Yeezy: Ultimate Icon or Egocentric Hyperbole?


Natalie Pashaie


Upon the release of his new album, The Life of Pablo, there has been extensive debate as to which Pablo Kanye West is paying homage to. The masses are leaning toward Pablo Picasso, one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, and Pablo Escobar, the notorious Columbian drug lord. All things taken into consideration, if he named the album with the intention of in some way comparing himself to this Pablo, West could be referring to both. To some degree, West is that influential artist whose creation has an aesthetic of its own, and likewise he is to the masses that over-confident madman supplying opiates to the public, who must be stopped. Time and time again dubbed “notorious”, many Milken students would prefer to pen West with words like “genius” “remarkable” and “unselfish.”

This praise extends beyond the music many Milken students play in social settings and in their designated school areas. Instagram biographies and profile pictures on Facebook in the past couple of years have increasingly become homages to “Yeezy.” What about him makes people accept his self-imposed nickname “Yeezus” and treat him as a divine image? What sets him apart from the rest? What is it about this musician, producer, and fashion designer that is so captivating to so many young minds?

Whether it is genuine artistry and genius that drives this fascination or a tendency for West’s own self-praise to be contagious is unclear. This obsession with Kanye West is concentrated, for whatever reason, in the senior class at Milken. When asked what makes Kanye West so special, Jacob Klein ’16 replied, “One word. Innovative.” Jonah Trilling ’16 added, “His creative genius is undeniable. He has revolutionized the music industry with both his new sound and his lyrics.” Another point of praise seems to be West’s versatility: Zach Davidson ’16 claims, “He’s an incredible producer because he proves he is able to adapt and not just produce one type of thing… everything evolves.” Trilling added that “If you listen to each of his albums from beginning to end, each one has their completely own style, showing that he is still learning and adapting. The difference between each album is remarkable.”

Always pushing and stretching the bounds of hip-hop, Kanye West has maintained a highly successful career for well over a decade. In 2004, he released The College Dropout, an album whose lyrics were down to earth and hit close to home for many. In 2007 he released Graduation, an album ridden with self-awareness and songs about self improvement. In 2008 his album 808’s & Heartbreak revisited and revitalized West’s use of synthesizers. In 2010 with the release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy West exposed the world to new narratives in both candid and orchestrated ways. Think back to the video for “Runaway”- the combination of mediums including synths, pianos, ballerinas, and West’s voice led to an art piece all on its own. Watch The Throne, released in 2011, was soulful and authoritative. Now with The Life of Pablo, West has reintroduced his ability to produce original work through sampling classic songs of the past. The gospel album features highly acclaimed artists of today like Rihanna, as well as soulful songbirds of the past like Nina Simone.

West is also, according to Jonah Trilling ’16, “a fashion icon…an innovator who is constantly changing pop culture and art in general.” Many associate Kanye West the designer with the always highly anticipated “Yeezy Season” shows and his collaboration with Adidas, which has birthed the infamous “yeezy” sneakers- which are reselling for over $10,000 on eBay right now. His presence in fashion, however, was always prevalent. Who could forget the shudder shades trend in 2007? Never an outsider to the art world, West paired up with artist Takashi Murakami on the cover art for his third album. He also collaborated with designer Phillip Lim during the MBDTF era, and so on.

Almost all know that West is no stranger to scandal. Never shy to unleash his ego, or in the words of Jacob Klein ’16, “strive for greatness and believe that everything he does is best”, West has been known to go on rants at times that would normally be considered inappropriate- in the middle of award acceptance speeches, on stage, on social media, anywhere. In a recent feud with rapper Wiz Khalifa, West went so far as to claim ownership of Khalifa’s child. Artistry aside, how could people support so avidly someone who crosses serious boundaries? Jonah Trilling ‘16, when asked if he supports everything West does, says that, “for me it is not about him as a person. I love art and he is an unbelievable artist…I feel a true emotional connection to his work, regardless of what he has done or said.”

Kanye West to youth all across America has stood as a guiding light out of confusion, angst, and the inability to embrace self-expression. Should he then be seen as a role model? When asked how Kanye West has personally impacted them, students answered, “The way I dress and the music I listen to.” That being said, it is clear that West is already a revered figure. Jacob Klein ’16 believes that “he teaches important lessons of loving yourself and not caring what others think. His pursuit for perfection is something to admire.” Johnny Stanman ’17 adds that, “People who are real fans can disagree with what he says. He carries himself in a way other people cannot, because they’re afraid of coming off as arrogant.” Ryan Eshel ’16 shares that “Kanye has personally impacted me through providing inspiration, entertainment, and most importantly emotion. Kanye’s music has the ability to change the mood I’m in. He moves me. His music moves me. When I plug in my headphones and turn on an album like Yeezus, I can feel anger, resentment, and frustration. When you turn on Graduation, you can find yourself with some more swagger in your step. His music is extremely powerful.” Ultimate artist and advocate of self-love or egocentric hyperbolized pop star? Maybe neither, maybe both- but West’s influence is undeniable.