The Village Voice report and commentary today (September 30) about the Kanye West/ Jimmy Kimmel tweet-war signaled more than a juvenile spat between the two celebrities; focusing on the issue of the fragile race relations in the U.S. Before this back-and-forth went further out of hand, Kanye West deleted his derogatory tweets about Kimmel only a few hours ago. However, most critics failed to define the other culprit in this entire ‘trending’ saga :The music industry.
What was perhaps missed throughout the West/Kimmel ordeal was much more than the egotistical statements made by West during a BBC Radio 1 interview. Anyone who is aware of the turmoils within the music industry could easily pinpoint as to where the obstinate West wants to go at this stage in his career: Anywhere but music. This has nothing to do with ‘race relations’.
What was ignored in the entire BBC Radio 1 interview was, perhaps, easy to miss; West’s antics full of ‘entertainment value’ did not leave much room for the contemplation of why this successful hip-hop artist was so adamant about being in the fashion industry. (Also architecture, film, ad infinitum.) West vented his wild frustrations about not getting a break (from a yet-to-be-found unquestioning sponsor for all of his wild ideas) after having proven his ‘genius’ in so many ways. While basking in his own grandiosity, it is actually quite easy to miss that West wants to go into branding; the recent buzz-word in the music industry that will finally lead the way for industry gate-keepers to hand the musical keys to the fashion and advertising industries; along with whomever wants a piece of the shrinking pie.
Not unlike Jay-Z and Dr. Dre, the solipsistic Kanye West also wants his name to be a globally recognized ‘brand’. He wants to create the next Nike and Apple, he feels that his ideas have the makings of a Steve Jobs with a style sense of Gianni Versace. (It’s assumed that he feels his status as the new ‘Beethoven’ is already established.)
Easy to dismiss his blurred vision for obvious reasons, but the etiolated music industry has seen branding as an important way to increase income. After the mismanagement that finally led to a decrease of half the industry’s monetary worth in 10 years (and blaming it all on pirates), the industry wanted to legally get married to various other industries for a quick bailout. For instance, they could easily be a sister of the fashion industry and also a loyal concubine (licensing partner) of the advertising industry. All they had to do was to balance the dwindling album sales with the ‘branding’ value of their artists, who would — in return — bring increasing value to various products. For the select few, the strategy worked.
What looked like a logical revenue for a lot of musicians, producers and (mostly) music business executives, turned out to be a nightmare when so many of them found themselves in businesses they had no expertise in. Yet the focus was more on transforming the industry (and it’s key players) to be anything other than musicians; they had hit records after all, didn’t they? They could do anything: Viva the American dream! They could be entrepreneurs and spokespeople for cars, shaving creams, deodorants and there was much more (easy) money to be made this way, rather than tackling the main buzz-kill issues such as;
a) A fair income distribution from the labels to the artists and songwriters,
b) Re-establishing the now defunct artist development and other A&R (artists and repertoire) departments in record labels,
c) Focusing more on music education after 10 years of continuous decline to stimulate the re-growth of an ailing industry with educated new generations.
Kanye West is not the only one trying to get out of the music business; his ego and success may have led him to believe that he can be a master of all things, but he is the jack of only one trade; hip-hop. If he abandons this gift, he can certainly hang out with the former Puff Daddys of the fleeting pop-charts to find out what ‘branding’ really means.
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