The 12 February cover of NME (pages 16 to 20) has an interesting character profile of Kanye West. West has made it (I am sure not for the first time!) to the front cover of a prominent music magazine. The front cover of the magazine portrays a striking monochrome pose, with the rapper's face divided by what appears (to me) to be a torn page.
On the left, a young, slightly timid or gawkish looking child. On the right, a full-grown man, fixing his coolly defiant gaze upon fan and hater alike. 'This is me, and I ain't going away!' is the impression I got. His expression, to me, is (to take the liberty of rewording the notorious quote from the Marquis de Sade) very much an 'Either diss me, or take me as I am! For I'm damned if I'll ever change! I am here, and you'd better get used to it!'
The youth on the left and the man on the right are the same person, even if they are also not. As a successful music professional, and in particular, as a successful black musician, or indeed artist of color (whichever naming strategy you prefer), Kanye West is situated among certain double binds, which perhaps require a considerable degree of quick thinking and creativity to negotiate.
It's not hard to list some of the problematic stereotypes here. Firstly, it may be that West is deemed by some as 'too much a child,' an overgrown Peter Pan figure who never grew up. The Kanye on the left of the profile picture will be deemed enslaved to youthful whims and passions: too much drinking, too much 'partying,' too much flippancy and lightness.
Secondly, there will be those who view Kanye merely as part of a homogeneous rap culture. A culture where shooting innocent people is that 'they do.' Where sexism is something for 'those types' and not 'ordinary decent folks like you and me.'
The tear runs down the middle of West's face. And the face is also a portrait. If the eyes are the window of your soul, the face is what you show to all the world.
Then, on page 3, Mike Williams' editorial begins with the ironic observation: 'Kanye West the Conqueror. Kanye West the Plonker.' Williams goes on to mention how 'Yeezy splits opinion,' and was gained two nominations for the NME Awards. Just to make sure there is no misunderstanding, Williams confesses his admiration for West: definitely a 'hero!'
Proceeding forward to the article I mentioned, we can see that the title is 'Making a Masterpiece.' Below, we learn about some recent news from the past few years: West becoming a father, getting married, announcing running for President; and releasing what he calls 'the greatest album of all time.' The photo chosen, with West standing on stage, hands spread aloft to his audience, leaves no doubt that West is revelling in his success. But that photo is doesn't show the young person from the front cover. Clearly, West is not a man of one mask alone.
But what is a 'mask' anyway?
Is a mask less real than what is underneath the mask?
Is Kanye West like Andy Warhol?
If 'we' want to know what Kanye West is like, should we just examine his art?
Is there no 'real' Kanye West beneath the surface?
Is this the sort of 'superficiality' where as all is surface, the general Zeitgeist portrayed in the scholar Fredric Jameson's memorable work on Postmodernism?
Can there really be nothing underneath?
And if so, is it time to be worried?