Congratulations, Kanye. You've now reached a place in pop-culture where I can no longer ignore you. Here's my very ill-informed opinion:
I've always been an indie/rock kinda guy, because I'm white and skinny and that's what we do. I've never cared about rap, but over the last few years it's slowly been trickling into my ears, thanks in part to a shift in the genre's subject matter.
Childish Gambino sums it up nicely: "you used to have to act street, now you have a choice." I grew up having a very narrowly-defined image of rappers, in which they're constantly boasting about being the best and fucking bitches like crazy. But now, probably due to the widespread accessibility that the internet provides, I'm finding more and more rappers getting introspective, exploring their crippling self-doubt and the aftermath of bad break-ups. You know, things that even white and skinny guys can identify with.
That was all a very long-winded way of saying that I appreciate how Kanye raps about more than being the best and fucking bitches like crazy. Yes, that's a part of what he does, but it's always coupled with acknowledging the darker side, as if he's always trying to come from a place of emotional honesty. To me, what makes Kanye interesting is how he takes that honesty to extreme and often damaging results. Then he'll feel terrible about it, go into hiding for months, and resurface with a Twitter account and an amazing album.
I think a great example of this painful honesty can be seen in the short film he made with Spike Jonze. We see his party-antics go from funny to downright pathetic, even desperate. Are there other rappers showing themselves in a light other than "I party all the time and it's the best?" (Of course, then the video gets weird with a fuzzy creature that he rips from his chest, but whatever).As quoted in the ridiculously-glowing Pitchfork review, Kanye West recently told MTV "I do have a goal in this lifetime to be the greatest artist of all time..." This corroborates perfectly with a theory I've been cooking up.
Public persona aside, I think Kanye is taking his work to the next logical step. I think he's asking himself some big questions about being an "artist," both in subject matter and in aesthetics. He's obsessed with high art and high fashion, as seen his his "moving painting" music video for the song Power, and his frequent use of modern dancers and ballerinas. He tweets about wanting cherubim rugs and baroque furniture. He's a mash-up of tastes and influences, and it's creating something entirely different. I don't know if I can say I actually like his 35 minute film "Runaway," but I can say that I haven't seen anything like it, and that it's intriguing as hell. If he can continue coming from a real emotional place and being this visually experimental, then I think one day he'll do something that even a white and skinny guy like myself can deem "genius."