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By Andrew Rywak
Walter Payton
and Ally Stevens
Maine South

Since Kanye West’s “College Dropout” hit the shelves in early 2004, public opinion of the Chicago-bred rapper has been polarized.

Some people adore his sharp wit and confidence, while others detest his egocentrism and immaturity. In fact, his image pervades his lyrics so much that many music fans—supporters and critics—find his persona to be more important than his music.

“He’s arrogant and his music is mediocre,” said William McCarthy, a senior at Walter Payton. “He’s all style and no substance. His arrogance is not something students should look up to.”

Don’t tell that to Kenwood athlete Yusef Hood, who values Kanye’s commitment to raising his musical game. “He’s a role model because of his passion and commitment to his art,” Hood said. “I run track so I can appreciate his effort. He’s also a genius in his craft and the guy is just cool.”

That’s Kanye—love him or hate him—and the rapper probably wouldn’t have it any other way. West has been writing, and then breaking, the rules of hip-hop for nearly a decade. “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” the album he dropped in November, went platinum last month and has garnered the support of even those who dread him most.
Even West seems to be playing to both sides of his public persona. West will team up with Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant in “The Black Mamba”—but as the villain. West plays “The Boss” in the Nike-sponsored, six-minute film that makes its debut on Feb. 19.

West’s constant Twitter posts also provide comic relief to some and annoyance to others, including his latest, and arguably most controversial, tweet: “Yo Britney, I’m really happy for you and I’mma let you be #1, but me and Jay-Z’s single is one of the best songs of all time! LOL.” The post angered some people, who didn’t see the sense in making a joke about a still-controversial moment in West’s career when he interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.

“That is the one thing I don’t like about Kanye,” said Jordi Heasley, a Parma (Ohio) High School freshman. “I mean, his music is great, but that was such a horrible thing to do.”

Maine South assistant principal George A. Dagres said he doesn’t know much about West, “but I am aware that he crashed Taylor Swift’s moment at the VMAs, and I was disappointed by that.”

Antics aside, when it comes to his music, his longtime fans seem to love him more than ever—and Yeezy doesn’t plan to disappoint them. He tweeted in January that he plans to drop “Watch The Throne,” a joint album with Jay-Z, in March, and release another solo album this summer.

“It’s all about the music,” said Chanyalew Yemiru from Loyola Academy. “I’ve (listened to) him since the beginning and with every album he changes the sound of (his) music. I think we were blessed with a pop artist as over-the-top as West.”
Whitney Young’s Nick Frahm said that “if you look at him the right way, he is a role model of sorts. He’s definitely persevered when a lot of people have bad things to say about him.”

Critics certainly have had no shortage of bad things to say during a series of Kanye controversies. Besides the Swift backlash, his comments that George Bush “doesn’t care about black people” in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, an iconic, Christ-like Rolling Stone cover in which West wears a crown of thorns, and several award show incidents have provided plenty of material for haters to fume about.

“(Kanye) is what the opposite of a role model should be,” said Latin’s Prentiss Koldyke. “Equating his struggles with the struggles of Christ is absolutely ridiculous.”

Savannah Gramann, a junior at Walter Payton, is one of several teens who said Ye’s sometimes outrageous behavior and good-natured joking may mask a dark side borne out of his mother Donda West’s death in 2007 and a turbulent personal life, including a breakup in 2008 with Alexis Phifer, his fiancee at the time.

“I think his rise to fame has been a little heavier on him than he’d like to admit, and at the end of the day, he’s still just a person trying to cope with his issues,” Gramann said. “We’ve all had outbursts.”

Besides, for many fans, the music matters more than the “Monster.” “I think everyone should at least give his music a chance,” said Heasley, “he has his flaws but he is talented.”

>> DANIAJA DAVIS OF WHITNEY YOUNG CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT

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The Mash is the Chicago Tribune's newspaper and website written for teens, by teens. The paper is distributed for free each Thursday at Chicago-area high schools and is written largely by high school students.

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