By Hayden Wright
Last night, MTV gave Kanye West four minutes on the VMA stage to check in with the world. On MTV’s end, the gambit promised must-watch television with the allure that “anything goes.” But Kanye approached the assignment as a State of the Union address, delivering a concise and current view of where his creative genius stands at this very moment.
To understand Kanye’s speech, it’s important to realize that 2016 has been the most creatively provocative year of his career to date. His awaited, delayed, and constantly retooled Life of Pablo was a maddening exercise in process over finished product. His beef with fellow celebrities transcended material squabbles to reach the court of truth, honor, and authenticity. He held fans, critics, outright haters, and himself captive on Twitter.
The controversial video for “Famous” was dissected (and praised) by European auteurs and its setpieces landed in art galleries. His marriage to Kim Kardashian—long a source of skepticism—cemented itself as a match of equals with a common goal: not eradicating the pop culture establishment, but seizing it in a guerrilla coup.West and his guild are armed with certain tools: radical honesty, Snapchat, art-school sensibility, a cooperative ethic, great music, fly clothes, and an unwavering belief in… Kanye West.
If you don’t love (or at least respect) what Kanye is doing, you haven’t been paying attention. His work verges on “high art” not because West is a delusional narcissist, but because he’s willed those delusions into reality. And that’s one mark of a great artist. Kanye has innovated everything he’s touched: It started with music but now includes fashion, media, the politics of fame, and even the politics of politics. Kanye would like you to hop aboard his West-bound train.
Here are West’s unfiltered remarks in full (watch below):
I am Kanye West. And that feels really great to say, especially this year.
I came here to present my new video but before I do that. I’ma talk. Now, later tonight “Famous” might lose to Beyoncé, but I can’t be mad. I’m always wishing for Beyoncé to win, so…
But for people to understand just how blessed we are, it was an expression of our now; our fame right now. Us on the inside of the TV. The audacity to put Anna Wintour right next to Donald Trump., I put ray j in it bro, like. This is fame, bro. Like…
I see you, Amber.
My wife is a G; Not a lot of peoples’ wives would let them say that.
We came over in the same boat; now we all in the same bed. Well, maybe, different boats, but you know. But if you think about it, last week there was 22 people murdered in Chicago. People came to me like, “That’s right. Taylor [Swift]. I love all of you. That’s why I called her.”
So I was speaking at the Art Institute last year and one kid came up to me and he said, “Three of my friends died and I don’t know if Ima be the next. You know when you’re a senior, and it’s like the last month and you just don’t feel like doing any more work. If you feel like you seeing people dying right next to you, you might feel like, “What’s the point?” Like life will feel start to feel worthless in a way.
I know times for me, I sit down and talk to older, rich people (aka white). they tell me, don’t compare yourself to Steve Jobs, don’t compare yourself to Walt Disney. And my friend … told me, “Don’t compare yourself to these people.” My friend told me there’s three keys to keeping people impoverished: that’s taking away their esteem, taking away their resources and taking away their role models. My role models are artist merchants. There’s less than 10 that I can name in history: Truman, Ford, Hughes, Disney, Jobs, West.
Bro. Bro!! Tonight, we’re here to have fun. I’m standing in front of my idol Puff Daddy. I’m standing in front of my wife, Kim Kardashian West. I’m standing in front of the future Chance the Rapper. 2 Chainz. Jaden Smith. Bro. We are undeniably the influence; the thought leaders. I’m gunna play ya’ll a piece of my art. And I just hope you all have a good time. Play that.