Kanye West is arguably one of the most ridiculous, recognizable public figures in popular culture. As he is often considered outspoken and confident to a fault, the artist’s outstanding discography and vulnerable lyrics are too frequently overshadowed by his public persona. Underneath West’s outrageous outward character lies a story framed by great triumphs and unbearable sources of grief.
West’s personal story is one of the main topics discussed in UC Berkeley’s very own Kanye West DeCal. Allie Del Conte, Ghassan Makhoul, Ranel Troy Santos and Lizi Vidar currently facilitate the class. Once a week, they compile and dissect West’s poignant lyrics, emotional performances and family background to render the story of a complex, passionate individual. But taking the time to contemplate West’s genuine self not only reveals the origin of his actions and artistic progression but also creates space to discuss broader, societally relevant themes such as the perception of celebrity and racial inequality.
On Saturday, Cloyne Court hosted a mini-lecture given by the Kanye DeCal that featured examinations of the artist’s personal story, raw lyrics and thought-provoking nature as a public figure. Cloyne Court has undergone massive change in the past year, transforming into the academically themed substance-free co-op that it is today. Academic programming — such as West mini-lectures, square-dancing lessons and evening discussions on prejudice and stigma — is now regularly incorporated into Cloyne residents’ schedules. Saturday’s West discussion wholly embodied the co-op’s new academic focus by emphasizing the importance of broadening horizons and gaining perspective.
Three of the four current Kanye DeCal facilitators, along with one of the founding facilitators, Jennifer Fei, led the mini-lecture. Though the DeCal explores multiple facets of West’s career and life, the facilitators used Saturday to focus on West’s family and its influence on his work.
Throughout the talk, attendees listened to “Hey Mama” (2005) and “Only One” (2015). The former illustrates the devoted relationship shared by West and his mother, Donda West. “They were best friends,” Makhoul explains. An extremely loving, relentlessly supportive woman, Donda passed away in 2007. Her death noticeably changed West’s style in the artist’s following album, 808s & Heartbreak (2008). Filled with fresh grief, pain and regret, 808s & Heartbreak is best listened to with Donda in mind.
“Only One,” released earlier this year, is a product of collaborations between West and Paul McCartney. West reports that “Only One” is a medium through which his mother, Donda, sang to him and North West. Representative of intimate conversations between West, his mother, his wife and his child, “Only One” further displays the intense influence that loved ones have had on West. After finding “two angels” (Kim Kardashian and North West), as described in “Only One,” West’s style became noticeably more positive.
These tracks speak to the vulnerable, poetic side of West. They help form a better understanding of the profound individual that lies beneath opinionated outbursts and ridiculous performances.
Uncovering the intimate personality beneath West’s public face brings to question many relevant, engaging issues. The nature of celebrity perception is a big theme — the facilitators constantly try to look past the public image of West in an attempt to unearth his true character. Realizing that Kanye West is, in fact, a real human being reminds us to limit judgement and remain constantly open-minded.
The facilitators explain that further examining West’s life experiences and music can also elicit engaging discussion on issues of racial and socioeconomic inequality. Despite his notoriety and success, the artist still encounters barriers potentially connected to racial discrimination — namely in the fashion industry. Studying West has the potential to widen perspectives and prompt deep self-reflection. But the profoundness of the mini-lecture cannot be described in a blog post alone. For further analysis and golden nuggets of West fun facts, you’ll have to take the DeCal next semester.
Contact Claralyse Palmer at [email protected]