Is Kanye really the voice of today’s generation?

Kanye West

There’s no doubt that Kanye West is one of today’s best-selling artists. His latest album, 808s & Heartbreak debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 charts a few months ago, and he currently has two songs in the iTunes top ten. But does he represent today’s generation? Kanye thinks so:

“I realize that my place and position in history is that I will go down as the voice of this generation, of this decade, I will be the loudest voice,” he said in an interview last month. “It’s me settling into that position of just really accepting that it’s one thing to say you want to do it and it’s another thing to really end up being like Michael Jordan.”

What generation is Kanye talking about? Kanye is a bit outside of Gen Y (he’s 31). On the other hand, there’s no doubt that Gen Yers listen to his music and read his blog. And after all, it’s very common for a younger generation to consume media created by its preceding generation.

But this still begs the question … is Kanye really the voice of today’s generation?

Before jumping to the comparisons of artists who WERE the voice of their generation (The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Nirvana, etc.), keep in mind that today’s youth generation is the most diverse in the history of America. I just don’t think it’s possible for any one person (or style of music) to speak for everyone anymore.

While there’s no denying the impact hip hop music plays in modern youth culture, it’s still only one part of the huge youth equation. Don’t forget that Disney’s music machine is  working overtime, with the youngest of our Gen Yers stampeding over Kanye to get a glimpse of The Jonas Brothers.

Even so, Kanye does represent a number of key attributes of Gen Y. First, of course, is the diversity issue. Kanye appeals not only to the African-American community, but to many different ethnic groups. He has crossover appeal. His most recent albums have been explorations in genre-bending, melding hip hop with a variety of musical styles, including last year’s collaboration with electronic pioneers Daft Punk.

Then there’s Kanye’s affinity with all things bling. He has style and isn’t afraid to pay for it. It does help that he’s a millionaire a few times over, but still, I think he represents that obsession plaguing many of today’s younger consumers.

Besides these few defining attributes, Kanye’s declaration as the voice of his generation is still an unanswered question. So with that, I leave it to you to decide. What do you think? Is it possible to have one voice speak for an entire generation? Is Kanye that voice?

Photo credit: Moreab. Licensed through Creative Commons.

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