (some more masterfully than others). These specific circumstances were sparked initially by West’s announcement that his album name had been changed from Swish to Waves. The term “wave” as it pertains to the Rap lexicon was co-opted and popularized by New York rapper Max B., whose career though brief, has been held as sacrosanct by those he’s collaborated with and inspired within the community.

Wiz Khalifa being one of these self-proclaimed disciples, took to twitter to express his distaste with the name change claiming that West was “stealing the wave” from Max B., prompting another response from West and eventual hell-on -virtual-earth.

The reason that this is fundamentally incorrect is that though he’s had a successful career commercially, since his debut Wiz Khalifa seems to have made it his mission to make some of the most pandering, easily digestible, sonically unimaginative music in the genre of Rap. This isn’t to say that his music hasn’t been enjoyable, and often times even veritably good. Khalifa has released a multitude of earworm radio hits, trap-influenced head-bangers, and even recently an almost-endearing, Grammy-nominated pop ballad recorded with vocalist Charlie Puth commemorating the passing of actor Paul Walker.

The irrefutable truth though, is that where Khalifa has jumped on musical trends at the critical moment, and gained an incredible following for this chameleon-like ability, Kanye West is one who has helped to open the door for many of these trends to ever exist in the first place. Whether it be the attempt at vulnerability through auto-tune assisted crooning on Khalifa’s major label debut Rolling Papers, a practice which was all but absent from Rap’s mainstream before West’s genre-shifting 808’s & Heartbreak, or Khalifa’s eventual embrace of total sonic maximalism fueled by the marriage of electronic, pop, and rap elements, an approach cultivated and furthered by West on records like his third studio album, Graduation, there is no shortage of evidence that shows that this may be a mammoth-like case of a rapper deciding to “s**t where he eats”, and we all know how history treats those who make that their prerogative.

Even in the realm of fashion, Wiz Khalifa was trapped in an aesthetic purgatory of camo shorts and Chuck Taylors until A$AP Mob affiliate (now Kanye West collaborator) Ian Connor pulled a brief stint as his stylist and nudged him into the current decade. In this vein too, West’s seminal influence is seen, with him sporting the pink polo and skinny jeans way back in the early 2000’s, and even now with his semi-recent affinity for grunge and punk influence clothing, all helped to single handedly propel these style trends into the laps of artists like Khalifa who regularly touts them as his own.

Kanye West as an entity has been both endlessly lauded and rebuked for his unconventionally honest and unapologetic posture with regard to his art, himself, and both of their places within history. This is why when he tweets out a tirade about being “respected as Wiz Khalifa’s OG,” he isn’t just angrily spouting egomaniacal delusions, he’s actually telling the truth. This is also why Wiz Khalifa tweeting at one of the greatest influencers and innovators that Rap and that music has ever possessed about “stealing a wave” isn’t only hypocritical, it is almost laughable. With Khalifa and West’s latest projects set to be released in February, and battle lines being drawn across the industry and the internet, it seems that only the music will have the final word in deciding which one of these two leviathan artists will walk away as the victor.

I bet you can guess who my money’s on.

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