Kanye West was on Late Night with Seth Meyers last night, and in the absence of anything they could call a “rant,” the media seems rather nonplussed by the whole thing: most of the reports this morning have focused on his performance, rather than the interview he did with Meyers. This is interesting, because West returned to subject matter he’s been discussing for most of the last year. The difference is that this time there were fewer soundbites and less anger — and hey, if there’s no rant to report, it’s not worth reporting!
The interesting (and somewhat pernicious) implication here is that the way the media has covered West over the last year is no accident — they’re generally not particularly interested in what he has to say, just how he says it. If he “rants,” he gets caricatured. If he speaks politely, he gets ignored. And Kanye isn’t stupid. He knows this as well as anyone.
The outlets that have reported on Meyers’ interview with West have generally done so with mildly ironic amazement — take Gawker, bless them, who reported that “Kanye West truly cracked the Matrix [last night]. Without raising his voice or spiraling into narrative curlicues or providing any of the intensity necessary to render this 2+ minute verbal essay on his creative prowess a ‘rant,’ West lucidly explained what he’s been saying for a while now: He feels stifled by powers that be who expect him to work in a certain way because of his established profile.”
Well, yes. He does. And the key point is right there in the second sentence: he has been saying this stuff for a while now. Gawker suggested that last night’s interview “seemed like damage control for his erratic, albeit highly entertaining string of interviews last year.” I don’t know about that — I don’t see a great difference between this and any of the interviews he did last year, beyond the fact that he was less animated. This is a man who is passionate about his art, and passionate about the way he pursues it. He’s clearly intelligent, clearly very talented, and clearly gets hot under the collar sometimes when discussing things that matter a great deal to him.
Sure, West has always been given to using imagery and comparisons that many others would balk at. (In this respect, at least, last night was no different, in that he compared his desire to work in fashion as well as music to Michelangelo’s desire to sculpt as well as paint.) But this is the sort of thing we generally tolerate in our artists, because it’s what we expect from them: passion, creativity, volatility. We’re only too happy to indulge them being awful people if they make great art. Sometimes, we give them entire magazine cover stories to bitch and moan about how hard it is to be them.
But not, it seems, if they’re Kanye West. Or Drake. Or Danny Brown. Or… are we sensing a theme here? Flavorwire has been arguing since last year that the whole “Kanye West rants!!!” narrative is indicative of deeper prejudices in the way that the media covers black artists. The same speeches that would be called “talking passionately” or “speaking out” if other artists gave them, or just dismissed as lovable eccentricity, get called “rants,” with the implication that whoever’s doing the talking is dangerous and/or unstable. I’m not generally in the business of saying “I told you so,” but fuck it, I told you so. Twice.
Still, it’s good to see that some people are at last cottoning on to the fact that, hey, maybe West isn’t just a crazy black man who someone made the mistake of letting onto the TV — maybe he’s, y’know, a talented and intelligent man who cares a lot about the work he does! Of course, this sort of coverage is still very much the exception to the rule. To the nation at large, West remains the crazy, arrogant black man who rants about leather jogging shorts. It’s a shame — and all too telling — that he apparently needs to conform to society’s expectations of politeness to be given the sort of pass that other artists get out of hand, but it’s a start.