Kanye West has no qualms in stating that he’s a God, but as Mat Drogemuller points out, the OTT ego that has helped secure his success may end up being his undoing.
Kanye West is a God, apparently, and not afraid to declare the fact on his latest album Yeezus: a titular wordplay that suggests West is not just holy, but younger and hipper than Jesus ever was. As such, West is entitled to declare “hurry up with my damn croissant” when he’s waiting in a “French-arse restaurant” on the track I am a God, and even opponents of the acclaimed rapper must admit he did look very strapping in a crown of thorns on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine in 2006.
Many criticise West for the ego that had him declare at the MTV Awards in 2009 Beyoncé’s superiority over a young, previously un-jaded Taylor Swift, but others argue that he is a visionary and his ego is acceptable, even applaudable. Is West simply a narcissist? Could he have gotten to where he is without his ego?
In Freudian psychology, the ego ideal is the vision of the perfect person that an individual subconsciously strives towards at all times. For some, the ego ideal is a positive, bubbly individual making an uplifting contribution to the lives of those around them, collected and graceful, with a knack for nonchalance; for others the ego ideal is a constantly shrewd and wise master of life, a lord of ethical decision-making and quite good at basketball.
As children we generally believe ourselves to be the epitome of personhood, incapable of error, and though this feeling returns with a vengeance in our teenage years, we generally learn as we grow that our opinions of ourselves might be mellowed slightly and we eventually reflect more accurately about who we are and what we are capable of. Unless of course we are narcissists in which case we believe well into adulthood that we are no more or less than exactly who we ought to be.
Is West’s self-hype simply the by-product of an undeveloped ego ideal?
In over 40 years of hip-hop we have heard a steady stream of self-righteousness known by rap insiders as “braggadocio” and by everyone else as “being really, really confident.” But the history of braggadocio goes back further than men in loose clothing boasting of their hard raps, car collections and the wide range of postcodes in which women are sexually available to them.
Before Jason Derulo was even around to sing his name at the start of every song, the art of bragging was an appreciated facet of black culture, part of an overall cultural backlash to oppression in the 1940s and ’50s. Where white people called them “boy,” they called each other “man,” and where white people dressed in frocks, ties and cardigans, they wore heavily padded, draping zoot-suits and walked with swagger. It was the beginning of a deliberately defiant culture that stating one’s grandiosity became overtly symbolic of. Only later would the groovy beats and lightning fast raps be added to the proverbial mix.
Is Kanye West’s all-pervasive ego just the latest nod to a rich cultural history?
Bret Easton Ellis believes that through every performer’s veins the blood of an egotist flows, which would suggest that humility in musicians is either a front or a denial. West certainly seems honest about his feelings, but there could be a deeper meaning behind his verbal strutting. When you start at the bottom and aim for the sky, maybe an undeveloped ego ideal is just what you need to get yo-self going. Because West is black, he probably does get more criticism for his ego, his music and everything else. Talking about being a black celebrity he says, “I’m laughing to keep from crying.” A burgeoning ego is the perfect encouragement to say, “Nah, I am a God” and keep on spinning mad raps. His vanity is a statement of individuality and strength.
Although this kind of tunnel vision belief in your own music can catalyse moments of brilliance, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns for the self-respecting artist, or those around them. One only has to look to Irish rocker-come-philanthropist Bono to see that even the perception of an overflowing ego is enough to arouse condemnation from previously neutral parties. John Lennon too had an ego, but apparently you can get away with that if you literally are bigger than Jesus.
I’m laughing to keep from crying.
It’s typical for highly competent narcissists to achieve quick successes in their field. Their charisma and sheer bluster can see them charm their way into situations where they end up with the opportunities to share their talents. Kanye West was a competent producer before he was a notorious rapper and this gave him an in with music industry juggernaut Jay Z who saw his potential.
It is also typical for competent narcissists to bring about their own disastrous downfalls by stirring resentment in their perceived underlings, who gradually undermine their power from within. West has been supportive of other artists; one example is when he told fellow media devil Miley Cyrus, “There are not a lot of artists I believe in more than you right now.” But through his own single-mindedness he has also alienated peers, fans and the media. In 2006 he won best hip-hop artist at the MTV Europe Music Awards, but disappointed at not winning best video, he crashed the stage, stating “If I don’t win, the awards show loses credibility.”
Right now Kanye West is impervious to criticism. His ego-antics are amusing enough that we laugh them off, and if his music stays strong we won’t mind if he embarrasses a celebrity or two at an awards show every now and then. But the sheer focus of his mind that has brought him to where he is may also be his undoing. His ego is a double-edged sword, swinging wildly: one moment he is hailed a visionary, the next a ranting brat.