With midterms out of the way for many students, the Kelly Writers House offered them a chance last night to investigate a more interesting subject: Yeezy.
For the uninformed, that’s the nickname of Kanye West, one of today’s most popular, controversial and outspoken rappers.
Kanye West Fest brought students and faculty members together to discuss the musician and producer, with presentations touching upon issues of race, class, religion, gender and fame.
The Writers House wanted to incorporate the Year of Sound into an event, which ultimately led them to Kanye West Fest. “We thought Kanye West would be perfect because he has such a wide influence and he really extends beyond just his music,” College junior and former Kelly Writers House intern Katie Behrman, who helped organize the event, said.
As more than 50 students and other visitors filed into the Writers House at 6 p.m., they were greeted by classic Kanye West songs blasting from speakers.
“The reason why I decided to come out is because I feel like Kanye West is a very creative person,” College senior Azani Pinkney said before the event. “He’s a visionary … We can benefit from listening to Kanye in a way that takes us out of our everyday thought process.”
The event consisted of eight speakers — four Penn students, Vice columnist Drew Millard, assistant professor of communication at Drexel University Devon Powers, University Chaplain Charles Howard and Executive Director of the Philly Youth Poetry Movement Greg Corbin.
Each speaker chose to look at West and his music from a different perspective, labeling him as anything from “super hero of the 21st century” to a “problematic figure” to a “good rapper who says crazy shit once in a while.” In addition, West was compared to a wide range of historical figures, such as the poet Charles Baudelaire, jazz musician Miles Davis and Madonna.
Chaplain Howard examined West from a religious angle. “When he talks to ‘the hustlers, killers, murderers, drug dealers, even the strippers, Jesus walks with them,’ Kanye is tapping into this profound religious truth that transcends Christianity,” Howard said. “But humans are complex. Kanye gets painted as a religious hero … but ‘Gold Digger,’ though,” referring to West’s hit song.
Following the event, the Writers House opened up for a Kanye West reception, consisting of food inspired by West’s lyrics — including a platter labeled “damn croissants” in reference to West’s song, “I Am A God.”
In the end, the event “made meaning out of the fact that Kanye West is very important and can be analyzed from a variety of different perspectives,” said College sophomore Erich Kessel, who spoke about West’s role as a pop culture icon. “That was the point of the event, and the presentations got to that point very well.”
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