Is Rapper Kanye West An 'American Mozart?'

Download Audio
Singer and rapper Kanye West performs at Mawazine Festival in Rabat, Morocco in 2011. (AP)
Singer and rapper Kanye West performs at Mawazine Festival in Rabat, Morocco in 2011. (AP)

It's like the paper/plastic question at the supermarket checkout: Which rapper do you prefer, Jay-Z or Kanye West?

President Obama opted for Jay-Z when asked in an interview.

But writer David Samuels says that while Jay-Z is a great businessman, Kanye West is the greater artist.

'Genius Of The iPhone Era'

Samuels calls Kanye "the first true genius of the iPhone era" and "the Mozart of contemporary American music" for his ability to mix sounds, singing and rhyme in ways that speak to his audience.

"He has this unique ability to create the music that he rhymes to," he told Here & Now's Robin Young.

'He's Messy... Not In Control'

But West also gets a lot of attention for his personality, and wearing his emotions on his sleeve.

"He's messy, he's not in control necessarily of what he says in the moment," Samuels said.

That contrasts with Jay-Z, a calculated master of professionalism.

"For Jay-Z this is a performance, this is a business, a sport, whatever goes on inside the private Jay-Z you'll never see that," Samuels said. "[For] Kanye West it's all out there in the open."

Exhibit A is the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, when West jumped on stage and interrupted Taylor Swift's acceptance speech for Best Female Video of the year to tout Beyonce's video.

An Artistic Seriousness

"The Taylor Swift incident was a great example of Kanye being so in the moment that he couldn't see outside himself," Samuels said.

"It also was indicative of the weird artistic seriousness with which he takes himself in a genre where we've all decided, 'hey it's ok for things to be crappy, because it's all kindof crap that we listen to on our way to work.' He doesn't treat it that way, it's one of the reasons his work is so good."


  • David Samuels, contributor to The Atlantic, where his article "American Mozart" appeared

This segment aired on May 23, 2012.


More from Here & Now

Listen Live