Washington University Celebrates ‘Genius’ Kanye West


David Krayden Ottawa Bureau Chief
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Hip-hop performer Kanye West is known for his public meltdowns as much as his music, but a professor at St. Louis’s Washington University says West should be considered a “genius.”

Jeffrey McCune is teaching “The Politics of Kanye West: Black Genius and Sonic Aesthetics.”  The College Fix reports that he had his maiden lecture last Thursday.

The course syllabus gets right to the point:  “Hip-Hop icon Kanye West is many things. Undeniably, he has had unprecedented impact on music, fashion, politics, and videography. Coupling his controversial moments, with his corpus of musical texts with special focus on sonic production, this course illuminates ‘Mr. West’ as a case study for interrogating the interplay between fame, gender, sexuality, and race.”

McCune says he has always wanted to present a course on West because the performer incorporates a lot of varied cultural aspects into this work.   But the course is also about black public figures and “what happens to them” when they become famous.

Whether fame is the reason for West’s often disruptive and bizarre behavior at award shows, his recent hospital visit after a reported mental breakdown or his possible political transformation to supporter of President Donald Trump, McCune doesn’t hazard to guess, insisting that West’s public image and private troubles are about how his life is “interpreted” and “misread” and how his music is “misperceived or distorted.”

McCune says he isn’t demanding that students accept West as a bonafide genius, just the possibility.

“It’s to suggest within the realm of hip-hop, the idea of black genius, actually is somewhat impossible, that black genius historically has been seen as paradoxical,” he told The College Fix. Using hip-hop music to locate geniuses, McCune said, “is actually a subversive way of accounting for the ways in which blackness or black culture is often demonized and discarded and seen as not as an intellectually robust location.”

The inaugural class offered a video clip featuring the two faces of a Kanye West, the hit-maker and the rant-maker, though critics have suggested it is difficult to differentiate between the two. Students were required to analyze the footage for traces of West’s “genius.”

A consequent class discussion raised the issues of nervousness and anxiety with McCune insisting that society has little time for vulnerable “icons” and dismisses anti-social behavior as a sign of inadequacy.

McCune offered this insight into the meltdown clip, suggesting that West sagely incorporates politics and failure because he is  “understanding failure as an opportunity.”

The course prescribes a broad reading list that includes “The Cultural Impact of Kanye West” and “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.”

Students must complete two essays: the first detailing “one iconographic Kanye West moment, to discuss how race, gender, and sexuality informs public reading and interpretation of given performance;” and the second answering the question, “How does Kanye West disrupt notions of ‘genius?’ and ‘How does he confound these understandings?’”