Kanye West gets a lot of sh*t. It’s fair to say he’s a polarising character. Some people think he’s the biggest moron currently walking the planet. Some people think he genuinely is the Picasso of our generation and, well maybe a handful of people don’t know who he is. However, I think there are very powerful lessons to learn from Mr West; the most important being self-belief.
By all the traditional measures, Kanye is very successful. One of the biggest selling musicians of the 21st Century his current net worth is estimated at $160million, boosted recently through his Yeezy clothing and footwear label. He is married to a woman who has redefined a generation’s notion of sexy and together they have three healthy children. Whilst many successful hip-hop stars have come up from poor backgrounds, Kanye had a fairly middle class start. His father was a journalist and his mother a teacher, so whilst he hasn’t had any legs up in life, his drive is by no means a reaction to childhood deprivation. He didn’t need to escape anything.
Kanye has spoken openly about the lessons his mother taught him. He credits her for making him trust in his own potential, saying: “my mother made me believe in myself”. In fact, Kanye’s mother made him believe in himself so much that he has compared himself to: Andy Warhol, Michael Angelo, Pablo Picasso, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Shakespeare, even Nike. “I’m telling you, I am Warhol. I am the number one most impactful artist of our generation.” [Sirius XM]. Whilst it’s very easy to hear these statements, scoff and cringe and say “Touch The Sky is catchy but it’s not the Sistine Chapel”, when you actually tune in to what he’s saying, there’s a lot of power in it. Kanye is aware that all of the icons he’s calling out were people. They all ate, slept, drank and breathed in the same air as the many other billions of people who have lived. Where they have differed from most is in their pursuit of something; be it enabling lives through technology or writing stories. A lot of people didn’t understand Picasso’s work and a lot of people didn’t like Walt Disney. There were people who considered Warhol’s art stupid and embarrassing. But Warhol didn’t. Warhol believed in his vision.
“I always feel like I can do anything…thats the main thing that people are controlled by: their perception of themselves…if you’re taught you can’t do anything, you won’t do anything…I was taught I could do everything”. Most of us have grown up being told that arrogance is a bad trait. That you should want people to like you and that thinking you’re exceptional is a) untrue and b) something which will isolate you. As a result you suppress a certain level of self-belief. We teach ourselves that we are not the most talented, or the best looking, or the most charming. We then act in accordance with the level we’ve assigned ourselves, the level of success we believe we deserve and are capable of. Often parents, teachers and friends don’t deliberately instil these restrictions in you, but they believe them and so it filters through. Thinking whole heartedly that your ideas are more valuable than others or that you’re the best at something is an attitude considered un-acceptable. “I think there is people that are wired by their parents to understand what I am saying. And there is people that are wired by their parents to reject what I’m saying.”
Self-belief is a character trait of successful people in all fields. The 2007 movie ‘The Bucket List’ opens with a monologue delivered by Morgan Freeman in which he says “You measure yourself by the people who measure themselves by you.” This is in essence what Kanye is trying to do by comparing himself to these creative icons. Set a bar for greatness for himself to get to. One he whole-heartedly believes he can reach. “I’m on a pursuit of awesomeness, excellence is the bare minimum.” The truth is, that the only person who will ultimately limit you, is you and whether or not you believe that will in itself determine how far you go in your life. Of course power and money aren’t attractive to everyone, but self-fulfilment is surely attractive to everyone? Kanye is aware of the way people are controlled by a sense of inadequacy and set their bar for comparison accordingly; “I refuse to follow those rules…. the way they control people with low self-esteem”.
Kanye said, “If you’re a Kanye West fan you’re not a fan of me, you’re a fan of yourself” so perhaps this defence of the artist is purely a demonstration of my own narcissism. However, call it deluded if you want, I’m going to try and be a bit more Kanye when it comes to self-belief. He’s consistently delivered against goals which popular opinion deemed impossible. And when you deliver, you get the final word.
“When we’re born, we’re born artists, we’re born free. And then we’re held down by society’s perception of us. We just don’t wanna be embarrassed.” – Kanye West
If you’re interested in hearing from the man himself, watch his latest interview with Charlemagne Tha God, here on YouTube.
Lexy is a writer, DJ and marketing professional living in London. She is a gemini and a feminist who loves coffee and leather trousers. Instagram.com/lexonthedecks