Kanye Doesn't Owe Us Anything
I loved music. I loved it more than I love it now. But I think that can happen with anything. You can live in New York for 10 years and say, "I now want to move to San Francisco." It's just harder for me to do music now, period. It's easier for people who focus on it all day and who are younger in their concept of what they want to do with it. I am not what I would consider truly a musician. I am an inventor. I am an innovator.
It has been said it is better to burn out than to fade away. Though it is not yet certain this is exactly what might be happening to Kanye West's music career. Here is what he said in a self-written Paper article: "Just choose what you want to focus on. Right now, over 70 percent of my focus is on apparel. I haven't even given my College Dropout of clothing yet. We're still on mixtapes."
Anybody who loves Kanye's work and has followed him to any extent over the past few years knows he has a passion for designing clothes and has a vision for seeing fashionable apparel made affordable to normal people. And so the question has been, especially for those who see Kanye as a serious and groundbreaking artist of the hip-hop genre: When will the time and energy he spends on fashion overtake what he spends on music? Well, it would appear that time has come, and by his own admission.
As a fan this makes me pretty sad. I certainly don't care much for his shoe line, his hoodies, his leather jogging pants, or his kilts—fashion just isn't a passion of mine. And I can imagine it's the same for a lot of fans: Sure Kanye, make some clothes or whatever, but MAN, when are you going to give us more MUSIC?
And he is going to give us more music soon...whenever he decides to drop his new full album So Help Me God or Swish or The 2nd Coming of Yeezus (he's given us lots of music already the past few months with "Only One", "Four Five Seconds", and "All Day", among others). But my guess would be that whenever the album does come out and he does the requisite world tour, that will be the last music we hear from Kanye for a while. Remember, he's still working on his "College Dropout of clothing."
And you know what, if So Help Me God/Swish turns out to be Kanye's final album, I am perfectly fine with that (while still very sad). Kanye West doesn't owe us anything. As fan's we have nothing to complain about: from the redefining of classic hip-hop that was the early trilogy of albums, to the melodic minimalism of 808's, to the grand epic that was My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, to the all on assault of Yeezus Kanye has heaped blessing upon blessing upon us, giving us more classic works than we could ever expect of a single artist's career. If he decides to give us anything more, we should simply be grateful. If he wants to pursue fashion or whatever else the rest of his life, we as his fans should release him and bless him to do so. Remember, he sees his primary vocation as an "innovator" not a musician.
Lately I've been thinking about what artists might "owe" their fans. Of course, the obvious answer is always "nothing". All art is this kind of pure gift, where even it's very existence is somewhat inexplicable, and the proper response should be gratitude and contemplation and joy and discussing and dancing, etc. At the same time when an artist releases their initial work and it has a lasting impact in both the culture at large and the hearts of fans in specific, in many ways they kind of "owe" us something more. They have given us a gift and to turn off the tap and deny more of that gift to people is a bit cruel and quite frankly perplexing. It's a kind of aesthetic torture.
For instance, in some ways The Beatles "owed" us Abby Road. It brought closure to their era in the most epic and moving way possible. Keith Green "owed" his fans more music after he died, as his life was cut so short at age 28, and thankfully he had some great recordings lying around basically ready for release. Terrence Malick "owed" people another film after Days of Heaven, but he didn't get to it until 20 years later (and has been pretty prolific ever since). The entire world thinks Harper Lee "owed" us another novel after the one-off To Kill a Mocking Bird (and it appears we kinda sorta finally got one in Go Set a Watchman, though probably under dubious circumstances) or that Lauryn Hill "owes" us another album after Miseducation. To reverse the question, does Matthew Weiner "owe" us anything after Mad Men or Toni Morrison after Beloved? I would say not, but we'll certainly take whatever more they decide to give us.
This line of thinking particularly struck me when I began to listen to Sufjan Steven's new album Carrie & Lowell. I believe Stevens to be one of the more brilliant artists of the past two decades. To me, he is the best songwriter of recent times but in many ways it seemed like he just hadn't given us enough, although his catalogue is pretty vast at this point. I loved both Age of Adz and Silver & Gold but those didn't leave me satisfied—as a fan it felt like he stil "owed" us more. But with Carrie & Lowell I've decided he's met his quota. The gift of that album is a capstone to his career. Anything beyond this point is fine by me, but I don't expect anything more (despite what my previous article pleads for). The blessing of his art has now surpassed anything I think we're "owed" as fans.
And that is exactly how I feel about Kanye West. Whatever So Help Me God/Swish turns out to be or sound like, remember Kanye West doesn't owe us any new music. The veiled doppelgänger albums MBDTF and Yeezus are his capstones, and thus he's given us enough already. He's already made his statement. He's unleashed plenty of beautiful, conflicted, wryly serious music for us to digest for years to come. So Help Me God is the unexpected bonus gift, a true surplus, a blessing of benevolence. Kanye West doesn't owe us anything, but if he chooses to give us one more present, I for one will be incredibly grateful.
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Carrie & Lowell is a Minor Sufjan Stevens Album (and that's a good thing)
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