Kanye West annoys a lot of people because of his ego, and because he doesn’t rely on others to call him a genius. He’ll tell you right away that he is one, and a misunderstood one at that. But is that entirely a bad thing? Consider Picasso, who Kanye mentions in this off-the-cuff, occasionally rambling, very Kanye talk recorded at the Oxford University in March of 2015. Picasso was a man roundly considered by biographers and fellow artists (not to mention the women who modeled for him) as a raging egomaniac. He thought he was God, but fortunately Picasso didn’t have Twitter to announce it. (Kanye, however, wrote “I Am a God”). Time and distance and death have softened what to many people was a reprehensible blowhard because of the beauty and magnificence he left behind. So what about Kanye?
Over 40 minutes, which you can watch above with the help of this transcript to deal with the rather poor audio, West makes the case for becoming a modern Renaissance person, and aiming to be not just as famous as a Picasso, but--and here’s where most of us shake our heads--better than Picasso.
How dare he? But Picasso was very good at branding himself during his later years, tossing off drawings to give to business owners instead of paying cash. He and Dali were more shameless in fact than West in turning fame into gold. Why not set your sights on surpassing that ego? Picasso was 56 when he completed "Guernica". West has a ways to go.
There’s plenty of “Kanye” moments in the talk. He compares The Matrix to the Bible. He talks dismissively about $5,000 sweaters while designing such goods. He lets you know that Obama has his private number. He talks class.
But there’s also ample evidence that Kanye realizes the place he has found himself and isn’t planning on squandering that chance. Two years after the divisive album Yeezus, Kanye says this.
One of my biggest problems, one of my biggest Achille’s heels has been my ego. And if I, Kanye West, the very person, can remove my ego, I think there’s hope for everyone.
The video above was made available online this week, thanks to the Oxford Guild, the student organization that hosted Kanye's lecture.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast, now in its second season. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.