Look, I gave Kanye West as many of my magic critic bitpoints as I could. Yeezus is a masterpiece, and his music gets better every year. But I’m burned out from the noise, and the Coinye quarreling is particularly niche and fruitless.
I’m taking a break.
Make no mistake, West was right to drop the legal hammer on Coinye. The gimmicky digital currency project was literally making money off West’s likeness. It began as a transparent ploy for an investor (West was offered 100,000 coins when Coinye was launched). When West’s lawyers threw their jargon at Coinye’s anonymous producers, the Coinye team continued to use West’s likeness by leaning on an old South Park joke.
It was still a petty thing for West to take issue with. Coinye was a cool idea. It wasn’t hurting anyone. It’s like, let’s all put down our bongs for a second here and be chill. It’s one thing to hold a grudge over Saturday Night Live or to punch racist teenagers in the face, but I thought West loved the Internet?
He made it OK for rappers to tweet. Before that he was a savvy tech blogger with a CAPSLOCK Jones. He seemed to love the throwaway memes about his jet-setting updates—this is still hilarious and brilliant.
He leaned on the Internet to test ideas and songs. Remember how fun G.O.O.D. Fridays were? Every free mp3 self-leak brought the excitement of a midnight trip to Sam Goody in the ‘90s for an album release. We got free great rap; West was able to crowdsource hits. Next thing you know, Watch the Throne was being delayed for 10 months because no one reacted to would-be lead single “H.A.M.” A year later, “Mercy” was slapped on the posse album, released officially, and became an empowering hit single in the summer of 2012.
When promoting last June’s Yeezus, he leaned on his website’s creativity, some deftly placed urban projections, and their resulting Internet buzz to market the album.
West enjoys a good trolling. See this Pacific Rim tweet that rained on the momentum of Jay Z’s Twitter trending noise the night that Hova’s album, Magna Carta, Holy Grail, was loaded into Samsung phones everywhere.
Here he is celebrating Nelson Mandela with perspective and passion.
At a young age my mother taught me the importance of his work. Mandela sacrificed his life for the betterment of mankind.
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) December 9, 2013
Here is earnest inspiration that, sure, is unintentionally funny.
Thank you Jean Touitou for letting me create with you https://t.co/ctery9mHJA
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) July 8, 2013
Here is an adorable planting of his flag on the moon.
I open the debate… The 2nd verse of New Slaves is the best rap verse of all time….meaning … OF ALL TIME IN THE HISTORY OF RAP MUSIC, PERIOD
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) July 20, 2013
Here, tellingly, is West attempting to control how his users consume his likeness.
please don’t diminish the user experience by just posting it as a normal video … please link them to my site
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) July 22, 2013
West is the keeper of the West fire. Coinye dipped its toe in a lava pit. It never stood a chance. Hell, Coinye overlooked a fundamental tenet of the record industry: Musicians like to sue people.
I think West, especially, loves the litigation rush. I have a friend that was once sued by West over fairly innocuous copyright issues stemming from old songs that one of West’s artists had previously recorded in said friend’s studio. The way he tells it, he’s out to dinner and answers the phone. “Mr. West would like to speak to you. Please keep this line open.” Then there’s a lull, a separate call from a restricted number, and a comically brief but stern talking to from Mr. West himself.
“Yo is this [redacted]?” West says, “Hey man I’m suing your ass.”
It makes sense. The copyright hustle in music is a series of creative grey areas. If you’re a headlining entity, you keep an experienced legal watchdog on retainer for very specific clashes. Just last year, Robin Thicke preemptively took legal action against Marvin Gaye’s family so he wouldn’t get sued for shoplifting Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up Part 2” and using it as the rhythmic backbone for “Blurred Lines.”
But going after a trusted confidant, the Internet at-large, is not a good look for West. Reacting with a persecution complex every time flies pester online is not a sustainable practice. The Internet loves West back, after all. That’s why the Coinye entrepreneurs thought it’d be a flare worth sending up.
When, and if, the Internet at-large turns on West, he’s going to wish he had Zappos’ Shi*t Product.
Illustration by Jason Reed