Kanye, Five Acts or More?

Kanye West performs
(Photo by Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for Roc Nation)

“I am Shakespeare in the flesh.”

Shakespeare’s tragic heroes share the same fatal flaw: consumed by passion leading to their ultimate demise.

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, avenges his father’s murder by causing six ancillary deaths. Eventually, he is slain by a poisonous sword. Macbeth, a Scottish General, obsessively sought political power, which led him to the battlefield where he was beheaded. Othello, general of the Venetian army, fell victim to delusional jealousy, marked by suspecting his lover of infidelity. Ultimately, Othello murders his lover before taking his own life. 


Kanye, Yeezy, raised by an intellectual and an activist, was fortified by his parents’ commitment to spreading their truth for societal change. Empowered by their activism, Kanye believed he would forever control his destiny, making a global impact through his music and beyond. Marked by fame and fortune, he declared himself a God, assumed his place in the universe as water, as a nucleus, even as Katniss Everdeen and Willy Wonka. Although applauded for his musical genius,  his persona has morphed into many things, much of which reflect his lack of control. The direction his destiny has taken has upended his logic and has labeled him somewhere out there, far out there. 


While his soundbites, “I’m a blowfish;” “I am in the lineage of Gil Scott-Heron, great activist-type artists. But I’m also in the lineage of a Miles Davis,”  make for memeable moments and accrue thousands of likes and shares (at his comedic expense), Kanye is exposing the underbelly of his struggle with humanity. 


His adopted ‘God Complex’ was conceived after he experienced profound pain beyond his control. Unlike music where Kanye tirelessly works to create the perfect sound, “Stronger” was mixed 50 times and worked on by eight engineers, he could not reverse the surgical complications that took his mother’s life. Months later, his six-year relationship and subsequent engagement ended. 


Death has an uncanny way of leaving us abandoned, directionless and distrusting those around us. Donda’s passing, the passing of his lifeline, left him with holes that could not be filled with more creativity or success. Instead, he is filled with anger, fear and anxiety: the hallmarks of grief. With the absence of his lifeline, his creative energy is blocked or perhaps it has transitioned to another platform. He is a husband and a father: a family structure that most definitely brings calm to his inner turmoil. 

However, it can take a life time to find peace after loss. And he is still young enough that he grapples much more with feeling blindsided by the unexpected loss rather than acceptance of life’s messy, fragile outcomes. He moves jerkily into his 5th Act, swimming in a sea of conflicting thoughts and agitated reactions. He is responding to the corruption of the entertainment and fashion industry while doing his best to maintain his moral integrity.  “My childlike creativity, purity and honesty / Is honestly being crowded by these grown thoughts / Reality is catching up with me / Taking my inner child, I’m fighting for custody.”  


None of us are immune to flaws. The problem with celebrity or any form of social/political power is the drive to get what they want, even cheat death (Mithridatism), is founded in complete stupidity. You can’t buy eternity, love, faithfulness or success. You have to earn most things in life. Kanye, like Hamlet, Macbeth and even Trump, think their power and place entitled them to live above the “ confines” of human nature.

Act I-Innocence

7815 S South Shore Dr, 

Chicago, IL 60649


“I’m talkin’ ’bout three by the head and three by the leg /

But you ain’t have to tell my girl I used to pee in the bed”

Humble beginnings made way for world-wide success. Working behind the boards as a producer, Kanye’s acute attention to detail helped him draw inspiration from the personas projected by many hip-hop artists. For years, he studied his contemporaries’ insecurities and crafted witty self-deprecating humor, such as: “I can’t even pronounce nothing past that Ver-say-see!” In a pink polo and a backpack, he exposed hip-hop’s biggest names.

Act II-Vulnerability: 

Centinela Freeman Hospital

Los Angeles, CA 

November 10, 2008

“I wish this song would really come true /

 I admit I still fantasize about you.”

Conceived in the wake of many personal hardships, 808s & Heartbreak (2008), was our first glimpse into a vulnerable Kanye. He is an introspective artist. Kanye caught himself chasing celebrity, vanity and wealth, sacrificing the very things that grounded him. This album brought obvious paradigm shift; Kanye’s traditional narrative and sound disappeared. Consumers were stripped of soul claps, pop culture references and witty hooks.


(Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)

Instead, Kanye delved into topics such as profound heartbreak, deep-seeded pain, and grief consumed him as his mother’s untimely passing and his separation from his fiancé left him exposed, no longer sheltered in the event of a storm. Under these circumstances, a pitched up Chaka Kahn or Ray Charles sample would not suffice.


A storm was raging in his heart and the 808 became his means of communication. No longer fit to be sung in unison by 50,000 people in a stadium, 808s & Heartbreak was intended to be consumed privately, in a bedroom, with quiet ruminations or on a lonely stretch of highway or  wooded trail ever reminding the audience of what it feels like to be abandoned because of death and loss

Act III-Redemption: 

Radio City Music Hall

New York City, NY

September 13, 2009

“Do it better than anybody you ever seen do it /

 Screams from the haters got a nice ring to it / 

I guess every superhero needs his theme music.”

Kanye experiences another loss, but this time at his own doing. Immediately, following the Taylor Swift stage-crash, Kanye’s public perception drastically changed. Until this moment, Kanye always had a love/hate relationship with the public. However, he knew that at the end of the day the music would be great


(Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

This incident was different. Taylor was America’s breakout country sweetheart. Twitter captured the, #KanyeWestShrug, looping a fragment of time and imprinting to millions of consumers Kanye at peak dislike-ability. With paparazzi clamoring at his doorstep, tracking his every move, Kanye underwent a self-imposed exile. He fled overseas in Japan and Italy, before returning to the stateside in Hawaii. 


He emerged angry, channeling his pent up creative energy Kanye produces a sonic middle finger to his detractors: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

Often referred to as his magnum opus, sitting at #353 of Rolling Stones’ ‘500 Greatest Albums of All-Time,’ My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy sought out to do just that, win the pubic back. 

Act IV-Anger: 

Paris, France

“No Name Hotel”

January 2013

“I just talked to Jesus/

He said, ‘What up, Yeezus? /

I said, ‘Shit I’m chilling /

Trying to stack these millions.”

In the years leading up to Yeezus (2013), Kanye’s creative ability was being challenged. The fashion industry was blocking his vision. He sat down with Sway to air out his frustration with the fashion industry: “How Sway?” Kanye barked. “You ain’t got the answers, man! You ain’t got the answers. I’ve been doing this more than you; you ain’t got the answers!” He also visited BBC 1’s Zane Lowe where he referred to himself as a God and once again, explained his frustration with the fashion industry: “I am trying to express that I can create outside of…the music box…and I’m just getting completely shut down by every single company…every single company you could imagine is just like, ‘No you’re a celebrity…you’re not allowed to create, you’re not allowed to think, you’re not allowed to have an opinion, you’re just here to wear a leather jacket and shut up.”


Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images)

The press runs were not working in his favor. In fact, they made way for more gifs and memes, mocking Kanye for his abrasive means of communication. He needed control. He returned to a familiar platform where he could not be silenced. 

Inspired by European electronic producers, Yeezus is riddled with harsh electronic riffs and daunting tones. Kanye served his most experimental and abrasive statement. 

Act V-Present: 

Los Angeles, CA


Isle of Wight, England 

Florence, Italy 


“I can’t let these people play me / 

Name one genius that ain’t crazy”

A chaotic roll-out makes The Life of Pablo (2016) still feels like a work in progress. The album borrows from all of Kanye’s previous acts, making it a fragmented compilation of bits and pieces of his mismatched psyche. Sonically, the album lacks structure. It’s a group of tracks, most of which, have no relationship to each other. The album lacks an underlying theme and leaves the listener wondering what message lies the lyrics. 


(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

The complexity that Kanye had grown accustomed to for more than a decade was substituted for a simplistic form. You wonder, what is the takeaway? Starring at a single-line pencil drawing from Picasso leaves the viewer questioning whether or not he meant to finish the piece or intentionally left the piece unfinished.  The genius behind these drawings lies in the notion that the viewer holds some responsibility for interpreting the abstraction. 


Reducing the complicated to something simple, epitomizing the “less is more” adage. Kanye, like Picasso, intentionally pulled familiar samples and beats from his catalog and placed them on the same project. 

Shakespeare’s plays followed a Five Act structure, no exceptions. But, this is Kanye. 


“Now I could let these dream killers kill my self-esteem /

Or use my arrogance as the steam to power my dreams.”