Armchair critics and lazy journalists will always fire their arrows at easy targets—even if it makes them consistently look more ignorant than the subject of their ridicule.
Case in point: Kanye West. Mr. West is exceptionally easy to make fun of. He frequently does weird things and says weird things and consequently is mocked across myriad media, relentlessly, unwaveringly—and, in recent times, increasingly.
But let’s step back and seriously question why. Why do we mock him? Here are some reasons: he isn’t afraid to speak his mind; he isn’t afraid to try new things; he’s constantly pushing boundaries and taking risks; he chooses boldness and creativity over walking in a straight line, single file, in front of and behind perfectly equal and unimagnative robots. He is his own person and he has earned a platform on which to express himself—and for that, we act like he’s an idiot. Looking at things through that lens, don’t we wind up a the dumb ones?
And applying that logic elsewhere, should we not ruthlessly denounce every entrepreneur who has ever launched a startup that failed? (Which, by the way, is more than 90% of them.)
The 36-year-old Atlanta, Georgia native is among the most awarded musicians of all time. Outdoing those in his own circle, West has won more Grammy Awards than Jay-Z or Beyoncé; in fact, he’s won more than any other artist in our time. Beating him are only those from past generations: Quincy Jones, Alison Krauss, Georg Solti. And given his age, he could still win several more, closing in on that number-one rank. Already, he’s ahead of some very notable musicians, such as Eric Clapton and Ray Charles—and he’s done it exclusively through rap and hip-hop, which historically has not been Grammy’s favourite genre.
No one has to love or even like West’s music, but those who limit their view of him to a man who has never created anything of substance are awfully ignorant. He is a musical genius and has proven this invariably throughout his storied career. All of his albums have earned rich critical acclaim; he’s been named among the world’s most infleuntial people multiple times; and he’s got more awards than he can count. He’s also remarkably diverse and constantly evolving at breakneck speed: compare 2004’s The College Dropout to 2008’s 808’s & Heartbreak to last year’s Yeezus and it becomes very easy to observe the man’s brilliant range of talent.
Outside of music, West has been involved in all sorts of things: fashion, philanthropy, the Fatburger chain of restaurants, even tech startups. Not everything he has done has been successful—but that can be said of anyone. Being ignorant of West’s incredible abilities is common, however, because ignorance is just so damn easy. Of course, that’s not to say West hasn’t been ignorant before, either. But he focuses the vast majority of his energy on building his own kingdom, not tearing down the walls of others’. And that is a difference that cannot be overstated.
It seems that West is mocked because he says and does controversial things that don’t always seem perfectly intelligent. However, I posit that it is absolutely ridiculous to ridicule someone for that reason. Recent example: he made an unquestionably bizarre music video for “Bound 2,” which is also possibly a bad song. But no one other than West could have made that song or that video. And even if the video and the song are themselves bad, they got people talking, thinking, even creating (most notably James Franco and Seth Rogen’s parody, which went viral on YouTube and made millions of people laugh until their abs cried).
Further, instead of being hurt by criticism, folding up and quitting his career in music, West lets the hate roll off his shoulder like polytetrafluoroethylene and keeps going, keeps pushing ahead with his next bleeding-edge project. At the very least, any entrepreneur must have tremendous respect for that resilience. At best, we should all admire’s the size and steeliness of Mr. West’s balls.
And so what if the rapper says “crazy” things, like how he believes he is the next Steve Jobs? Let him believe that. Personally, I don’t believe it. And no one else has to. But he’s allowed to carry that thought, and it’s people who think as big as West who actually change the world, who actually move things forward and advance society—not the ones who sit back and poke fun at easy targets. Because, while some of those easy targets are simply losers, others are destined to be true innovators—and one of them, I guarantee you, is the next Steve Jobs. After all, let’s remember that Jobs was at many points during his roller-coaster career considered a controversial person—in fact, he was once ridiculed to the extent of being booted from his own company for his heavily criticized actions and philosophies, only to return and save it, eventually making Apple the most valuable company in the entire world (it remains the most valuable technology company).
It’s disappointing to me that we as a society so easily forget boring people who never do or say anything worthy of criticism are virtually useless. Kanye West has contributed a great deal to this world and will continue to do so. Those who batter and judge him mercilessly? Not so much.
Thank goodness he doesn’t give a shit what his haters think. And thank goodness great entrepreneurs don’t, either.