The essence of Kanye West is contradiction. He’s a black liberationist with a hopeless appetite for luxury goods. He’s a porn addict who analyzes American history and politics in his spare time. He’s the most emotionally sensitive rapper to ever reach superstardom—and one of the world’s preeminent narcissists.

Kanye’s refusal to be defined or in any way boxed-in by pre-established archetypes is best illustrated by his dual love for the two most antagonistic sides of the hip-hop nation: The Conscious and the Ign'ant. One side demands that rap speak to social and political issues, and espouse a value system of self-respect, brotherhood, and collective well-being. The other side's credo is self-gratification by any means necessary, including but not limited to the cardinal sins: gluttony, wrath, greed, lust—getting yours right now no matter what, the next fool be damned. Or in other words, he wants to "cop 80 gold chains and go ign'ant." 

Half of what comes out of Kanye's mouth sounds like Chuck D. While the other half sounds like Willie D. Neither less convincing than the other. He never privileges one mode over another because he understands that both sides are honest and real and distinctly human. Balancing them, as he has for 10 years, has, somewhat counterintuively, helped him create one of the most potent, challenging, exciting catalogs of music in hip-hop history.

Don’t believe us? Just look at how he can make songs like "New Slaves" and "Black Skinheads" on the same album he gets called out by the American Parkinson Disease Association for rhyming, "Get this bitch shaking like Parkinson’s.” Or, just take a ride back in time as Complex traces the evolution of hip-hop’s most conflicted personality: It’s Conscious Kanye vs. Ign'ant Kanye...

Written by Sam Sweet

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