I often wonder about the state of rock music. It feels like it’s been a long time since a balls to the wall, honest to god, melt your fucking face off rock band took over radio airwaves the way a band like Nirvana once did. The rock bands who do make it to mainstream radio nowadays are so tempered, it’s hard to tell them apart from the pop acts. Ke$ha and Carlie Rae Jepsen have more of a bite than Gotye or fun., and One Direction’s guitar riffs pounce more aggressively than The Kings of Leon’s.
Who are the rock bands? What is rock music? And most importantly, where are the rock stars? You might as well be looking at their pictures on the back of a milk cartoon.
I have a theory though: the rock stars no longer make rock music. They’ve left it behind. Instead, we have Beyonce Knowles selling out stadium tours. That’s rock star shit. We’ve got a bad asses like M.I.A. and Azealia Banks starting and finishing fights with everyone who flinches in their direction. That’s rock star shit.
And we have Kanye. That’s that rock star life.
It’s not the music you make that make you a rock star. It’s the life you live. Why else do you think Jimi Hendrix, who is technically a one-hit wonder, is considered a rock star when Rivers Cuomo isn’t? No one on the green Earth lives a rock star life better than Kanye West. I’m not going to rattle off a list of his best moments, because you already know about them. The guy is larger than life and he contains multitudes. He’s got that egotistical attitude that white folks love in their favorites. John Lennon is considered a bad ass for once saying The Beatles were bigger than Jesus and for fighting against governmental systems of oppression, so why does Kanye West get shit on for naming his upcoming album Yeezus, or saying that George Bush doesn’t care about black people? Why is fucking Dave Grohl or Brandon Flowers considered for rock star status before Kanye?
We already know the answer to that question. But what if Kanye was white?
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Kanye isn’t considered a rock star because he doesn’t make rock music. Honestly, it’s not hard to argue against that. Kanye’s music is closer to rock music than most rock bands’. We’re talking about an artist who has toured with U2, headlined rock festivals, and collaborated with more rockers than any other hip-hop artist. These days, you’re more likely to hear Black Sabbath or Marilyn Manson sampled on a Kanye album than you are to hear Chaka Kahn or Black Sabbath. Change the delivery slightly and change his skin tone drastically and bam! What rock song that’s been on the radio the past few years rocks harder than “Hell of a Life” or the three minute “guitar” solo at the end of “Runaway?”
If Kanye were white, his music would already be considered rock music.
With pale skin, Yeezy’s perception by the mainstream media would instantly transform from egotistical jerk to bad ass overnight. His Taylor Swift stagebomb would no longer be a mean black drunk picking on a cute little girl. It would be the desperate plea of a frustrated artist speaking up against the industry on behalf of “real” music fans. Saying that George Bush doesn’t care about black people becomes a heroic fight against oppression on behalf of a marginalized class.
And then others would follow in his footsteps.
Kanye is, if nothing else, a trendsetter. We’d all still be listening to Chingy and K-Kwon if Kanye hadn’t come along and put the soul back in hip-hop. Without the deep freeze crooning of 808s and Heartbreak, there is no Drake, Kid Cudi, The Weeknd, or Frank Ocean. After My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy became the most critically acclaimed album of all time, everyone from Lana Del Rey to fun. to, ironically enough, Taylor Swift rushed out to hire its producer Jeff Bhasker to freshen up their sound. And every artist I just mentioned gets more respect from the mainstream press than Kanye West, even though without him, there is no them. Put him in white skin and give him blonde hair and that all changes.
It really is a useless exercise to imagine him white though. In whiteface, Kanye couldn’t be Kanye. Like he said on Dark Fantasy, a black Beatle is just a fucking roach. The fire on his new songs “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves” comes directly from the frustration of being perhaps the greatest American musician in history, but being denied the recognition that should come with it. Kanye is a rock star, but since he doesn’t follow the guidelines of what a rock star should look like, he’s instead chastised for displaying the same behavior that would be praised in the fairer skinned race.
A rock star who is shit on for not following the rules? Only in white America.
The rock star is dead. Mainstream society refuses to allow itself to have rock stars unless those stars are paler than the moon. At this point, to be a rock star would have to mean having to submit to that establishment. Only those who attack the system can truly inherit the throne left by Axl Rose or Kurt Cobain.
Invariably, that person cannot be white. Because of that, that person would never be accepted as a rock star. That person is Kanye West.