I was a huge Kanye West fan. I was raised in a Christian household where we mainly listened to gospel or Disney stations on the radio. We weren’t explicitly prohibited from listening to all secular music, but it was not encouraged.
However, when Kanye dropped “Jesus Walks” in 2004, that became my entry point into hip hop. I would listen to the (clean, of course) version on repeat – I recorded it onto a little mp3 player that could record songs from the radio.
He was different; he broke the mold of what rap meant to me. I was familiar with rap, but I don’t recall ever truly connecting with it until Jesus Walks. When I started producing music, I attempted to chop samples and create beats just like him.
But now, it’s difficult for me to listen to his music. I’m desperately trying to separate the art from the artist.
Why do people have to be so… malleable? Inconsistent?
Separating Art from the Artist
As more and more mainstream artists and celebrities face cancellation, the idea of totally separating art from artists is appealing — (Bill Cosby’s hurt me so much I still don’t want to write about it smh).
But it’s a trap. Maybe a capitalistic one. Someone smarter than me can connect those dots.
Overall, this whole Kanye situation and the recent Lensa (AI profile picture app) explosion made me think — should I be trying to separate the art/artist?
What connects artists to their art? The process. The lore.
AI Could Never.
Kanye made 3 different videos and dropped multiple versions of the Jesus Walks. Even recently, he updates his albums as though they are apps.
He had a good story – from his humble Chi beginnings, to his infamous car accident, to more esoteric but historical collaborations with artist ranging from Tupac to J Dilla.
Speaking of Dilla, a huge part of why I admire him is because of the almost mythical legend surrounding him. He has produced thousands of beats. Produced multiple classic albums. He deeply influenced multiple styles of music and then.. he passed.
Part of what makes Donuts so special, at least in part, is the fact that it’s a portrait of an artist, lying on his death bed, and doing what he loves the most. You can’t separate the context of how Dilla made Donuts from the album itself.
AI could never chop a sample how Dilla did on Black Star’s song Little Brother (as told by Questlove)
The whole appeal of art and why we make it, is to connect and tell our story. It’s a way to pass on information, and almost like having children, it’s a way to leave a piece of us here after we’re gone. AI doesn’t have such lofty goals.
We don’t just love Maya Angelou because she has BARS. Her writing stems from a very particular, lived experience – unique to her. Sure, similar to AI she’s pulling from a collection of mental datapoints and past works, but these are filtered and synthesized through her lens. There’s a human on both sides. There’s nothing but bits and bytes on the other side of AI – no warmth, no personal truth or mission. Just data. That’s not art.
Part of Stevie Wonder’s appeal is his story – young Black and blind kid, raised in the south, overcame adversity to become one of the most celebrated artists in American history. No AI will ever have a story like that.
An AI could never replace the works of JRR Tolkien. Something about knowing some dude spent decades of his life toiling away over the details of a fantasy world he created just demands a sense of respect. Maybe an AI could do it instantly. But there’s no love or dedication there.
AI’s output is not “art”
Our ideologically segregated culture highlights our unwillingness to tolerate the complexity of humans and our creations. The past few years have revealed how ugly some artists can be. Some can even be true monsters. I’m not advocating for promoting dangerous and malevolent individuals, but let’s remember that artists, in the end, are human.
However, I understand it. I’m also a little afraid to love again. Kanye is out there acting erratically, to put it mildly. But I have to maintain faith that artists themselves are still worth uplifting and cherishing, not just their output.
AI will undoubtedly be used to replace humans whenever profit is the ultimate goal. Businesses will replace designers, concept artists, copywriters, and even programmers with AI as soon as they have the chance. And as a business owner who would also like to increase profits, I would be lying if I called myself anti-capitalist.
Nevertheless, I also recognize that it’s the responsibility of the public to support art and value that human connection. We must acknowledge that art is created through human interaction and is meant to be interpreted by humans.
If we continue pulling at this thread, I fear that we will lose our humanity in the process.