Have you ever seen that movie,
Mo Betta Blues? The lead character is Bleek Gilliam. He’s a trumpeter;
an inspired musical force with a severe case of tunnel vision and
dedication to his craft. His desire to use his body as a vessel for
his creativity is surpassed only by his need to stay true to the music
that comes from within. In many circumstances, this is a true
creator’s edict. The artist is a slave to the art. The audience
either follows or they don’t. Their love for the performer is more incidental than plan.
Kanye West reminds me of Bleek. His latest offering 808’s and Heartbreak is a
serious departure from what his fans expect, but it is supposedly the next step
in his artistic growth. While presently in the throes of both evolution
and grief, I’m sure Kanye finds the music a fitting way to consequently memorialize
what he has lost and project what he may have gained. I’m not sure
who among you has the contract; the one on which Mr. West signed away
his musical life to Hip-Hop, but you need to tear it up. It looks like
he may have grown beyond our beloved genre, or at least taken a pause
from it for the time being.
The art made him do it.
Some of the fans are not
happy. I understand you invest in these artists. You
invest your money with the purchase. You invest your time when you
listen. You invest your mind when you dissect the lyrics and if you
love it, you invest your heart. But you need to understand, this is
not the purpose of his creation, it’s a bonus. And when that bond is
broken and the artist moves on to greener pastures, your broken heart
is collateral damage. It’s not for the sake of the fan.
It’s for the sake of the art.
If you know this movie I’m
referring to, then you know Bleek had an arch nemesis, Shadow. And
Shadow didn’t create for the art. He bowed to the audience. His music
didn’t come from within. It was a half-hearted attempt at pleasing the
crowd and we all know once you start trying to please everyone; you end
up pleasing no one.
The Shadows of the Hip-Hop
world are the emcees who garner the most disdain from those who pay
attention. They are the leeches of the industry, hiding behind
figurative dumpsters waiting on a creator to walk by so they can steal,
copy and mass produce. For me there is no grey area, you are either an
artist or a fraud. However, being a fan of a true artist means taking
the good and the bad from your dude. It means supporting them through
the awkward periods of their development and it means having their back
even when they aren’t coming with what you want to hear.
So you don’t have to like it,
but you should try to understand it. We have watched other artists
evolve in ways we wish they hadn’t. When L.L. dropped “I Need Love” the
most common question asked was, “What in the hell is that?” The
hushed, sing-song delivery and sappy lyrics were more than many could
bear and different from anything mainstream Hip-Hop had ever offered.
Nas became Esco, left the timbs and fitted on the closet floor and gave
us his best Diddy impersonation.
Take that. Take that. Take that. And we did.
Wayne looks like he’s on his
way to becoming a rocker, Snoop did country and Flava Flav left Public
Enemy to become whatever that is he is now. (Ok. Flav is a bad
example, but you get my point.)
But you should understand West is not Shadow. He is Bleek (no Memphis) and the art is what he creates for, not the audience.
So as you listen to yet
another single from the album that you are probably not going to buy
and bellyache about his new style, try to respect him for his
artistry. The desire to create has led plenty a lyricist down the
wrong path, but most recover (Electric Circus, anyone?).
On second thought, I could
totally be wrong. This could be an attempt on Mr. West’s part to
garner that pop money and he may very well be selling out his investors
to buy stock in auto-tune. But since I don’t know for sure, I’ll role
with the dramatically somber version of this story. Forget I said that.