Hip-hop and fashion have always been tied together. Street wear brands are part of a rapper’s image and whom they represent. They may have their own line or support a brand that they like. Kanye started out that way, but he became more and more interested in his personal style and clothing. This performance brought out his love for fashion and his unique taste by wearing a silk women’s blouse by the fashion house, Celine. His internship with the brand Fendi, must have taught him a thing or two about appreciation of fine craftsmanship. West’s wearing of this shirt was a statement that his views of hip-hop were changing. A rapper no longer had to wear the generic sagging jeans and a fitted hat to be cool. He showed that one could express their style however they wanted and people would find a way to accept it. At the latest VMA’s Lil’ Wayne was seen wearing women’s leopard print leggings, so it is obvious that that barrier has started to be broken down. It was not cross-dressing, but it was something no one did on a regular basis before that. West’s use of feathered ballerinas doing modern dance as part of the performance was a quite obvious reference to the recent movie,‘ Black Swan’ and drawn from pop culture. The theatrics in this performance were something to behold. In the back of the stage, the bass relief stone sculpture piece is something of a classical reference circa ancient Greek wall carvings. The juxtaposition of two different forms of what people think are classical was beautifully shown with ‘classical’ dancers (the ballerinas) and the classical form of art and sculpture. Aside from this, the stage was sparse and the audience was made to focus on Mr. West alone. These aesthetics are completely different from what a very general rap audience is used to. At times it seems as if Kanye is trying to almost educate his viewers about class and how it should be shown through personal style and production aesthetics.
This performance turned around a lot of past feelings towards West’s viability as a live performer. His set at Bonnaroo was hours late, and his shows previously had been heavy on lights and lasers. This show was none of that. It was driven by his vision. It was theatrical in scale but still held intimacy in the sparseness of the stage itself. I don’t think West even thought he was going to receive the acclaim and love he did that night. He took the crowd into a dark place with some of his songs and showed his vulnerability. At times, when he was the only person up there, he looked weak. And it was okay. Though he masked it with his larger that human persona, you could see it. There are plenty of rap songs about family and friends and mentions of brothers who have passed, but when West sings ‘Hey Mama,’ it sounds more like a son pouring out his heart than a musician just singing a song about his mom. There aren’t very many musicians out there who contribute to rap music and are able to show when they get emotional about their parents. Acting tough is just part of the image one is supposed to portray within the genre. West challenges this, as he challenges a lot of ideas about how products out of rap music should be depicted.
Kanye’s performance at Coachella was one that signified him coming into his own and finding his place is pop culture history. He truly brought artists together and not just in a musically collaborative way. By combining the work of dancers, musicians, and visualizers, Kanye turns from rapper into a visionary. This performance may seem hardly monumental to the average viewer, but the fact that West has taken the first step to break down many unspoken stereotypes in rap, hip-hop, and even pop culture is a very big deal. He definitely still sticks to some of the roots that he began his career with, but honestly, his growth is further than any other musician in his field. Instead of falling right back into the rap game after his somewhat lackluster success with “808s & Heartbreak”, he melds the two different styles he’s been experimenting with and creates something new…and visualizes it. Aside from award shows and music videos, this may be the first rap concert that was eloquently staged to reflect current culture, draw from other aspects of highbrow culture as well as pull from the music itself. Leave it to an already controversial figure to have a performance that doesn’t stir controversy, but instead, begins to bring about change in an popularly scrutinized field.