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schencka
Kanye West and audio-art
Tags: art music


If you look at his blog, you'll find that he has very wide interests -- far outside popular notions of what a hip-hop "rapper" can be interested in (most notably: avant-garde visual art). In fact, after seeing the news of his recent listening party for his new album (called "raunchy"), I find him to be attempting to be the hip-hop Andy Warhol, who, of course, had an intense preoccupation with fame-for-fame's sake. Warhol was no doubt accused of megalomania as well (the knock on Kanye).


But, the most awesome thing about Kanye -- the dude sings.


If you've seen Kanye perform, he is "off the charts" in the tradition of Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix -- more phenomenon than performer. And his pushing the bounds of hip-hop garners much respect -- mad props -- from me. "What are the limits of the audio?" he seems to ask.


Other great artists have addressed the same question. Listen to Kurt Cobain's "Rape Me" track from Sliver: The Best of the Box, which has real baby sounds in the background -- an amazingly shocking contrast to the content of the song, destroying the "abortion debate" with the visceral. Essentially, the song argues for an "outside morality" and an "outside irony" as well.


We have lent this artistic assumption to visual art for many years, but lyrical audio-art is stuck in ancient notions of morality, meaning, and purpose -- almost like the medieval morality play. This is the source of campaigns against "gangsta rap" and so on.


But the bigger threat against rap is from within -- the fact that one has to rap about one's real experience -- like how many times "I" got shot, or carried a gun, or sold dope or a kilo of cocaine. Jay-Z and Nas perpetuate, and suffer from, this voluntary first-person-account constraint.


An artist (and a Buddhist) knows that there is no "I" -- only a projection of the self -- and I hear a tincture of this concept with Kanye. My hopes for Kanye's future is very high. I hope that he can take hip-hop from its infancy to its logical artistic end: the heights. But to do so, he must break all the rules -- my respect for his willingness to do so.

 
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