The Hypostatic Union of Kanye West

While critics were busy calling him lost and confused, Kanye was writing Ye, his 8th album in a row to debut at #1. While they raced to publish op-eds questioning his mental stability, Kanye was negotiating the deal that would make him a billionaire. While they called his politics internalized self-hatred, Kanye was funding James Turrell’s Roden Crater and donating to victims of police brutality.

The New York Times headline The Battle for Kanye West Is Happening in Real Time reveals more than it lets on. Kanye is not a man. Just a prize to be won. As described by journalist Jon Caramanica, Kanye is merely “a vessel, not an agent” and “all around him, what amounts to a collective global rescue effort for his mind and soul…is playing out in real time.”

This is more than just garden variety condescension. It is dehumanization, disguised as sympathy for the mentally ill. No different than the rhetoric of colonialist missionaries professing to “save the souls” of heretic savages.

From the outside, Kanye is a mystery no one can quite grasp. Is he leftist, as he was in 2005 when he called out “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” on national TV? Far right, as he was portrayed for supporting Trump in 2016? Is he the sinner who wrote “Fuck you and your Hampton house, I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse”, or the saint who hosts Sunday Service?

There are at least three answers.

The first, is that he sold out, or converted. That Kanye was once “woke”, but has since fallen.

Second, that he’s ascended. Like the lovecraftian Old Ones, Kanye exists on a higher plane, leaving us capable only of witnessing his low-level earthly projection, and unable to comprehend behavior impossible in both our physics and our ideology.

Third, the tension lies not in him, but in ourselves. Kanye’s image has been mashed up, remixed and distorted so many times that each side sees only what they want to. Compare, for example, the Atlantic’s headline “Lou Reed Compares ‘Yeezus’ to Farting” to Reed’s actual review: “the guy really, really, really is talented. He’s really trying to raise the bar. No one’s near doing what he’s doing, it’s not even on the same planet.”.

Or to take a more nuanced musical case:

  • When Kanye performed New Slaves on SNL, it built in anger for 3 minutes, ending with “I’m 'bout to tear shit down, I’m ‘bout to air shit out, now what the fuck they gon’ say now?”
  • As performed live in concert, it contains the same line, but then pours out into an outro “I won’t end this high, not this time again…” followed by this incredible melodic hum from Frank Ocean.
  • On the album, there is yet a 3rd version, which follows Ocean’s chorus with a sample from the Hungarian band Omega. As described in that same Lou Reed review: he nails it beyond belief on ”New Slaves.” It’s mainly just voice and one or two synths, very sparse, and then it suddenly breaks out into this incredible melodic… God knows what. Frank Ocean sings this soaring part, then it segues into a moody sample of some Hungarian rock band from the ’70s. It literally gives me goosebumps… just overwhelmingly incredible.

The discord lies not in Kanye, but in our own refracted images of his work.

Our modern world is rife with contradictions, and if Kanye seems incomprehensible, it’s because he’s the only honest person living in it.

The rest of us are content to care for pet dogs, then go on to eat pork. To donate to charity while wearing clothes sewn by slaves. We make transpacific flights to attend climate conferences. Make vows to the sanctity of marriage then get divorced. We go out into society covered in the veil of civility as if we will not be naked, cold and alone each night before our final return to ashes.

Like all of us, he is stuck between animal and God. Both perfectly human and perfectly divine.

Kanye is merely the one who doesn’t turn away.