Charismatic Leadership Through the Lens of a “Rap God”

Kanye West is extraordinary in many ways. As a producer, rapper, and fashion designer, Ye is worshipped for his innovative thinking and ingenious products. However, there’s no need to explain why Kanye is so great when he will tell you himself. People have always been quick to judge Kanye and his boisterous attitude. Then again, it is not often when someone describes themselves as a god. Before labelling Kanye as an egotistical maniac, it is important to analysis why Ye gives himself such high praise, and more importantly, why people believe it.

giphyYe receives a lot of attention for his outrageous commentary on society and himself, such as the time he boldly stated “My greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live” (Jedeikin, 2012). In alignment with social theorist Max Weber’s definition of charismatic leaders, Kanye does not speak to please the majority, or “does not derive his claims from the wills of his followers” (Economy and Society, 1978: 1113). Rather, Kanye is akin to charismatic leaders in that he is quick to criticize and share his unique ideas, putting the “duty [on his followers] to recognize his charisma” (Economy and Society, 1978: 1113). In an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, Ye addresses his critics, saying, “they call me ‘Wacko Kanye.’ Isn’t that so funny? That people point fingers at the people who have influenced us the most. They talk the most shit about the people who cared the most” (Weiss, 2016). Kanye is unapologetically himself in all that he does and lets his success speak for itself.

Another key characteristic of Weber’s charismatic leadership includes “specific gifts of body and mind that [are] considered ‘supernatural’” (Economy and Society, 1978: 1112). Ye admittedly has a list of credentials to back up his larger than life persona. Kanye’s feature in Time magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People is just one of the many awards he has received acknowledging him for his groundbreaking influence in pop culture (Musk 2015). As a producer, Kanye is considered a trailblazer for modern hip-hop and rap. Top music moguls, such as Russell Simmons, praise Ye for “his genius, his tenacity, his creativity, his relentlessness and his madness” within the music industry (Boardman, 2013). Furthermore, as a sneaker designer, Kanye has been deemed the “King of Shoes” (Bell 2015). His shoes, Yeezy Boosts, are so insanely popular that although they are originally priced at $200, they often resell for thousands of dollars a pair. Kanye West’s success is not the same as Drake’s or Justin Bieber’s; Ye transcends the mainstream form of popularity and captures audiences with his extraordinary and innovative creativity.

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Kanye’s unconventional stage design for his Saint Pablo Tour 

Sociologist, Marlene Fiol’s (1999) investigates how charismatic leadership initiates social change, specifically noting the deconstruction of social norms with the reconstruction of new ideas. As a producer, Kanye epitomizes Fiol’s observations in that he rejects standard recording processes and uses inventive techniques to create music that are then replicated by other artists. A Vox Media video (2016) analyzes Kanye and his unique ability to digitally manipulate the human voice to fill “every nook and cranny in his music”, which is just one of the ways Kanye continues to transform hip-hop music.

Although celebrity worship is a popular modern phenomenon, few fans worship celebrities like Kanye’s fans worship him. Yeezianity, or The Church of Yeezus, wasunavngiven.gif created by a loyal Kanye West fan in the wake of the rapper’s seventh album, Yeezus. The group claims to believe in Yeezus, as the “highest living human being… (who) will help to usher in a New Age of humanity.” The creator of the Church of Yeezus, Ben Liebman, relates Kanye to Jesus in that “the idea of becoming like Jesus is intimidating; it is blinding, his perfection is so unbelievable – like looking at the sun… [Kanye] is a stepping stone to Jesus…a realistic current day model of Jesus” (Dodge, 2014). Yeezianity may be extreme, but Kanye’s immense success and super-human persona presents the perfect icon for young audiences to idolize, especially in a society that places so much power on celebrity figures.

The fact is, Kanye West is a genius and he knows it. His boundless creativity in music and in fashion never goes unrecognized, and his ability to capture audiences and have them believe that he is, indeed, superhuman is a skill that few possess. Kanye will always be remembered for his ingenious music-making ability. However, like many other charismatic leaders, Ye’s legacy will include his passionate speeches and memorable quotes. I, for one, can sympathize with Kanye’s greatest pain in life (to never be able to see himself perform live), for a charismatic performer as captivating as Kanye truly only comes once in a lifetime.

Work Cited

Bell, J. (2015, October 22). FN Crowns Kanye West ‘King Of Shoes’ For Yeezy Boost. Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://footwearnews.com/2015/fashion/designers/kanye-west-yeezy-boost-shoe-of-the-year-award-2015-footwear-news-achievement-awards-164129/

Boardman, M. (2013, December 02). Russell Simmons: Kanye West Is A ‘Genius’ Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/02/russell-simmons-kanye-west-genius_n_4372056.html

Dodge, S. (2014, January 24). EXCLUSIVE: Meet the unemployed middle class boy from New York behind the religion that reveres Kanye West. Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2545338/Meet-unemployed-middle-class-boy-New-York-bizarre-celebrity-religion-Yeezianity-inspired-Kanye-West.html

Fiol, C. M., Drew Harris and Robert House. 1999. “Charismatic Leadership: Strategies for Effecting Social Change.” The Leadership Quarterly 10(3):449-482 (https://search-proquest-com.ez.hamilton.edu/docview/60392356?accountid=11264).

Jedeikin, D. (2013). 15 Most Ridiculous Kanye West Quotes. Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://www.smosh.com/smosh-pit/articles/17-ridiculous-kanye-west-quotes

Musk, E. (2015, April 15). Kanye West. Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://time.com/3822841/kanye-west-2015-time-100/

Weber, M. (1968). Economy and Society (Vol. 2) (G. Roth & C. Wittich, Eds.). Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

Weiss, S. (2016, October 20). Kanye West Went on a Passionate Rant About Changing the World on ‘Ellen’ Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://www.complex.com/music/2016/05/kanye-west-passionate-rant-changing-world-ellen

(2016, September 01). Retrieved May 13, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgJyhKEZ8QU