When Jimmy Kimmel attempted to spoof Kanye West‘s already Internet-famous BBC interview earlier this week on his “Jimmy Kimmel Live” show, here’s how he began his monologue: “You’re not going to believe this, but he said a lot of weird stuff. He said he’s the number one rock star on the planet, whatever planet he’s on!” Studio audience laughter ensued. An incredulous groan could be heard after, “number one rock star.”
So, Jimmy, then, in 2013, who is the number one rock star on the planet? Kings of Leon? Nate Ruess from fun.? The festival-ready reincarnation of Guns N’ Roses?
“We culture,” said West in the interview’s climactic moment. “Rap is the new rock stars.”
Interviewer Zane Lowe agreed: “It’s been that way for a minute.”
And it has. Rock music still, and always will, rocks. But over a decade ago, hip-hop claimed a level of cultural ubiquity previously held by rock ‘n roll during its hotel room wrecking heyday, and its icons aren’t letting that title slip away any time soon. Hip-hop is the go-to genre for rebellion, the genre that’s most likely to get the powers that be in an uproar. Just read between the lines of the fear-mongering headline Fox News ran to present this very controversy: “Kanye West unhinged: Rapper goes on vicious rant against Jimmy Kimmel.“
It’s as if to say, “Lock your doors, crazed rapper on the loose!” Ex-Disney child stars looking to show their grown-up badassery aren’t picking up guitars and talking Zeppelin, they’re adopting hip-hop’s most visible dance trend (respectably or not, but that’s another argument) and attempting to spit verses on tracks produced by Mike Will Made It. Kimmel is right that West is not technically a rock musician, but today’s Keith Moons and Axl Roses are most certainly hip-hop stars.
And Kanye West is the most famous (and infamous) of all of them. From a cultural standpoint, West realizes what’s at stake and what he can accomplish for hip-hop culture, and also, African Americans. In the BBC Interview, he references his mother, Dr. Donda West’s part in the protests of America’s segregation era, and that’s what’s driving him to push his brand into places hip-hop is underrepresented — in this particular case, the world of high fashion.
As insular and removed as it may seem, luxury fashion matters. The trends set by top designers — at least the ones that catch on — ultimately trickle down in some way to everyday consumers and effect the clothing worn by the masses. Hip-hop has massive cultural clout, and it absolutely deserves to have a stronger voice in this discussion. The problem is that Kanye talking about dinners with Anna Wintour, failed Fendi submissions, and leather jogging pants is not going to connect with the general public — especially when West does so in such a crazed manner.
The common man tends to roll his eyes when hearing about this world, and when the man telling the story has such utter lack of self-awareness, he’s failing to do his job as the leader of a cultural movement. Then it’s time for late night comics to lob cheese ball jokes at a studio audience and West’s point — a great one at face value — is lost.
And to make matters worse, starting a Twitter war and calling Kimmel himself prior to the airing of his next show hasn’t done West any favors. Kimmel’s initial response to the BBC piece, a reenactment of the interview starring two children, was hardly funny and inspired virtually no uproar. West steps in, and all hell breaks loose. As a public figure with massive cultural influence, West has shown precious little restraint in reacting to the jabs he’ll undoubtedly be hit with. Perhaps he could consult Drake when it comes to laughing off a little teasing.
West knows culture. He is indeed a rock star, and one capable of changing the world. But until he learns to effectively communicate this to the masses, his highly worthwhile points will fall on deaf ears.