I know that you’re very upset with me right now. Let me explain.
This article will be the first in a three-part series in which I beg for you to abandon your misplaced sense of nostalgia for “classic” artists. Instead, I implore you to seek out the great artists of our day, and give them the respect they deserve.
This idea comes from a trend I’ve recognized where somebody will complain about some modern popular art (like music) being all the same or not even “real” music. Afterword, the person will express their yearning for the good ol’ days of pop culture. My point is to consider how dangerous that way of thinking is to society’s creative productivity.
Since I’ve already spent a fair amount of time infuriating groups of people by explaining why the much disdained Kanye West is a far more talented and powerful musician than beloved John Lennon, it seemed a natural place to start.
Though to be clear, my argument isn’t as much that West is better than Lennon (he is), but rather that Kanye is better than you think he is, and John Lennon is worse.
Here goes nothing.
Let’s address criticism Kanye (or any rapper for that matter) might face for lyrics that are, frankly, sexist. Obviously, I don’t condone the objectification of women. However, good art often comes from a genuine representation of experience. Kanye West was born into a culture that has a serious problem with domestic abuse and female representation.
I’m not referencing the fact that he’s a black American (I’ll get to why you made that racist assumption in the next article). Poverty puts an insane amount of stress on a person—and now that you mention it, it is far more difficult for anybody who isn’t white.
That kind of stress and insecurity is often a main cause of inappropriate behavior. When Kanye writes sexist lyrics, they are the unfortunate truth about how society views women.
John Lennon beat his wife constantly, forcing her to go everywhere with him out of fear she would be unfaithful. Considering his most famous song “Imagine” loudly states, “Imagine all the people/ Living life in peace” John Lennon loses by default.
By the way, “Imagine” is a terrible song. The instrumental track is pretty, but nothing special. John Lennon’s voice is mundane. But the real crime that song commits is trying to present vague, obvious ideas as if they are revolutionary.
“Imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too.” Those lyrics sound like they were written while stoned in a parking lot. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of room for drugs in music. But for people to take that music seriously, it should make a bolder statement.
“Enter the kingdom but watch who you bring home /they see a black man with a white woman at the top floor they gone come to kill King Kong”. That is haunting. That is direct commentary on a serious problem. That is the type of subject matter you will find in most of Kanye West’s music.
If you don’t believe me, go listen to “Black Skinhead” right now. The beats in the first 24 seconds alone set the stage for an epiphany. ‘Ye does get a little confused about his Greek epics, but you have to cut a guy some slack.
You’re probably not buying this. Either way, the seeds of doubt are planted. Part two of this series will make those seeds grow not only by elaborating on why John Lennon is overrated and Kanye West underrated, but also by discussing what societal issues made you draw the wrong conclusions about both of these men.