Why God is Kanye: A Rapper’s Deification


The other proposition that I will not entertain in this piece is that Kanye’s most recent event was a mere publicity stunt. Instead, it was artistic expression.

For those who haven’t heard, Kanye has a new song out. It’s a really good song too: There are strong lyrics, emotional political content and the usual obscure, esoteric sample (in this case from a Hungarian rock band). But that’s not what makes this release special. What has created the most buzz around “New Slaves” is the way it was released. Kanye eschewed the usual means of publicizing a song. He didn’t give copies to radio stations to play. He didn’t leak it on the Internet. While he did perform it on “Saturday Night Live,” that came after the initial release. Rather than binding himself by these traditional methods of disseminating new material, he did something completely new.

On the evening of May 17, a nondescript truck parked on the street in Brooklyn. Without warning, it started projecting a video onto an adjacent apartment building. The black-and-white video showed Kanye performing “New Slaves.” The video played twice through, and then the truck drove off with just as little notice or fanfare as it arrived. A similar scene was supposed to play out in 65 other surprise showings across the globe.

Obviously, this created lots of media attention. The secrecy and excellent execution of the projections, along with the political message and musical strength of the song, made for interesting, exciting news. So in that sense, the projection was an extremely successful publicity grab. It grabbed headlines for West and his upcoming album, which is also shrouded in a carefully constructed secrecy, but might be dropping in June. To say that it was just a ploy for publicity, though, is to miss the art behind it.

I think this event is an aesthetic self deification of Kanye West. And I think it works.

Everyone, including the man himself, agrees that Kanye has an outsized ego. The rumored title of his new album, though, takes this new ego to an entirely higher realm. According to multiple reports, the title will be “Yeezus.” Yeezus, a combination of Jesus and Yeezy, one of Kanye’s self-given nicknames, makes the self deification unavoidable. But how does projecting Yeezy’s new song on some brick wall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn further develop this Nietzschean deification?

For one, it makes Kanye the complete master of his work. Rather than be dependent on radio stations or television shows to promote his work for him, he is circumventing these means. He creates his owns means of distribution. If listeners want to really hear “New Slaves” (the civilian recordings are shoddy and can’t do the song justice), they must hope West blesses them with a virtual performance. West’s music will only be played when and where he wants it to be played. In doing so, he makes himself a creator to a far greater degree than most artists. While he began his career beholden to other people, he’s reached a point where he controls everything. He makes the music, but he also distributes the music. Thus he holds all artistic power. He can create what he wants and can do with it whatever he pleases. He is absolutely free, just like God.

Beyond this economic self sufficiency as supernatural power, the imagery of the film is much more indicative of the deistic theme. The sheer magnitude of the projection project makes him seem omnipotent. The video was shown in 66 cities around the world. The coordination and capital outlay required to pull this act off in that many cities (without the song ever leaking) is a gargantuan feat in itself. The feeling of omnipotence is obvious. Kanye has a grasp on the entire globe. He is everywhere, just like God.

The effect of the video makes this omnipotence even more chilling. Throughout the video, West stares directly into the camera. When projected tens of feet tall, his face look like it’s staring directly at you, rapping to you. A more easily palatable parallel than God might be Big Brother in George Orwell’s “1984.” In that book, Big Brother’s face is everywhere, watching you. But it should be noted that, in the book, Big Brother essentially played the role of a god without being called one. And so the eerie effect of Kanye’s face looming over passersby is unnerving because of the divine power it seems to represent. Whatever you do, Kanye will see you. He is omnipotent, just like God.

Does this self deification project seem ridiculous? It shouldn’t. Kanye’s self deification (when viewed aesthetically and philosophically) makes perfect sense in the modern western world. Nietzsche, who Kanye reads and admires, already informed us that God is dead. Furthermore, in a particular reading of some Nietzschean works (which would take far too long to evaluate in this column), it is man’s future to become a god in his own right, reflected by Kanye’s actions.

Herein lies Kanye’s true genius. Disregard for a moment the gaffes, the ego, the disreputable girlfriend, all of the problems of celebrity. Look instead at his aesthetics. Look instead at his philosophy. What makes Kanye so great to those willing to take him seriously as an artist is his ability to, through art, epitomize the modern quest to create new values and new gods.