Keep your master’s thesis about Lady Gaga’s gender-bending antics, I’m sticking with Kanye. No other pop star in the last 10, 15, maybe even 20 years is such a compelling whirlwind of contradictions. And no other element of his character is more alluring than his powers of reflection. For a man whose every move is played out on the public stage and whose every artistic gesture is a apology/justification of those moves, Kanye’s ability to understand his own strange station is unparalleled in pop music. Kanye, unlike any other rapper of his generation, understands that his confidence doesn’t ring true until he shows you his insecurities. The impact of his best work, then, depends entirely on displaying both sides of his character simultaneously.
Borrowing from King Crimson’s terrifying “21st Century Schizoid Man,” the first song to leak from his forthcoming Good Ass Job is, indeed, a schizophrenic work that speaks to the contradictions that define Kanye’s fame. And for a man whose career seems to be increasingly threatened by his public weirdness, Kanye is quick to remind listeners of the complex power dynamic between celebrity and the public that confers it: “No man should have all that power.” Over the vaguely tribal cadence calls, Ye becomes increasingly defensive: “At the end of the day, goddamit, I’m killing this shit/I know damn well y’all feelin’ this shit.” But in the end, Kanye recognizes what should be his real role: “I got the power to make your life so exciting.” But it’s only at that moment that the song takes off: the so exciting from the last line echoes out until it imperceptibly morphs into suicide. The song ends with Kanye contemplating a beautiful death at his own hand. What begins as an aggressive response to his very public breakdown over the past few years ends with a broken Kanye standing at an open window. Try to imagine Lady Gaga airing her suicidal thoughts and then it becomes clear that Kanye is light years ahead of anyone else.