I'm not sure you properly and fully appreciate the statement that is being made by Kanye West's "Runaway" video movie, but don't fear, I'm going to help you.
At it's fundamental core, Hip-Hop has always been about skills. Historically this transcended all of the core elements of the culture - graffiti, DJing, MCing and break dancing. Over time, the role of the MC rose, the role of the DJ fell back, and as far as popular culture is concerned, breaking and graf are the strangers at the family reunion that no one acknowledges or cares to recognize as being part of our bloodline.
As far as MC's are concerned, this hard coded focus on ability translated itself into a constantly improving quality of music. However, along the way to the widespread acceptance of Hip-Hop as a viable genre to be programmed for on your FM dial, some of our tools and tenets were forgotten. Certain historical parts of the greater canon were rejected and definitions of vast importance were obscured. Not even in a technical sense (the absence of scratched hooks being my personal least favorite change), but in terms of sentiment. The superiority of skills gave way to the superiority of bank roll, superiority of car collection, as if this was an equal substitution.
Once skills stopped being the final determinate of importance, the door was opened for any number of trash ass "rappers" to come to prominence. Why bother working really really hard on making a really really good song when you can simply don the persona of Lil Swaggy Swag and posit that any arguments opposed to your status are rendered moot based on the size of the fleet of rental cars in your video?
Whenever I dip my toes into commercial radio these days and I hear what's being consumed by the masses at large, I often wonder what would happen if you Marty McFly'd any of the great icons of Hip-Hop from the golden years to now if they would even identify what is being labeled as "rap" currently as being something that descended from their lineage.
And we can't go backwards. As much as I appreciate what it means for someone of Buckwild's stature to release a vault full of "vintage" beats to a current artist like Celph Titled for a full length album who's sole purpose is to serve as an audio time machine, efforts like this (which definitely deserve to be applauded) are a blip on the national consciousness. Once there is rapping in a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial, you can't take it back.
Which brings us to around to Kanye West's new long form video, "Runaway", and the music contain herein.
Prior to this, I honestly can't recall a Hip-Hop artist of his scale and import doing something that was so vastly unique. Kanye has always had a gift for introspection and self analysis, but listening to the lyrics of "Runaway" makes me think that he's not only speaking about himself any longer, but also the specific genus of male figure our excesses have spawned.
Think about this within the context of someone like Kanye West, who's previous crossover hit "Gold Digger" had suburban mom's and teens playing a happy little dance with the N word to the tune of 16,947,912 views on YouTube as of this afternoon and who knows how many actual record sales. When have we previously seen someone become mega famous to the level that Kanye reached, where people actively hate you without even knowing you, but love you enough to keep buying and keep talking, then turn around and eviscerate all the same boorish behavior that took you from artist to trending topic?
Perhaps you can look at Kanye's twitter feed and suggest that he's still as much of a megalomaniac as he ever was, but I would in turn suggest that obsessing over Napoleon's couch, or Queen Elizabeth's fine china, if done in the name of *art*, is EXACTLY what I want a super successful, super rich artist to do.
Consider on the other hand someone like Jay-Z, who continues to pump out anesthetized song after song, parceling out personal records like the exact opposite of Hansel and Gretel. As far as I know, has Jay even acknowledged that he's even married to Beyonce? Not simply on record, but in real life? Maybe Jay-Z doesn't want to be "artsy" and I suppose that's fine. But at a certain point, don't you start to question someone's desire to even be an artist when they don't reach for something more than? Especially, when they have all the access, the money, and the ability to make it happen?
Obviously, I loved the "Runaway" long form video and I accept that not everyone will. But even if you're not as inspired by it as I am, I would hope people recognize the value in the fact that Kanye is reaching for something. Something more than what Hip-Hop has even produced previously. I certainly wouldn't suggest that Kanye West was the one that turned the Phoenix to stone. That charge should be levied against much greater offenders possessing a great deal less talent. But I think he's trying to give rise to something truly new. Something singular. And for that we should say thank you.