Friday, November 30, 2007

Kanye West: Master Diplomat

His mastery at diplomatic honesty and nuance is unparalleled. There's a reason for it.....

"It ain't braggin' if it's true"

This is one of Kanye West's famous lines uttered out of his solipsistic gob the night of his sweeping victory at the Grammys in 2005. Kanye is not known for his subtlety or humility when it comes to the perception of his own talent, or how he deems fit to be acknowledged by way of accolades at every possible award nomination that swings his way. Even as recent as this years VMA awards, 'Ye took the opportunity to bitch about the iniquitous nature and dubious slight that the idiot-savants at Music-less Television gave him, swearing to never do business with their likes again. I could use other examples to pin Kanye as a truly over-rated egocentric asshole and megalomaniac.

But not today.

I could sit here and decry his lust for dominance in a genre wrought with mediocrity; wholly lacking in originality. Diss him for his insatiable need to be as a Nero of the modern times; playing to his muse at the expense of true talent that he himself does not possess as an MC, or producer…

But that would make me the truest asshole.

It would also make me lose credibility as someone who takes an objective and balanced stance on things that occur in the very industry I belong to. I could Kanye-bash..

But not now.

Not after the recent media events that have involved him, predating his mother's untimely demise on November 10 of this year (2007).

Walk with me back to 2005, to the televised fundraiser for Hurricane Katrina, in which Kanye dropped the truest words ever spoken about that debacle, and the level of incompetency exhibited by the Bush administration that had teetered into the level of pure carnaval-esque curiosity.

"(President) Bush doesn't care about black people"

Watching Mike Myers almost curl up into a ball after the live cut-away, and then nervously try to stay on cue reading from the script was embarrassing. Not because of West's' comments, but of Myers inability to stand in with Kanye on that observation. It was the utter truth. Unfiltered. Austin Powers could take it, it was too uncomfortable. He cowered like a frightened field mouse surrounded by a pack of hungry kitties. In the days proceding that event, West never back down from that point, nor apologized, adding:

"… You see a black family, it [the media] says, 'they're looting'. You see a white family, it says, 'they're looking for food'. And, you know, it's been five days [waiting for federal help] because most of the people are black. And even for me to complain about it, I would be a hypocrite because I've tried to turn away from the TV, because it's too hard to watch".

Again. Honest and unfiltered. In just that portion of the quote, you see something very consistent with Kanye's character: diplomacy. Here's another example from an interview he gave in Entertainment Weekly
later in 2006, referencing the homophobic proclivities and 'gay bashing' that goes on in the Black community:

". I think in the daily life of a black male, we gay-bash way more than we disrespect women. We would call a gay guy a fag to his face. But if we walked up to a woman and said Aiight, bitch! we would know that was disrespectful… And I actually (thought) that standing up for gays was even more crazy than bad-mouthing the president. In the black community, someone could label you gay and bring your career down. But that was me showing what black people are really about today, or at least what we need to be about…"

Homosexuality is a seriously taboo subject among most African-Americans, and Kanye's treatment of the subject is not only direct, but if you notice even from these abbreviated examples above, they are consistent, in that West has the ability too few people (especially in the U.S.) have: Nuance

is an important ability, for it gives one the objectivity to decipher poignant issues with greater clarity as it pertains to oneself. Being able to self-critique as to your own view on a given topic in a raw state also gives brevity to credibly offer insight without sounding pious or seeming completely arrogant. With this trait, if well-developed, allows a '360' view to an issue, and makes it more pliable to allow self-scrutiny and accountability for your own actions: recognizing that you are not above reproach. It is a great way to attain better accuracy of assessment on a subject, for your able to view it from all sides, and still confidently render an unbiased opinion based on pure understanding of the facts.

Nuance is the nucleus of good diplomacy and solid bridge-building.

Another case in point; The simultaneous release of his "Graduation" CD alongside 50 cent's "Curtis Jackson" in September 2007 and the ensuing flap, in which 50 tried to call out Kanye into some kind of competitors tryst by way of any media outlet that would here it . Jackson did everything possible to promote some kind of feud, even challenging 'Ye to a debate on BET. Kanye's response? This little gem:

"When I heard that thing about the debate, I thought that was the stupidest thing. When my album drops and 50's album drops, you're gonna get a lot of good music at the same time."

In that single comment, 50's attempt at generating publicity for his own release fell flat on its face. The media aligned itself with Kanye's view, at which Jackson had to back-peddle. Whether wittingly or not, Kanye single-handedly made 50 look a right ass by doing what he always does: giving on honest appraisal by way of a nuanced response. Lesser entertainers would have fed in to the pseudo-challenge, seeing a chance to 'wipe the floor' with Jackson's ass. West, not seeing the value of even entering such an obvious attempt by 50 at gaining traction for his own release, declined to participate. It's such a solid response, one would even gain the perception that Kanye did this with premeditated malice, knowing what Jackson was trying to achieve could be reverted by offering this "olive branch" of a comment. Whatever speculation one might derive, the truth is this: It is always better to take the high road in this situation. Never disrespect your craft to feed the desire to 'cast your pearls before swine' to prove you're the better, when you know you already are.

End result? "Graduation" (as of Nov. 2007) has outpaced "Curtis Jackson" nearly 2-to-1, having gone double platinum. Accident? Fuck no. Kanye's album is far superior in style, content, production, and arrangement.

And Kanye knew that.

West also knew 50 cent relies heavily on outside production, sampling, and beat-making. Kanye is completely "self-contained", understands his fanbase, and knows how to sell to them. Curtis Jackson, as West undoubtedly understands, is less sophisticated and does not possess the type of acumen in this regard as he does. It was a no-brainer…

And a no-brainer because of Kanye's advanced adherence and application of nuance: He is not interested in burning bridges with the likes of 50, for somewhere down the road, he might end up in a lucrative collaboration with him. This is not just business genius on Kanye's part. His ability to assess possible future enterprise is in direct correlation with his innate skill in thinking in a nuanced fashion, keeping the lines open for potential gain later on down the road. That explains also his fluid willingness to record with lesser-known "underground" hip-hop artists (at the time) Talib Kweli, Common, and Little Brother to name a few. If you burn bridges, you can't cross back over in future endeavors. I'm absolutely certain there are other motivating factors. I'm merely addressing this particular one as to support my point.

A point even the vitriol Evel Knievel can now attest.

Yes..the hateful, borderline xenophobe, always cranky and bitter Robert "Evel" Knievel . Just recently, (Nov. 2007) these two came to an amicable settlement in regards to a lawsuit Knievel launched last year over Kanye's use of his trademark jumpsuit and reference to his failed '74 jump over Snake River Canyon Idaho in the video for "Testify". Ole Robert, who had said of Kanye's video was.. "promot(ing) his filth to the world," said recently of Kanye (after the settlement was reached) "I thought he was a wonderful guy and quite a gentleman," stating further of the recent loss of his mother "I
know he's had some tough times the past few weeks, and I hope things work out" What??"Evel" Knieval making nice? To an African-American Hip-Hop icon? Expanding the shocking round of momentary kindness , even lent himself to this photo-op:
Kanye and Evel
(I like the "streetpeace" pose)

Unbelievable. This photo was the sheer reason I wrote this blog in the first place. You have got to have serious juice to pull off what West did with this surly old codger. Rob ain't NOTHING to be fucked with. And Kanye again, is not in the business of making enemies. Seeing how this could've really turned into a legal circus, West wanted to quickly kill it before it garnered any traction, legally or media-wise. Smart move. The video is pretty innocuous, and I didn't get that West was trying to defame Knievel. Robert's taken care of that all by himself. But you have to have some serious elephant-sized nuts to wish to settle with the likes of 'Evel". And you have to understand what your dealing with.

Only the ability of nuance allows for this heightened level of understanding and ability to negotiate with likes of Knievel. It's not 'kissing ass' either. It's utilizing an advanced and highly developed method of diplomacy, tact, empathy, and honesty that you garner positive results in adverse circumstances such as this. If Kanye had been a kiss-ass, Knievel would've knocked the ungodly shit of West, AND further pursued kicking him all around the courtroom in an attempt to empty his pockets. Ass Kissing is for the weak. Strong prowess for reaching common ground is an intellectual strength. It is a gift. Kanye has it…

Thanks to his parents.

Donda and Ray West opted for divorce when Kanye was three. She then went to Chicago, her only son in tow, and became a career educator and professor, while his father, an ex-Black Panther, became the first African American photojournalist assigned to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Through Kanye's developmental years, Donda and Ray worked collaboratively in the upbringing of their only child. They both understood that if their son was to have any shot at an emotionally healthy existence, it would be up to them to work as a team effort, irrespective of their failed union and whatever misgivings were the result of it.

Kanye, in this circumstance, had to have understood early on to accept that this reality was permanent, and was allowed to engage with both parents freely with no condition. And no bias. It is through his parents remarkable sense of priority in this situation I believe Kanye obtained his sense of a '360' view: consider all sides, and move freely within it. Coupled with the fact that both parents were highly educated and never discouraged their son from pursuing any interest(s) he might have had.

This type of support in this circumstance, unfortunately, is the exception rather than the norm. Donda and Ray had it right. Their son is successful because of it . Publicly and privately.

I believe the loss of his mother will have far-reaching implications in the coming months, the likes which we have not seen… But Kanye will continue. Because of his innateness to evaluate, assess, and make decisions based on fact and research. The fact he went into a partial seclusion suggested to me, was a desire to process the loss. A wise move. Creating space for your emotions and thoughts is an indicator to me of someone who understands themselves in honest terms..the undeniable blessing of being nuanced. Rather than shrink from it, or put on a fa├žade, Kanye has decided to deal with it straightforward. In the privacy of his own space. Away from everything. And everyone.

More power to him.

As he slowly starts to return full-board, no doubt changes in his perspective on certain issues will arise. Already, he appears to have a more humbled approach, a more tempered manner. The real test will come when the results of the autopsy/toxicology results emerge, and if malpractice might be the factor in Donda West's premature death. In any event, Kanye has the tools to keep it going. Hopefully, he is not only grateful for the success he has attained, but also fully aware of his gift to see all sides, and to be thoughtful in his decisions. Very few have it, for it takes thought to process quickly and intelligently.

Zealots, pinheads, extremists, excuse-makers, and anyone out there who thinks "being smart" isn't "cool" should fucking pay attention to this.
This is how it's done. It's called nuance. Learn it. Be it. Live it.
Seeing situations from all perspectives gives the clearest chance of making finite decisions, even at a moments notice. Just ask Kanye. Even when he fucks up, he's usually the first to account for it.

He is the Ultimate Ambassador. A Diplomat. He seems the type to rather have a face-to-face with someone he's got beef with, rather than a fisticuffs. Burning bridges is for those who lack imagination and reasonable negotiating power to 'keep the lanes open' for future 'crossings' .

Maybe 'Ye should tell 'the truth' about this aspect of himself..

After all It ain't 'braggin' is it?

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