So, it seems that Waves (or whatever it’s now called) isn’t going to be “album of the life,” but only “ONE of the greatest albums” of all time. As every commentator under the Sun has already noted, this is quite a rare showing of humility from Kanye West, a man who’s still relatively fresh from the proclamation of his own divinity. However, even before he played down the significance of his latest self-addressed love letter, the rapper was, in fact, already the humblest and most honest person in music today.
Okay, this is quite the claim, especially when we remember that Yeezus has made a career out of: throwing a tantrum at the 2004 American Music Awards after losing the Best New Artist award, throwing another tantrum at the VMAs in 2007, crashing the stage at the 2006 MTV Europe Music Awards, raining on Taylor Swift’s parade at the 2009 VMAs, and protesting Beck’s Album of the Year award at last year’s Grammys. He is, on the face of it, a self-centered and disrespectful individual who apparently doesn’t stop to consider the possibility that other people are equally capable of being interesting. He is, in other words, an inveterate self-glorifier who arguably deserved to be called a “Jackass” by Barack Obama, an “idiot” by Pink and an ‘egotistical narcissist‘ by Charlemagne Tha God (a Radio DJ who, judging by his name, might know a thing or two about narcissism).
And yet, he really is the most humble and honest person in music. I extend this unlikely claim, not in honor of his occasional moments of brittle honesty, of moments like his performance at the 2013 Governors Ball where he called himself an “asshole,” but in honor of the very arrogance and self-adoration that attracts so much negative attention his way. It’s this confidence and egocentrism that makes him authentic, since it’s this confidence and egocentrism that’s the only authentic stance a musician in the public eye could possibly take.
But why is it the only ‘authentic’ stance? Well, it’s because a musician is generally someone who wants the public to listen to her music, whose whole profession is based around getting this public to pay attention to her. Because her whole job is centered around the presentation of self and art to an audience, her whole job is predicated on the intrinsic assumption that this self and art is worthy of an audience. It therefore entails a certain measure of confidence and self-love, while her (always competitive) pursuit of artistic credibility or fame suggests a corresponding measure of egocentrism, of believing or acting as if she’s more deserving of gigs, record deals and awards than anyone who might snatch them from her.
It’s for this reason that Kanye West is the most honest and humble act in pop, since his vanity and self-worship are transparent expressions of the vanity and self-worship that’s inherent to the existence of any performer who strives to push their music onto other people. Aside from his peers in hip-hop, I would even go so far as saying that he is the only honest and humble act in pop, since almost every other performer on the planet hides the narcissism essential to performance behind a veneer of false modesty and self-effacement. It would seem that, in contrast to the Kurt Cobains who can barely reconcile their self-loathing psyches with their self-admiring profession, Kanye West is a rare breed: a well-adjusted musician who has cultivated an unashamedly vainglorious persona that sits harmoniously with a career that’s inescapably vainglorious in its hunt for listeners and likes. Irrespective of its musical quality, it might be precisely because of this harmony and West’s authentic egomania that Waves/TLOP will justify its title as “ONE of the greatest albums of all time.” Or maybe he’ll get too unassuming for his own good, and then it’ll suck.