This post originally appeared on VICE UK.
Picture the scene. It's 11 PM on a Sunday evening. I'm in my uni bedroom in Oxford, watching an episode of Saturday Night Live and flicking between social networks, as a person of my age and lack of direction is wont to do. There's a particularly boring bit on SNL and I tab across to Facebook. And then it happens. My timeline confronts me with an event called "Kanye West Speaks to the Oxford Guild Society – 02/03/15."
Oxford University hosts quite a lot of high-profile speakers, but there's high-profile, and then there's Kanye. Literal Kanye West. The man who turned bragging into an art form. And the fact that such a huge talk—open only to Oxford students—had been announced merely 16 hours before it was due to begin sent the Oxford student body as a whole into total chaos.
The event was being hosted by the Oxford Guild, a society geared specifically to people interested in business, so it's safe to say this is the most interesting thing to happen to them in their 120-year history. At first, most assumed this was an elaborate university prank, but as event "attending" numbers started to rise and the ticket process was properly outlined—three random ballots, taking place at midnight, 2 AM, and 9 AM—Oxford began to believe that Yeezus really was coming to preach. Tickets, which cost a measly $6, were slowly handed out, but despite offering up my soul in exchange for one (resales, sadly, were banned), I was not one of the lucky few.
So I was faced with a dilemma—when the world's biggest musician graces the world's most boring town with his presence and you miss out on it, what do you do? The answer I came up with was this: You go and interview the people who did get tickets, before sitting on a gross bench and watching them all go inside, as you hold back tears of rage.
Kanye's talk took place at Oxford's Museum of Natural History, which, coincidentally, is just up the road from where I live, so I got there a bit early to talk to some of the chosen ones about their feelings on what they were about to see.
What was your reaction when the event came up on Facebook?
Damola: He broke the internet.
Do you think it's important that Kanye has come to speak at Oxford in particular?
I don't know, because some people see him and Kim as anti-intellectual, so it's nice that he's being invited into this space and is able to capture the whole of Oxford's population.
What do you think Kanye's gonna talk about?
Sam: I think he's here to inspire the next generation of English businessmen and fashion designers. Which is what we all are. And I think my brother is also a budding rapper.
Jacob: Kanye inspired my career.
You could ask whether he'll let you be his hype man.
Jacob: In the medium of rap.
Sam: It's interesting to just see. Because he's got so many things going on at the moment. He's got the trainers, he's about to release a new album—it'll be interesting to see what his focus is. It'll also be interesting to know why he's come here, because he doesn't really just give public audiences.
Do you have any questions you want to ask Kanye?
Jacob: Does he like fish sticks?
What do you think the significance is of Kanye coming to Oxford University specifically?
Ogemdi: I think he's also spoken at Harvard, at the architecture school. It seems like he's more in a twist where he wants to enter academia in a really specific way.
Nina: Also, I think his albums are so conceptual that he wants to be taken to be thinking about his music, and actually having that legitimacy, as opposed to just having this aesthetic. I think he wants to talk about the aesthetic and show that there's been a massive thought process and plan throughout.
What are you expecting Kanye to discuss?
Joe: I think he'll probably talk about uni and life, in that sense of what you should do with your life more generally.
Anna: I'm hoping he does talk about that because everyone here is at a really stressful uni and thinks that's the way to be successful, but actually it might not be.
How do you guys feel about Kanye coming to Oxford?
Joe: I think it's brilliant. I just want to know what he's gonna talk about.
Anna: He's massive on trying to tell people that you don't need to go through uni and school to be successful.
The people I talked to raised some interesting points, and there was particular speculation around Kanye's motivation for coming to Oxford. Considering the eventual content of his talk—and of many of his recent discussions, including the interview with Zane Lowe a few days ago—which touched heavily on his artistic sufferings at the hands of classism and elitism, it's pretty ironic that he decided to come to the playground of so much elitism to talk about that.
In doing so, it's possible that he meant to challenge that system (this point of view holds a bit more weight when you know that the talk was filmed and will be put online for the public to watch). But it's also possible that he viewed speaking here as a symbol of his further legitimation as not only a rapper and musician, but as an artist and thinker in a more canonical sense.
Over the last year, Kanye has been on a very public quest for legitimacy, seeking out the establishment with the aim of entering it—he's now a respected fashion designer and people go to his concerts as much for the cultural commentary he screams from behind a mask as the music. His embrace of Oxford seems to be just another step in that quest. That a man who made his money and his name producing records and rapping brought one of the world's foremost academic institutions to a standstill yesterday is proof that he's achieving the approval he appears to seek, but also that he's breaking the boundaries of who and what we view as intellectually valid.
Despite minor discrepancies—such as the outrage he expressed in yesterday's talk about financial elitism in fashion, having recently designed trainers that retail at $400—Kanye's engagement with elitism is important. His visibility, and the visibility of everything he stands for, in established circles of academia, fashion, and social commentary can only really be a progressive thing, and I hope it develops and continues. Just as long as I get a ticket next time.
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