In the original Ghostbusters, there’s a scene where the titular heroes try to explain the ramifications of the impending disaster on its way to New York City to the skeptical mayor, listing some of the upcoming afflictions. Fire and brimstone, seas boiling, forty years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes, “dogs and cats living together,” and mass hysteria are listed as some of the coming reactions. While those are pretty over-the-top, I think it’s pretty fair to say that they pale in comparison to the reaction to a Kanye West album announcement.
That last one might be a pretty accurate summation of the music world’s collective response to the notoriously mercurial and mysteriously elusive musician’s recent tweets promising not just one, but two new projects arriving in relatively short order. One is supposedly a seven-song solo collection marked for a June 1 release, the other is a group effort featuring Kid Cudi dropping just a week later. Apparently, the name of the group is See Kids Ghost, which has also caused a considerable amount of consternation from fans struggling to decipher its meaning and significance to both of its members’ recent biographies. Even his announcement that the lesser denizens of the GOOD Music pantheon would also be releasing albums this summer led to a frenzy of activity on Twitter.
Such is the magnetic force of Kanye West. While I was exaggerating in comparing the reaction to his announcement to the biblical Armageddon warned of in Ghostbusters, it’s no stretch to say that Kanye has a sort of gravity very few other musicians have. Across genres, age groups, and even other forms of popular culture, when Kanye West makes a move, the whole world moves with him.
However, that reaction is even more warranted and understandable than ever after Kanye spent practically the whole of 2017 lying low after a much-publicized onstage meltdown and the vehement backlash to his seeming support of then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump. Ye’s personality is outsized that when he doesn’t make any public moves for a year, the resulting vacuum has to be filled with speculation, with wonderment, with impatience, so that when he returned to Twitter this week, the news arrived with the force of a multi-megaton bomb.
Even when his return to the platform resulted in little more than stubbornly opaque philosophizing he made headlines because you simply can’t not cover Kanye West being Kanye West. No other artist in hip-hop even comes close to having the same level of cultural import. He’s transcended hip-hop entirely at this point; yes, he’s still a rapper, and yes, he’s still both steeped in and integral to hip-hop as both music and culture, but he’s also bigger than just hip-hop. He’s a rock star, legitimately and thoroughly, of the original, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Michael Jackson variety. Nicki Minaj, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Jay-Z all come close but also pale in comparison somehow to the way Kanye manages to use up all available air in the atmosphere, at once a black hole and a supernova, totally irresistible and completely unavoidable. You just can’t look away, even if you know you should.
We know we have to take his announcements with a grain of salt and a healthy dose of skepticism after his Pablo shenanigans. We know he’s impulsive, impatient, fickle, volatile, and capricious. Those tweets could vanish at any moment, like so many of his others, to be replaced by other promises, compromises, opinions, or indeed, nothing at all. It’s who he is, it’s what he does. When he called himself a “god,” he wasn’t referring to the Hebrew Yahweh or Allah or any of our modern deities we reverently worship at our various temples, synagogues, and mosques, he was comparing himself to the old gods, the Jupiters and Marduks, the ones who did what they wanted when they wanted and didn’t care how it affected small human lives.
Kanye hurls his lightning bolts from the mountaintops at a whim, unconscious of how it will upset the natural order — or perhaps all too aware of it, amused to watch Twitter and rap blogs, and even athletic teams scurry and scramble to find some appropriate reaction, no matter how insignificant or excessive. Nothing seems too unreasonable when Kanye sends out the clarion call to stand on watch for his impending return. Whether his new albums are full of fire and brimstone, whether they bring about Armageddon or world peace, or whether the first weeks of June come and go without a whisper from West, the entire world will stand still, watching and waiting to venerate music’s last real god of rock-and-roll.