Edit desk: When art and the artist contradict

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There was a poster fair at Lamberton Hall the other day— a pop-up shop of sorts, which found students deliberating over different ways to decorate their rooms. 

This is seemingly a simple enterprise, though many, including myself, spent a considerable amount of time combing through the laminated pages of poster-sized books for the “right” posters. 

What is the “right” way to express my pop culture affinities? How can I curate a small selection of posters in a way that more broadly expresses the totality of who I am? What is a selection that neatly melds together my favorite books, movies, music, television shows and political affiliations?

Ruminating on curation—on what makes the cut and, necessarily, what doesn’t—reminds me of one of the most famous curators of our generation: Kanye West. 

He’s known for crafting grand soundscapes that have defined an era of music. I would argue that his curation ability—his role as sonic quilt-stitcher extraordinaire—supersedes his rapping ability. 

In the same way that a collection of mostly unrelated imagery in a dorm room can translate into assumptions about its inhabitant, I propose the relationship between musicians and their albums as an analogous concept. This applies to artists of any medium, really, but especially for musicians.

Music is a live expression of its creator’s current state and speaks volumes about who the artist is— what they value, what they are feeling and what they love.

If Kanye’s new music represents him, and specific to this album in honoring his mother, then it appears difficult to reconcile some of the inherent contradictions posed by this release.

West’s latest endeavor is meandering and overstuffed, though it certainly thrives at particular moments. The music is appealing, and I give it credit for sounding like the natural culmination of West’s recent output, “Donda’s” religiosity takes after “Jesus is King,” West’s gospel offering from 2019 and its centralization of outside contributors is reminiscent of his 2016 release “The Life of Pablo.”

Conceptually, though, it misses the mark. “Donda” is named after Kanye’s late mother, who died in 2007 after facing complications from plastic surgery, which famously tortured her son for years. West has publicly blamed himself for her death and he used a painting by artist Louise Bourgeois as an early iteration of the “Dondacover art. 

Bourgeois worked frequently with maternal themes in her art, so pairing with an album dedicated to West’s mother seemed natural. 

However, little of the album succeeds in its stated mission to memorialize Donda West. There’s the weird intro song in which the name “Donda” is repeated for 50 seconds and there are excerpts of West’s mother speaking littered throughout the tracklist. The album is rife with concepts, subject matters and guest features that are antithetical to the album’s supposed mission. 

At an album listening party event held in West’s hometown of Chicago, Kanye took the stage with both DaBaby and Marilyn Manson, who were also featured on the song “Jail pt. 2.”

DaBaby recently made headlines for embarking on a homophobic rant at a concert in July and subsequently lost billings at festivals for the duration of the summer. He eventually posted an apology on social media, but later deleted it. Manson, on the other hand, has been accused by multiple women of sexual abuse.

It was certainly a weird decision to include both an alleged abuser and a man who recently espoused such vitriol on a public forum. It seemed to be Kanye’s rebuttal to “cancel culture,” an extension of his obsession with redemption in the eye of the public. Nonetheless, the whole display is so out of place on an album that is meant to be dedicated to Kanye’s mother.

If we’re to run with this premise–that Kanye’s new songs are his posters, his soundscape the figurative interior wall of his room, that these songs are meant to be representative of the totality of Kanye– then how should we interpret DaBaby and Manson’s presence on the album? 

Such contradictions amass in a moral quandary. It would be ideal to separate the artist from their art in order to enjoy the music, but with Kanye, that seems impossible to me. Kanye’s curation—his poster selection, so to speak—has become derailed in his pursuit of redemption. 

Unfortunately, for someone who has so deftly imbued himself into his music for nearly two decades, Kanye’s antics have overridden my ability to consume his output in the way I once did.

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1 Comment

  1. Robert F. Davenport Jr on

    “Kanye’s antics have overridden my ability to consume his output in the way I once did”

    I haven’t a clue as to what Kanye West’s music sounds like, nor his lyrics. I assume that album releases and content are a combination of the creative urge, other personal reasons and the drive to make money and satisfy fans.

    “What is the “right” way to express my pop culture affinities?” In my mind the right way is to enjoy what you enjoy and make individual value judgements, your value judgements not theirs. Enjoy the music even if you are disgusted by the lyrics or enjoy the lyrics even if the music is of low quality. If you don’t like anything about the music, remember it probably wasn’t meant for you and move on. If you are being “used” by the artist either financially or socially, consider it well.

    Pop culture affinities can come close to giving a portion of control over life to someone or something else. The consumer of art is more important than the artist because its your life not his that is your responsibility.

    Separate yourself from the totality of the Kanye West experience and pick what you enjoy or makes you a better person

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