Kanye West. Rapper, pop star. He's iconic and an iconoclast, both. He's not afraid to reinvent himself with each new album, and he clearly, clearly has no problem saying what's on his mind. If that reminds you of someone, let Mr. West be sure you know who, that's Steve Jobs.
In an interview with the New York Times, Kanye West compared himself to Steve Jobs, going so far as to say that Mr. Jobs's passing clears the way for Kanye West to become Kanye West.
The five page story from The Times includes two comparisons by Mr. West to Steve Jobs. In the first, he made an astute observation about Steve Jobs, and then humbly offered himself as another example of that observation. From the interview:
I would hear stories about Steve Jobs and feel like he was at 100 percent exactly what he wanted to do, but I’m sure even a Steve Jobs has compromised. Even a Rick Owens has compromised. You know, even a Kanye West has compromised. Sometimes you don’t even know when you’re being compromised till after the fact, and that’s what you regret.
On page five, Mr. West took it to a whole other level where he not only compared himself to Steve Jobs, but to Walt Disney, Henry Ford, and a few other iconic figures of innovation. That passage in full (note that the quote is from Mr. West—he's referring to himself in the third person):
I think what Kanye West is going to mean is something similar to what Steve Jobs means. I am undoubtedly, you know, Steve of Internet, downtown, fashion, culture. Period. By a long jump. I honestly feel that because Steve has passed, you know, it’s like when Biggie passed and Jay-Z was allowed to become Jay-Z.
I’ve been connected to the most culturally important albums of the past four years, the most influential artists of the past ten years. You have like, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, Nicolas Ghesquière, Anna Wintour, David Stern.
I think that’s a responsibility that I have, to push possibilities, to show people: “This is the level that things could be at.” So when you get something that has the name Kanye West on it, it’s supposed to be pushing the furthest possibilities. I will be the leader of a company that ends up being worth billions of dollars, because I got the answers. I understand culture. I am the nucleus.
Audacious as heck, and I'll be the first to note that while Steve Jobs talked about great artists like Pablo Picasso (and many other figures) as inspirations, he never compared himself to them nor stated that he was in their company. Those sorts of comparisons were made by other people.
Accordingly, there's something about Mr. West's braggadocio that is off-putting, to say the least. Indeed, reaction in the tech world has so far been universal condemnation to this interview.
Here's the deal: so far, Kanye West's track record backs up his epically large ego. He has succeeded at everything he's set out to do. He has reinvented himself repeatedly, eschewing the easy for the hard, for the interesting at every stop.
He's made a few mistakes along the way—in my opinion—but so has everyone, including the legends he's so humbly listing himself among.
But, and this is a really, really big but, he could well be the head of a company worth billions of dollars. He could well go on to be as innovative in the fields he works in—music, fashion, and whatever "culture" means in his context—as Steve Jobs was in the world of technology and movies.
I'm not saying he's the next Steve Jobs, but I wouldn't bet against him having an enormous impact on the world in the future.