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Back in 2013, Kanye West sat down for an interview with the BBC's Zane Lowe. The conversation began with his work, but it eventually got to the racial glass ceiling and Kanye's plan to overcome it. This interview has since become sacred to me. It was the first time I realised Kanye West is the life coach we all need.
If you hate Kanye, as many do, his name wouldn't be the first you'd think about when considering being a better person. Sure, I can see why you feel like that. Kanye is complex and messy. He says and does indefensible things. How can you forgive him for meeting with Donald Trump during the US Election, or defend his tweets supporting Bill Cosby?
But for me, Kanye West is who I look to for inspiration. And I'm not alone. "Yeezy taught me" is a mantra adopted by his fans everywhere. Through his music, his interviews, and his brutal honesty Yeezy has taught us so much over the years.
And here's what we've learned.
Don't Worry About Making People Uncomfortable
Kayne is often painted as a braggadocious megalomaniac—drunk off his own ego, ruining the lives of others. Case and point is, of course, the 2009 VMAs. Everyone's favourite Kanye "meltdown."
Appearing seemingly from nowhere, Kayne ripped the mic away from Taylor Swift, clutching her Best Female Video statue, to say what we were all thinking: "Yo Taylor, I'm really happy for you. Imma let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time… one of the best videos of all time!"
Beyonce deserved that award. "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" is one of the best music videos of all time. Close your eyes and you can still picture it: Beyonce and her two backup dancers, Ebony Williams and Ashley Everett, moving in perfect formation in black and white. It's iconic. Do you remember Taylor's clip? "You Belong With Me"? Yeah, me neither.
And yet Kanye was demonised for speaking out, effectively forced into hiding for a year.
Kanye's lesson here is clear: stand up for what you believe in, even if in that moment you make other people uncomfortable. The VMAs, and pretty much all award shows, are guilty of shunning very deserving black artists in favour for their mediocre white peers.
Watching Moonlight's moment get stolen at this year's Oscars, my mind went immediately to Kanye. Because Kanye would've never sat there and let another white person overshadow the achievements of a black artist. He wouldn't have given a second thought to making people feel uncomfortable in that moment to rectify an injustice.
You Can't Separate Politics From Pop Culture
Twelve years ago, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Kanye West told America that "George Bush doesn't care about black people." The clip is incredible. It comes from a live TV fundraiser for the Red Cross, hosted by Kanye and comedian Mike Myers.
Standing beside Kanye, Myers reads word-for-word from a teleprompter. He squirms as Kanye goes off script: decrying how black Hurricane survivors are being profiled as looters and shot at, while white victims are just "looking for food." Kanye trembles as he talks, in outrage and in sadness. "I hate the way they portray us in the media," he says. Mid-sentence, the cameras cut away from him. You can almost hear the producers scrambling.
In these moments, Kanye teaches everyone how to enact change, how to stand up against a system that works against the disenfranchised. Bush's response to the Hurricane Katrina was not only painfully slow—with no initial plans to implement food sources or emergency shelter—but actively demonised black people with military orders to shoot looters on sight. More often than not, when Kanye West rallies for change and expresses disdain at the choices laid before him, he is labelled an Angry Black Man. He still does it anyway.
Vulnerability Isn't Weakness
We see celebrities, especially Kanye West, as immune to the pain of criticism. West's ego seems impenetrable—the guy has a song called "I Am A God."
But Kanye also very publicly battles mental illness, he still struggles with the death of his mother, and he openly shares his emotional wounds on stage to strangers. In his hurt, I can see myself. And that makes me want to see myself in his happiness. Because, despite the sadness that swirls around him, Kanye still continues to love himself. He's his own biggest fan and he wants that for everyone else. He even wants that for his haters.
We are told to dream in the confines of what we can achieve. To proudly proclaim that self love is an act of arrogance, to call yourself a god is delusional. Kanye has been laughed out of meetings for songs that would later change the way rap music sounds today. He's had countless shoe designs rejected. He's been banned from events, removed from tours, and booed on stage by his own fans. And yet he perseveres. It's easy to forget that his intentions aren't just to improve his own life but to benefit the lives of people he'll never meet: "From day one, I just want to help."
"If You're a Kanye West Fan… You're a Fan of Yourself"
I don't think it's hard to explain why Kanye West has made me a better person. But it's often difficult for others to understand. So maybe it's best to leave it to Kanye: "If you're a Kanye West fan, you're not a fan of me, you're a fan of yourself. You will believe in yourself. I'm just the espresso. I'm just a shot in the morning to get you going, to make you believe you can overcome the situation that you're dealing with all the time."
When I think of all of the people who have achieved greatness, there is a common tie linking them all together—they believed in themselves unashamedly. Coyness and self deprecation are tools we've all been taught to take on to make ourselves more palatable. Pure self confidence and believing in yourself is in itself a political act, especially when the world is telling you to be small, humble, and quiet. Kanye is brash and bold, and he's going to be remembered as one of the greats no matter what.
I didn't grow up being told I could be whatever I wanted to be, quite the contrary. But when I see Kanye's eyes sparkle when he talks about designing shoes, furniture, and school uniforms, I want to be better.
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