Kanye West will be the subject of an upcoming lecture at the prestigious Washington University, in St. Louis. You may be saying to yourself, didn’t someone already do this? Yes, you are correct. The same professor that brought you the “Politics of Kanye West: Black Genius and Sonic Aesthetics,” is at it again. Complex Music is reporting that Dr. Jeffrey McCune will be presenting a case study through a lecture titled “Name One Genius That Ain’t Crazy: Kanye West and the Politics of Self-Diagnosis.” The case will present how West is both a “genius” and “crazy” simultaneously. Something many of Ye’s most ardent defenders, fanboys, stans (*cough*) have been saying for years.
McCune will explore, through Ye’s public breakdowns and meltdowns, the larger framework of the way society uses labels like “crazy” and its impact. In comments to the media, McCune said:
Ultimately what I’m getting at in this lecture is not just about Kanye, it’s also about the larger notion of crazy and how we utilize it.
This is really interesting when run in tandem with something Ye himself said at the Oakland stop on his Saint Pablo Tour last year. I was at Oracle arena that night when Ye stopped to go on one of his famous rants and he said the following, I’m paraphrasing:
Why does society say crazy like it’s a bad thing?! Like oh man, he’s crazy something is wrong with him. Like, I know I’m crazy, but crazy to me is genius. Like wow, he’s crazy he’s gonna be the next Steve Jobs or Walt Disney.
This struggle and pull between “genius” and “crazy” is in my opinion what Ye has been wrestling with for years. This idea of being labeled and placed into a box he clearly cannot, nor has any desire to be constrained in. McCune’s lecture will also argue how race impacts and intensifies the label of “crazy” as a mental illness opposed to the use of the word in reference to someone who is seen as an innovator. No doubt drawing from the countless material available on the black experience and aesthetic in popular culture.
This is actually very important work being done by McCune, mental illness is another label we “otherize” in our society and using a popular figure like West can bring about the necessary high level conversation that is desperately needed. McCune says:
I want to give people permission to be enraged. Give people permission to be upset, to be angry, to be frustrated. Give people permission to have moments where they break. Give people permission to have moments where they experience depression. I want to give them permission to have those moments without being characterized as being some type of deviant figure in the community. I don’t want to take away that experience and call it crazy. It’s reasonable. And it must be addressed with love, compassion, care, generosity.
He’s done it. Kanye has become a subject within the hallowed halls of academia. Funny when you think back to College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation; the titles of his first three albums. The themes and issues he was dealing with around being an artist caught between the dream of his mother – and by extension every working/middle class minority parent – that he go to college and “succeed.” Versus the pull he was experiencing within to pursue an “education” through other means. The irony of West and his genius being discussed in the hallowed halls of academia is unmistakeable.
The lecture is set to take place this Wednesday at 6 pm on the Washington University campus in St. Louis. If you are in the area, it will most certainly be well worth it.