Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)

Date Information

2018

Department

English

First Advisor

Michael Jaros

Abstract

Kanye West would be the first person to tell you that Kanye West is not ordinary. He is an artist, a producer, a visionary. He is crude, egotistical, impulsive. My undergraduate thesis, from which the proposed paper is taken, examines how West’s music reveals that his albums are created for much more than entertainment. What sets Kanye West apart from many of the rappers of his time is his reluctance to commodify his art and his vision for profit. The proposed paper will examine how, in his first several albums, Kanye uses his platform to expose the trap of several prevailing ideologies through music. Soyica Diggs Colbert comments on his debut album as a rapper, “The College Dropout,” noting that it “decries alienated labor and incorporates bitter irony with notions of transcendence” (54). In the proposed paper I shall examine how Kanye mixes in his experience as a middle-class African-American to criticize the meritocracy in America, demonstrating that that “meritocracy’s” real purpose is to create social hierarchies and further segregate people. Specifically, and because of how predominant racial commentary is in his music, I will focus primarily on the complicated race relations in the U.S. and how they contribute to what I call his “conceptual martyrdom.” His lyrics suggest fame, fortune, and success are empty dreams because they foster a false sense of security and happiness. Furthermore, Kanye accuses black people specifically of being most oblivious to the emptiness of these dreams. In the song, “All Falls Down” off “The College Dropout,” he raps “Things we buy to cover up what’s inside// Cause they made him hate ourselves and love they wealth” (West). My proposed paper will argue that this reward system breeds a ferocious consumer culture that equates material possession with success. As Chris Richardson has asserted, “West recognizes that a university degree is necessary for attaining status and the hope of a well-paying career but is also a way for the dominant culture to judge others and legitimate social hierarchies and segregation” (102). By questioning what is otherwise widely and passively accepted by most, Kanye’s likeability suffers. Ultimately, the proposed paper argues that Kanye’s character suffers an unfair metaphorical death because his vision promotes radical thinking about the current state of American culture. The media mistakes his confidence for arrogance, and remembers his passion as mania. This paper is intended to recover his character as a radical social critic instead of a methodless madman, revealing how his work provides insight and inspiration for those willing to listen.

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