Swagger — required for greatness? Or just an American thing?

I’ve been posting/mentioning alot of Kanye lately on my facebook wall and I’m noticing a trend.

Americans like Kanye. The British do not.

It would seem, at least according to the cases on my wall, the Brit’s have a tendency to dismiss Kanye the musician because they dislike Kanye the person. As one Londoner wrote on my wall:

do you mean one should look past the egotistical, delusional musician that he is and just listen (ssshhh, really listen) to the ‘mastery’? If only it were that simple. He just isn’t good enough for that. He’s good, just not that good. Besides, if you know the guy’s a c**k it’s hard to like his music. Unless he’s ‘one of the best there is…’ which he ain’t.

All this nonsense about the ‘British press’ not ‘liking’ music from the States is absolutely absurd. Being a small island nation means we constantly try to prop up our own ‘talent’ whenever we can – and that may well be at the behest of our US cousins. But not only is British music journalism absolutely stellar, and always has been, but they tend to give credit where credit is due. What Brits tend not to like, however, are egotistical, delusional artists who swagger about preening themselves and their egos. Where’s the self-deprecation and modesty that comes with great art? (we’re not about showing off in the UK, see. we frown upon shows of exuberance). Hence why they’ll (probably) knock Kanye’s album. Or not. But that’s the simple truth.

He was responding to my joke (not really a joke) that the first negative reviews of Ye’s upcoming album will be by a British publication.

Another British friend reacted negatively to me calling Kanye’s SNL performance “one of the most visually impressive moments in television this year”. He responded to the video with:

this is the biggest pile of egotistical w*nk i’ve ever had to watch on youtube

I responded by saying “you can not like the music, fine, but you can’t possibly say this performance wasn’t visually impressive”

He messages me later, saying “I just don’t like him cause he’s so arrogant”.

It’s not just these two. I had another British friend–a super cynical music snob who thinks everything he doesn’t like is rubbish… I mean dude even runs a small magazine which bills itself as “the only mag in HK that matters”–and even though we no longer talk, I would bet my life he’s thinking/saying something similar about Kanye right now.

If we were to go by this small sample, the conclusion is: Americans embrace swagger, attitude, arrogance–as long as they can back it up–whereas British frowns on that.

But, only that’s not really the case, is it? One of the greatest British bands of this era, Oasis, are fronted by two of the most arrogant pricks in the history of the universe (but I love Noel though, I interviewed him last year and we were just bashing China. He’s a cocky twat but I love cocky twats if you can back it up). TV critic Charlie Brooker, whom I know nothing about but my British friends are huge fans of, carry this ridiculously snobby, high-horse riding “rubbish this rubbish that” attitude.

So huh?

I don’t think it’s a race thing, as much as some of the brothas wanna pull that card.

It’s probably just a clash of cultures. Americans like their artists to be overly proud, flamboyant, and over the top. Think Jordan, think Ali, think Ye, think Hova, etc. While British prefer artists who carry their arrogance in a more subtle way, I guess.

They’re still cocky as fuck, it’s just not as in-yo-face.

The thing is, to reach the top of your field–especially in the creative world–you have to have ego, pride and arrogance. It’s not something you can learn either, you either have it or you don’t. That’s why the guys at the top of what they do are usually eccentric people who’d look like weird fucks in the normal world–from icons like Lennon to contemporary greats like Thom Yorke or Jack White.

Normal, polite people don’t do greatness. Eccentric fucks with temper tantrums and attitude problems do. In most cases.

American culture celebrates greatness, coming out on top and the bragging rights that come along with winning. It’s a big part of sports culture, where trash-talking is the norm and winners should be damn proud–overly proud–of their achievements. That’s why that photo of Ali standing over fallen, defeated Sonny Liston, flexing and taunting, is one of the indelible images in American pop culture, that’s why Jordan’s absolute cut-throat killer instinct is celebrated, that’s why Ye bragging about being the best in the rap game is accepted.

Jordan is not a nice man. Dude once punched out a teammate, berated a 19 year old, and forced Isiah Thomas off the dream team due to personal vendetta. Last year, during his hall of fame acceptance speech, he gave one of the most venomous, vengeance-filled speech in the history of ceremonies.

But that’s what makes Jordan Jordan. Everyone agrees that his “fuck y’all, I’m the best and I’ll destroy anyone who gets in my way” attitude is what drove him to dominate a game ruled by bigger, taller man. It’s what drove him to become the best, the greatest of all time.

Kanye is a cocky motherfucker, no doubt. But you don’t reinvent the rap game by being humble, worrying about stepping toes and toeing lines.

You don’t have to like the dude. Hell, you don’t even have to like his music. But to dismiss it completely as if he’s a nobody just because of his mouth is wrong.

Especially when you turn around and then sing Champagne Supernova.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Swagger — required for greatness? Or just an American thing?

  1. mbatmanl

    noel gallagher. i agree that liam is an arrogant prick, but noel gallagher is just a straight up honest dude. he just says what he thinks, and refuses to dance around other people’s opinions. the only thing that he says that is construed arrogant is that “oasis is a best bad in the world” but that was only during the what’s the story phase, and that he’s england’s greatest living current songwriter (for current rock music, we’re not talking about paul mccartney). on both accounts, i think he’s right. during morning glory days, no band was better or bigger. nobody else ever sold out wembley stadium 3 shows in a row. and in regards to the greatest living english current songwriter, i can’t place anyone above him. Thom is close, but having no working class roots makes him a bit inaccessible. and damon, he’s a close 3rd, but he just isn’t as prolific with the singles.

    i think it’s funny you take a shot at champagne supernova. none of us in our lifetime will ever write a song that good, and that’s not even in noel’s top 20.

    i think one of the main contributing factors to this discussion might be the fact that the music is about being urban/working class. Hip hop is huge in america because that is OUR URBAN MUSIC. American Rock went the way of “erudite” in the 80s. But for the brits, URBAN MUSIC is still rock in roll. they just distinguish it between working class/art school. Hip hop is very much a foreign thing, and if it there is any good hip hop coming from europe, it’s a co-opted thing from the states, not purely European. it’s like jazz, Jazz will always be a true American art form.

    but blues based rock n roll will always REALLY belong to the brits.

    in that sense, i just think brits have a different outlook, and HIP HOP GREATNESS, which KANYE unabashedly is, fits within american culture more than it would any other. Unless the secondary culture is trying to become like the USA.

    so yeah, that’s where i find the distinction. i could be wrong, but as an american who gets hip hop and brit pop, this is how it plays out to me.

  2. mbatmanl

    oh, and by the way, i still thing hova is the king. Kanye is clearly the most “celebrity” but Jay-Z is undoubtedly still at the top of the game.

  3. lonewolfncub

    Dude I wasn’t taking a shot at CN, I love that song. I simply meant you cant like Oasis and then say you can’t stand kanye cause he’s arrogant. Which is what my Brit friends do.

    • mbatmanl

      i see what you were trying to say.

      There is one thing that i can agree with your brit friends though- sometimes, as good as the art is, when the artist is a complete fool, i can see how that colors the interpretation/value of the art.

      art is always interconnected with the artist. no one in their right mind would say that there is a complete disconnect.

      that’s why, for people who come from a culture of manners and stricter social structure, it’s understandable (though not necessarily how i see it, i mean, after all, i’m american) that the art is disliked because of the artist.

      the best example of this is gary glitter. anyone who digs their rock history and who has taste will acknowledge that “do you wanna touch me” is a GREAT RECORD in it of itself. but the fact that Glitter is a nasty pedophile makes that song instantly on the X list. it’s sad too, it’s a great groove, but often you have to see art in light of the artist. to demarcate the two is impossible.

      with that said, i’m not saying that kanye is like glitter. glitter is a monster, kanye just acts kinda foolish, SOMETIMES. as much as kanye is silly, he doesn’t deserve to have his records dismissed. they’re great.

      but like obama said “kanye is a jackass”.

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