Kanye West is one of the most polarizing figures of the 21st century. Many consider him one of the greatest producers and rappers ever while others perceive him as a delusional megalomaniac. Kanye’s career started out as a producer in the late 90s, but he shifted towards his own rap career shortly after which immediately brought him into the public eye (Editors, 2014). No matter what the public opinion of Kanye West is, one aspect that cannot be ignored is that to reach his level of celebrity, he had to sacrifice himself to the public and monetize his beliefs. This paper will discuss how Kanye Wests blasphemous acts and his commodification of spirituality helped create one of the most loathed and loved celebrities of the modern era.

Objectively, Kanye is one of the most influential and important artists in the modern-day hip-hop genre. As Ta-Nehisi Coates put it, Kanye “holds the world’s attention through simply the consistent, amazing, near-peerless quality of his work (Coates, 2018)”. His musical talent brought him unthinkable amounts of fame but with that it brought him near constant spotlight, a spotlight that would show “a man of no mystery, overexposed (Coates, 2018)”. Everything that Kanye does is constantly analyzed and spoken about, which helps explain the blasphemous acts which he is known for. In her lecture, Dr. Lofton states that Kanye’s infamous dismissal of Taylor Swifts award was a trademark offensive act (Lofton, 2021). This single act was seen as blasphemous by so many as it attacked Taylor Swift for seemingly no reason (Lofton, 2021). However, this one event helped elevate Kanye’s celebrity status even further.

Over the next decade, events similar to the Taylor Swift debacle became something to expect from Kanye. Fans eagerly anticipated his new music and his new antics to make headlines. Just as his music brought him prominence and respect, his outbursts helped cement his celebrity. These outbursts created a feedback loop where Kanye would sacrifice himself for public consumption and in return he would stay at the forefront of society. In his interview with David Letterman, Kanye talks about how everything he does can become a headline (Letterman, 2019). What he views as a normal episode, the public interprets it differently, even stating that Kanye is “acting erratic, as TMZ would put it” (Letterman, 2019). TMZ, a prominent celebrity gossip newspaper, exists because ordinary people want to consume everything a celebrity has to offer, from their rise to their fall. When Kanye mentions TMZ, he is directly pointing out the fact that they profit off his episodes.

As Dr. Lofton stated, the paparazzi’s following of Kanye is “a religious violence conducted under the guise of media consumption” (Lofton, 2017:120). Over the years, Kanye has become unapologetic for his actions because he believes people should be “the maximum version of their character” (Letterman, 2019). While the public consumes his blasphemous acts and reacts to them, to Kanye, this is just him existing. Kanye is a celebrity because of his imperfections, not despite them. In fact, in an interview with Charlamagne tha God, Kanye stated “I don’t have all the answers that a celebrity is supposed to have” (Coates, 2018). People follow Kanye not because he is model celebrity but rather because of his imperfections.

Every artist should be able to profit off themselves and their image. As they sacrifice themself to the public, they should be able to reap the economic benefits of that sacrifice. As Kanye navigates his turbulent lifestyle, we as consumers buy into his celebrity. While Kanye has transformed his music style, his brand has also changed. This is evident in his interview with David Letterman in which Kanye starts dressing David in the Yeezy clothing line. While dressing him, we see a T-shirt which Kanye calls a “spirit shirt” and this shows us how Kanye is commoditizing his new spiritual brand (Letterman, 2019). Kanye explains that the shirts “are a window to the soul. When I wear this Easy-E T-shirt I do feel like the spirit of Easy-E” (Letterman, 2019). While Kanye may believe in this, it is an clear attempt to profit off his spiritual beliefs and use his new religious brand. He is taking his spiritual beliefs, putting it on a shirt and selling it back to his fans. Similarly, his Sunday Service concerts are another way in which Kanye has adapted his new style to something he can sell to the public. By buying into the religious aspect of his music, he has been able to monetize his religious beliefs and reach a new audience. Consequently, Kanye has transformed his brand while still maintaining his celebrity.

With a career spanning over three decades, Kanye West has experienced his fair share of controversy and success. To build his brand and celebrity, Kanye had to let the world consume his blasphemous acts and sell his religious beliefs. Kanye has always reinvented himself and accompanied his musical reinventions with his trademark antics. His most recent reinvention has also required him to profit off of his own spirituality. It is for this reason that Kanye has been able to cultivate his cult of celebrity and the reason that society consumes so much of him. Through his blasphemous acts and his commoditization of religion, he has created a celebrity and brand that is unrivaled, revered, and adored by so many.