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Kanye West & Ego Leadership

There is a big difference between being controlled by ego and appearing to be egotistical. We can look at the hip-hop world to understand how this works.

Successful rappers know the importance of maintaining a egotistical stage character that is distinct from their private persona.

Take hip-hop artist, Kanye West. His pubic personality is far different then his sensitive, calculating, nature. But that’s fine with Kanye. His egotistical front makes him more popular.

Kanye’s early tracks contained social messages about the effect of drugs in the African American community, the seriousness of the race issue, and the importance of family values.

However,  his songs that detail his decadent lifestyle that involve drugs, women, and drinking have brought him his greatest commendation. Prior to 2008 Kanye has never won an acclaimed music award and the first song he was popularly recognized for was “Good Life”, featuring T-Pain. This song proudly touted lyrics like “keep it comin’ with them bottles till she feel boozed” and “havin’ money’s the everythin’ that havin’ it is.” Subsequently, he won forty-six other music awards, none of which were for songs that were reflective of the sensibility present in his earlier discography.

Kanye learned something from this – something that all successful rappers must be aware of: fans love narcissism.

The success of a musician’s career cannot be judged entirely by sales in our information age. Music is essentially a public resource that can be accessed for free on Youtube and on online radio stations.

A rapper’s popularity is better determined by how many internet search hits they can tally. Let’s examine West’s popularity graph from 2004 to present:

Each spike in the search volume index corresponds with a significant shift from West’s socially conscious nature to self-centered egotism.

In 2005, West lost his American Music Award to Gretchen Wilson and complained bitterly about it. In 2007, West challenged fellow rapper, 50 Cent,  and wagered he’d sell more albums (he did). In 2009, West jumped on stage during the VMAs, stole Taylor Swift’s microphone, and ruined her acceptance speech.

Although one can argue that each spike in popularity is immediately followed by a dramatic drop closer examination revels his overall popularity sill grew. Kanye’s search volume index was below 0.3 in the beginning of 2005 and rose to 1.2 in 2006. It rose again in 2008 to a 2.0 and broke 3.0 in 2009.

After the 2009 VMA incident, Kanye’s sales went down. However, that didn’t last long. Kanye’s unrestrained arrogance and increased popularity culminated in the release of his newest album, “Watch the Throne.” It became the highest selling album in iTunes history.

Nonetheless, there is a big difference between being led by your ego and appearing to be egotistical. Maintaining the distinction between a stage persona and an actual personality is difficult and, often, the line is blurred by the luxury of being a super-star.

If this happens, a rapper’s supporters and audience could become alienated. This is what happened to Kanye after the 2009 VMAs.

It is well established that Kanye gets himself into a multitude of confrontational situations, but none of them resulted in damage to his record sales until the incident in 2009.

Directly after, Kanye’s record sales plunged, which ousted him from even the Billboard Top 200.What makes this event so different?

At that moment in the VMAs Kanye confused his stage ego with his real personality and decided to directly challenge a performer at a professional event.

Kanye, however, went to great pains to correct his wrong. He acted quickly and decisively. He apologized on his blog, apologized on The Tonight Show, and even dedicated a song of apology to Taylor Swift. Miss Swift graciously accepted Kanye’s act of contrition on September 13, 2010. The tactical damage control apparently proved to be effective as Kanye’s sales for “Watch the Throne” went through the roof in 2011.

For a rapper like Kanye an egotistical façade is necessary to collect and maintain a strong devoted fan base. No avid listener of hip-hop wants to hear about a rapper being grounded by his parents–which is why Will Smith doesn’t rap anymore. Audiences want gritty lyrics about things they fantasize about.

However, a cunning rapper should not allow his contrived hubris to influence or hinder his real personality or his decision making ability. If he does he will find himself making his biggest mistake… of all time.

Leaders, like rappers, should know when their egos can win them supporters, but they should also know when to quell their bravado in order to move things forward.

Photo Cred: Jason Langheine



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