Kanye West Is a Genius, and It's Time We Acknowledge It

You don't get to see a whole lot of Kanye West during the Kanye West concert. The light above him is hazy and pallid, somewhere between brown and yellow. Sometimes, he's just a spasming shadow.

Instead, the real show is below him, where his floating stage lights up the general-admission floor of the American Airlines Arena, hovering to and fro, not unlike a picky UFO trying to decide whom to abduct. Though he is hazy, you get a clear view of the chaos below him. It's a mosh pit rarely seen at a mainstream hip-hop concert of this magnitude.

There's probably a metaphor there — something about how the churning wake of media attention Kanye leaves in his path is sometimes more interesting than what the man himself is actually doing. Like, at this point, maybe the Kanye West phenomenon has less to do with him as a performer and more to do with us as consumers.

Or maybe he just woke up one day and was like, I want my stage to fly,fam. And that was that. 

Either way, the result is mesmerizing and ferociously engaging. It demands attention from the audience as few arena concerts ever do. It's a rare human moment with a performer who offers us only brief glimpses of himself in caps-locked tweets, forcing the brainless swarm that is entertainment media to fill in the blanks, a job at which they've proven to be as effective as an umbrella made of cotton candy. 

The crowd below West's floating stage.
The crowd below West's floating stage.
Photo by George Martinez

But, of course, if you want to truly understand Kanye West, you need to head toward the music. It's the clearest way to see into the man so many find so confusing. West offered Miami a delicious sampling of his catalogue this past Friday night — from "Good Life" to "Heartless" to "Black Skinhead" to "Blood on the Leaves" to "Only One" to "Stronger," and more and more until he casually descended back into the crowd as if off to go buy a hot dog at the end of "Ultralight Beam." 

Kanye West will die one day, and when he does, it will be very difficult to explain to a new generation just who he was and what he meant. We'll show them his music and explain the significance behind it. And they'll say, Wow, so, like, people must have loved him, right? And we'll be like, Um, sort of. Some people did, and some people really didn't.

And then we'll have to explain to them the whole George Bush thing and the Taylor Swift thing and the Kim Kardashian thing and a dozen other pop-culture flareups that — when juxtaposed with the eternal music he left behind — will look silly and insignificant. Our kids will glance up at us over their virtual-reality iGlasses and say, See, this is the reason we don't let people over the age of 50 vote anymore.  

A fan outside the American Airlines Arena.
A fan outside the American Airlines Arena.
Photo by George Martinez

Over the course of eight albums, Kanye West has made conceptual leaps like a blind frog on steroids. No artist of his weight has ever taken creative risks as large — and had so many pay off. Here we've got this man, clearly a genius, yet we're more interested in what he says during awards shows than the gorgeous and fearless art he's created throughout his career.

We've been given a samurai sword, and we're using it to shave our bunions, culturally speaking. 

A lot of this has to do with the fact that Kanye West is very bad at communicating his genius to the world when not in the form of a song.

It can be confusing. All of his unhinged ramblings on talk shows compared with the very coherent and purposeful structure of his music — it's like an optical illusion the brain can't reconcile. It's easier to look at the guy we see making no sense on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and say, There we go. That's him, right there.

But it's not.

Remember when you were little and you used to get mad? Like, really mad? Maybe at your brother, because he hit you. Or at Cindy, because she wouldn't share the glue and was just an intolerable classmate to begin with. Remember the feeling that would bubble up inside you when an adult leaned down and asked a question that sounded simple, one that the media is asking Kanye West all the time? 

What's wrong?

And when you opened your mouth and tried to explain, it all came pouring out at once. It was almost like an out-of-body experience. You'd sort of float into the sky and watch yourself, teary and snotty, trying to explain through sobs everything that was so painfully clear in your mind.

But getting it from your mind to your mouth was so hard.

That's Kanye. If we could crack open his head like a box of Tic Tacs and peek inside, we'd be amazed at what we saw. All the colors and sensations. All the depth and layers to it. But when he tries to flick it open himself and show us what's inside, everything comes pouring out at once, by accident, and it's not pretty anymore. It's overwhelming and chaotic.

But that doesn't make him any less of a genius. Just like when you were little and the teacher asked you what was wrong. Simply because you couldn't spit it all out in any sort of coherent way doesn't mean you had no reason to be mad. And that was the most frustrating part, in a way. And that made you only madder. 

West's set showcased the full spectrum of his talent.
West's set showcased the full spectrum of his talent.
Photo by George Martinez

Not everything Kanye does has to be an example of his genius — just like everything Steve Jobs created didn't change the world. But if we're going to forget the failures and remember only the iPhone, we need to extend that same courtesy to Yeezy.

At the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards, Kanye West received the Video Vanguard Award and proceeded to give an 11-minute speech that was a great example of the whole Tic Tac spillage. At one point in his stream-of-consciousness diatribe, West said he wanted to run for president. The internet nearly ripped its laptops in half trying to get a quick sarcastic tweet out there.

This past Friday, a few hours before Kanye's concert, presidential candidate Donald Trump held a rally a mile down the road at the James L. Knight Center. "I think that [Hillary Clinton's] armed bodyguards should drop all weapons," Trump told his roaring supporters. "They should disarm, right? Immediately — what do you think? Yes? Yes? Take their guns away! She doesn't want guns. Let's see what happens to her."

Kanye, as he usually does at his concerts, halted the music about two-thirds into the show and took ten minutes to speak his Auto-Tuned mind. As people threw hats and shoes onto his levitating stage, West talked about dreams and the importance of sticking to them regardless of outside criticism. He talked about race in America and police brutality and pointed to a person in the audience holding a sign that read, "Hire me," and instructed his staff to get that person's email. 

Kanye West wouldn't be a great president, but he'd sure be better than Trump. 

At the end of his rant, West sang "Only One," a song he made with Paul McCartney that's written from the perspective of his late mother, Donda West, as she looks down at her boy from the clouds above. She'd be so proud of him. And we should be too. Kanye West is ours. It's time to appreciate him for what he is: a genius. 

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American Airlines Arena

601 Biscayne Blvd.
Miami, FL 33131

786-777-1000

www.aaarena.com


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