“I am standing up and I’m telling you, I am Warhol. I am the number one most impactful artist of our generation. I am Shakespeare in the flesh. Walt Disney. Nike. Google.”
— Kanye West
The above quote by famed rapper Kanye West is an extract of only one of the many rants the singer has gone on, comparing himself on other occasions to luminaries such as Steve Jobs, Howard Hughes, and most notably, Leonardo Da Vinci. “Now who’s gonna be the Medici family and stand up and let me create more? Or do you wanna marginalize me ’til I’m out of my moment?”
The confidence with which Kanye makes these statements, along with the general arrogance many attribute to his personality has sparked a great deal of discussion online regarding the subject, with several forums pitting Kanye against the man many consider to be the greatest writer in the English language to have ever lived – Shakespeare. The Oxford Union Debating Society even conducted a debate on the subject of whether or not Kanye West had surpassed the bard in terms of current relevance.
For many, it would seem that Kanye West wins this debate on sheer relatability- Kanye is a man producing music in the 21st century, very much in tune with the sentiments and thoughts of the times, while Shakespeare lived and died over four hundred years ago. Moreover, Kanye’s fame has spread far and wide due to his controversial statements and song lyrics (read: ‘I am a God’, a 2013 song by Kanye and a part of his album ‘Yeezus’), a direct result of which is this very article, which alongside several others attempts to seriously analyse the relevance of these two artists and the impact they are leaving and will have left when all is said and done.
Shakespeare, on the other hand, was a playwright. In a world where many feel that theatre is slowly becoming a dying art form, those in favour of Kanye’s supremacy as far as relevance is concerned say that Kanye is just more universally known and loved. What such critics overlook, however, is that The Royal Shakespeare Company succeed in introducing approximately fifty thousand new people every year to Shakespeare, and sell an approximate five hundred thousand tickets in total annually.
More importantly, Shakespeare is credited with having added over 1700 words to the English dictionary – words we know and use every day, including “dawn”, “hint” and “lower”. To say that Shakespeare is not relevant would be a grave injustice, but at the same time, saying that Kanye is more relevant than Shakespeare would be an even graver one. Even if we overlook the ocassional theory which claims that Shakespeare himself never existed and that the name was merely a pseudonym which many different writers used, the fact remains that the bard’s impact on the English language as we know has been unparalleled. Using a range of words, Shakespeare successfully managed to pen plays and sonnets on almost every human emotion, from love to despair. Many writers have claimed Shakespeare to be their major inspiration, citing his flexible and ingenious use of wordplay as beautiful to behold.
As much as academics might fawn over the world of Shakespeare, however, many still remain ignorant of the playwright’s work. For a great many people, it is far easier to plug in a set of earphones and enjoy Kanye’s latest song than it is to plod through the English used in Shakespeare’s text. This combined with the fact that Shakespeare is now also taught in schools, several children might relegate his work to the classroom, and fail to recognize it for the piece of entertainment it is meant to be (plays, after all, were meant to be enacted and watched, never read and studied).
This, however, is hardly a victory for Kanye. Famous as he may be, Kanye is not nearly as famous as he was even five years ago, which questions the very notion of whether his name, his fame, and his works will withstand the test of time in the same manner as Shakespeare has. The question we need to ask ourselves is whether Kanye will be praised and celebrated 400 years from now, and whether anyone will one day give Kanye the kind of reverent recognition Kanye himself gives Shakespeare by comparing himself to him. In other words, will anyone ever say, “I am Kanye in the flesh”?
-Contributed by Prithviraj
Picture Credits: theculturesupplier.com