Is Kanye West a Great Artist or a Great Marketer?

By Coral Mesika
 Kevin Winter / Staff
*Updated 2020
For over a decade, Kanye West has built an empire based on his success as a rapper, singer and music producer. He has shocked the public time after time with entertaining – and, occasionally infuriating – antics that have only made him even more famous. Whether he is speaking out against vaccinations or declaring his candidacy for US president, West knows how to grab the world’s attention. West’s “Yeezy” shoes and clothing line, the latter of which will now be specially designed for and sold at Gap, have given him a stage in the fashion industry, involving high-end collaborations. His never-ending spotlight between praise and criticism has raised the question: Is Kanye West a great artist? Or is he a decent one with great marketing skills?
Here are three arguments in favor of Kanye West as a great artist and three arguments supporting his being a great marketer.


Kanye West as a Great Artist


He is more than just a performer.

Kanye West started his career not as a rapper but as a producer. According to The Rolling Stone, West produced songs for Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys and many other big names in the music industry. Most of the time, the tracks weren’t associated with his name, because he produced for big record labels and wasn’t yet a known artist. After becoming a big name himself, he started his own label – GOOD Music – with Sony BMG, where he released John Legend’s albums. Not long ago, he also signed Chicago rapper Valee, making him a star practically overnight.


Kanye has a long-standing career

West officially began his career as a rapper/singer in 2004 with the release of his first album “The College Dropout” – a great success. Since then, he’s released 11 more albums, each experimenting with a new or different style. His latest, “Jesus is King,” shows this ability to explore new territory, reflecting his recent embrace of evangelical Christianity. He’s received 21 Grammy awards, tying only with Jay-Z and outnumbering every other rap artist. Furthermore, West’s biggest influence is how he reinvents himself through every album. He isn’t afraid to take a concept to the extreme and mold new styles into the music industry. While he may not be “the greatest artist of all time” as he has claimed, his long-standing career success speaks for itself.


He is influential.

In addition to creating and pushing new styles into his music, directing video clips like video art and designing clothing for the Gap, West changed the direction of hip hop after his first album release. Growing up in the suburbs, Kanye didn’t have a rough childhood like many other rappers before him. Rap was, until then, associated with violence, abuse and drugs that the rappers had experienced before pursuing their music. Kanye rapped about everyday problems, about topics that many people could commonly relate to. This new line of rap gave way to other major artists and led him to bridge the gap between mainstream and underground rappers.



 Kanye West as a decent performer but a great Marketer.


Outrageous Public Outbursts.

Think about the last time Kanye came up in a conversation: Did you talk about his music? Kanye has a long history of speaking very openly in the public eye and saying just about anything that comes to his mind. His unfiltered rants are very well-timed when he needs to get back into the spotlight. For example, his 2009 outburst at the VMAs will always be remembered as the time he ruined Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech, making it all about him. He used the VMAs as his stage again six years later, when he went on a 20-minute rant saying he will be running for president in 2020 – which he made official on July 4, 2020. Controversy surrounded West back in 2016 when he tweeted his support for President Trump. He has also publicly admitted to having an opioid addiction, and claimed black people “chose” slavery, all immediately after returning from a social media break. As a result, the public finds itself talking oh-so-much about the versatile rapper – but for the wrong reasons. Instead of discussing his music, we are left to judge impulsive antics and an over-inflated ego.


Kanye West as a Fashion Designer.

“Kanye as an artist” is a claim fortified by his other artistic forays; namely, his fashion career. Would his designs get as much attention if he weren’t Kanye?  According to Dazed Magazine, West took up internships at major fashion labels in order to learn the inner workings of the fashion industry. It seems that the rap star was granted these prestigious opportunities because of his celeb status, which led him wherever he wanted- including to the runway in 2011. Despite countless harsh critics commenting on his designs, he managed to continue on to his next collections, which still were not entirely accepted by the public. His 10-year collaboration with the Gap may be more about using his celebrity to save the company from bankruptcy than West’s design talent.


Wouldn’t just let the art speak

Kanye claimed he would be “the loudest voice of this generation.” A distinguished artist does not need to be the “loudest” voice – just an influential one. It is hard to take an artist seriously who claims to have so much power but does not acknowledge anyone around him (sans for fellow producers). It is also hard to focus on West as an artist when he is foraying into politics, religion and health – and, some say, in uninformed or irresponsible ways. For many, West’s greatest album is My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which was released in 2010; since then, it seems that Kanye is very busy trying to convince people he is amazing, rather than just letting his music do so.


Bottom LineKanye West has proven he can be a great music producer and rapper; however, it is difficult to take everything he does seriously given his public outbursts, or to separate his celebrity status from the quality of his works. What’s your take? Is Kanye a better artist or marketer?

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