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Like artists who take their work seriously are wont to do, he relishes giving himself over to his craft, whether it's in the studio or on stage, and he has frequently implied—particularly through his lyrics—that he himself is a work in progress, much like a painting or, quite literally, his The Life of Pablo album, which he famously debuted to much fanfare while he was still putting the finishing touches on it.
"Shut the f--k up and enjoy the greatness," he tweeted the day after the album's release.
He's also considered one of the most high-profile snubbed artists because TLOP isn't up for Album of the Year, which West has been nominated for five times but has yet to win. He's won 21 Grammys through the course of his career, including Best Rap Album four times.
But as we all know by now, Kanye has a checkered relationship with award shows. He's enjoyed, by turns, making a spectacle of himself, using the stage as a soapbox, making amends or just plain old performing and dancing in the audience with his wife.
In 2015, he humorously made it seem like he'd be joining Beck on stage when the alt-rock singer-songwriter won Album of the Year over Beyoncé—and then he really did let loose with what he thought of the Recording Academy's pick in a tirade after the show was over.
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As for 2017, West already said he'd be boycotting the show if Frank Ocean's 2016 releases Blonde and Endless didn't get nominations—which they didn't, but Ocean actually took himself out of the running by not submitting them for consideration. (Kanye knew that was the case but didn't think it should matter.)
He was seen in public last night for the first time in almost three weeks, having spent eight days last month hospitalized for mental exhaustion.
His behavior on stage had grown increasingly erratic in the days leading up to his hospitalization on Nov. 21, and he had canceled the remainder of his Saint Pablo Tour that morning. His medical emergency occurred almost two months after wife Kim Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint in Paris, a traumatic experience that has prompted her to avoid public events and refrain from posting on social media since.
He was released from the hospital on Nov. 30, and since then the speculation has been in overdrive, somewhat about his health, but mainly about the state of his marriage.
Kim "wants to get Kanye back on his feet. She is not leaving him. She loves him," one source told E! News, while another called divorce rumors, frankly, "bulls--t."
Kanye is continuing with outpatient treatment in the meantime and we're told he's working on music—always a calm in the storm for him, even when the music itself creates another storm.
A number of stars from the music world and beyond, including Lady Gaga, tweeted their support for West when he was hospitalized, pointing out that mental health issues are not something to joke about, as some less empathetic souls were doing at the same time.
Of course some claimed they saw this coming, pointing to West's at times outrageous behavior in the past—but Kanye has generally thrived on being unpredictable, carefully burnishing his reputation as a provocateur.
"But also I'd say a bigger statement than that is: Great art comes from great artists. There's a bunch of people that are hurt that still couldn't have made the album that was super-polarizing and redefined the sound of radio."
That fairly encapsulates what West thinks about his craft and about his place in the pop culture universe overall. He acknowledges that he's hardly the only one who's been able to translate his pain into art—but he also is confident that he does it better than most. Moreover, he has accepted his status as a polarizing artist, revered by many, respected by most, but misunderstood or even reviled by others.
And yet he's perfectly aware of what that sounds like.
"One of my biggest achilles heels has been my ego," he told an audience at Oxford University last year. "And if I, Kanye West, can remove my ego, I think there's hope for everyone."
And that's a lot of what the music has been for, for continuously playing with the notion of these dueling sides of himself that keep getting in each other's way, even when he's trying to do good. "I Am a God" vs. "Monster," if you will.
A few months before the release of his much-analyzed fifth studio album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, he started posting disturbing imagery and macabre photographs on his website, as well as the video for the Nine Inch Nails song "The Perfect Drug"—a crafty way of getting the public excited to delve further into the mind of Kanye.
But despite the big to-do over the heights to which West let his ego fly and the probative depths to which his id sank on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in the lyrics of cheerfully self-flagellating tunes like "Runaway" and "Monster," that album was hardly the first time that West had let it be known that he relishes suffering for his art—Yeezus-style. He sees himself as a messenger of a certain truth that must be told—about pop culture, about fame, about human nature itself—and he has volunteered over and over again to be the one to fall on his sword (i.e. take the hits in the court of public opinion) in his quest for justice.
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Even when he abruptly yelled "cut" during "All of the Lights" while doing a show at Madison Square Garden, part of his Watch the Throne Tour with Jay Z, he was only doing so in support of the fans who'd made a point of coming to see him.
"Anybody who late on they rent, to buy tickets, or can't buy some s--t they needed, in order to buy tickets. I need to see all of the mother--king lights!" he demanded.
The show then went on, much to the cheering crowd's enjoyment.
He also notably said at the time that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was misunderstood. While it came off to those who loved it as a brilliant piece of candor, a tongue-in-cheek yet honest reflection of some of his more narcissistic ways, West said the album was actually his "long, backhanded apology" to his critics after his more sonically experimental 808s & Heartbreak.
His seeming dismissal of all the praise for MBDTF both infuriated and confounded—but Kanye suggested that he's simply his own worst critic.
"I don't want to come off dissing Dark Fantasy. It's me never being satisfied and then me coming and admitting and saying the truth. As much as I can air things out for other people, to air things out for myself, to say, 'I feel like this could've been stronger.'"
His quest for personal vindication continues as well. Ever since he famously decried being ignored by Fendi, saying he came up with the idea for leather jogging pants years before they became a high-fashion staple, it's been apparent that West believes his design ideas have been perennially ignored or misunderstood by those who have the cash and clout to make those ideas come to life, only to have his vision co-opted by those who had ignored him in the first place.
Such are the marching orders Kanye has given himself. Nothing less than changing the world for the better will do.
"Most people who run publicly traded companies have a tendency to be extremely fearful, especially if they're not the founder, because they have to answer to people. And then they've got a wife and kids or a husband and kids. I think that often people can be scared of brilliant people throughout time—Einstein, Newton, Thomas Jefferson. I've said the successful man is the one who can afford to make the most mistakes.
"Or I'll say something really obvious, like: You have to look past the surface to embrace opportunity."
Of course, it's saying that sort of thing that ensures his fans—and his haters—hang on his every word. And for a man who never stops creating, knowing that an audience is listening ensures that the cycle continues.
"Really good people like me are scared of falling off," he told The Guardian in 2005, a year after the release of his debut, The College Dropout. "I'm totally scared of falling off. Just imagine it. Just imagine if I woke up one day and I was wack. What would I do then?"