Is Kanye West still Chicago?

December 17, 2013|By Ernest Wilkins, @ErnestWilkins | RedEye Sound Board

"Never think that I'm not from Chicago for one second."

In the six months since Kanye West released his sixth album, "Yeezus," he has, of course, said a lot. Yet the above affirmation, said rather pointedly to Jimmy Kimmel in October, stands out among all of the rapper's other quotables. Why? Because a growing movement of locals have shunned the Chicago-raised icon, and the question remains: Is Kanye still a Chicagoan till' Chicago ends?

Some would argue no -- he doesn't possess a full-time residence here, rarely comes to town and flaunts an image-conscious outlook far more associated with L.A. or NYC than the Midwest. I would argue that his ability to challenge the status quo, however frustratingly he chooses to do it, embodies the Chicago mentality through and through. Kanye didn't have to do things like give rising local artists King L and Chief Keef center-stage appearances on his record, but he did.

Speaking of those two, let's re-address that quote. In context, Kanye's referring to his frustration with paparazzi and anyone who talks smack to him. It's meant as a threat. See, in this case, Kanye's from CHICAGO. The one you see on your nightly news. The one with the body counts. The one you should be scared of. That type of correlation does this city no favors, and you would think someone from here would try and downplay that kind of thing.

Then you remember who's talking, roll your eyes and move on.

Kanye's outbursts, while informative and, dare I say, completely accurate when you get past the histrionics, have not endeared him to anyone. His frank ability to claim, for example, that Kim Kardashian has more influence on pop culture than the First Lady has irritated and shocked. He's losing the support of the people who rode for him post-Taylor Swift-gate and post-George W. Bush-related statements. People who had his back no longer do. When his delayed "Yeezus" tour comes to town Tuesday, expect to see both an outpouring of support and enough backlash to make you wonder if probably the biggest rapper and possibly the biggest celebrity this city has ever produced has lost his way with his tribe.

Folks around here know about the corruption and classism that Kanye spent his summer and fall ranting against. They also know that actions like selling $150 T-shirts (through his line with A.P.C) kind of paint him as a hypocrite. Can you still claim to stand up for the common man while you're wearing $3,000 sneakers?

It's telling that this backlash comes on the heels of his most visceral release to date. So many months later, plenty of us don't know what to do with "Yeezus." Songs like "On Sight" don't sound like anything else being released by mainstream artists of Kanye's stature. Critics and folks who write about music all day notwithstanding, a lot of people were turned off by it.

Nevertheless, Kanye's quote isn't inaccurate. He's a product of hundreds of years of complex racial and social issues, emboldened by intellectuals but still confrontational enough to uppercut somebody if he feels disrespected. He's a house-music-appreciating, rap-loving ball of hyperbole who always shows you a good time even when you get annoyed with him. If that isn't Chicago, then what is?

Kanye West
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, 8 p.m. Wednesday at United Center. $39.50-$199.50.

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