On Wednesday, April 10, a few minutes before 7 p.m., five people gather in a disjointed semicircle in the back corner of Appalachian Collegiate Center’s general purpose room. They alternate between looking at their phones and looking at the floor, with some occasional music discussion to break the silence. A guy in an ASTROWORLD T-shirt plays “Jesus Walks” through his laptop speakers as background music, but gets bored halfway through and switches to “Kids See Ghosts.” Each time the door opens, everybody turns around to check if we’ll need another chair, but when the clock hits 7:05 it’s clear there will be five names on the sign-in sheet today. This is Binghamton University’s newly founded Kanye West Club.
The guy in the ASTROWORLD T-shirt is Michael Becker, founder and president of the club and a freshman majoring in biology. His plans for the future of the club are ambitious, but they match his admiration for West as a musician and as a person.
“I have a deep love for Kanye West,” Becker said. “I’ve loved him for much of my life. I’ve had a lot of definitely interesting and traumatizing parts of my life and Kanye’s music has helped me get through it. A lot of people don’t like Kanye because he’s so egotistical, but that kind of ego has driven me, and given me confidence in myself.”
When the meeting begins, Becker asks the other members of the club if they’ve done the day’s assigned listening. The topic for the next two weeks is soul beats, and attendees are instructed to listen to West’s more gospel-inspired tracks such as “Ultralight Beam” and “We Major.” It becomes clear that nobody has, but Becker is unfazed, and reads from the notes he wrote while analyzing the songs. He plays portions of the tracks he mentions in order to illustrate his points, and he pauses for questions and comments throughout in order to ensure discussion.
Part of what makes Kanye West Club so ambitious is the way that the meetings are structured. Each topic is given two weeks, broken into an “A Week” and a “B Week.” “A Week” meetings are more conventional discussions, a broad conversation about an element of West’s music and how it has influenced pop culture. “B Week” meetings are about creating art based on the element discussed. Becker says there’s no limitations on what this means.
“Next week will probably end up being a soul beat, but it could be a canvas, it could be a sculpture, it could be a skit, it could be any sort of art form,” Becker said. “Not limited to any medium or any kind of thing, just a bunch of people who wanna make art and have a good time.”
There’s an attendee who is a self-proclaimed beginner to West, and he has many in-depth questions about his influences and disciples. Becker answers them all with remarkable detail. At one point, the conversation veers into the decision by the Stellar Awards, an award show focusing on gospel music, to not allow West’s “The College Dropout” to be nominated due to its controversial nature. Becker is clearly still annoyed by this.
“He says bad words, and apparently Christ doesn’t like that,” Becker said.
One notable absence from the discussion, however, was West’s recent controversies. In the past year, West has stated in a TMZ interview that slavery “sounds like a choice,” criticized the African American community for their perceived relationship with the Democratic Party and called for the abolition of the 13th Amendment on Twitter. These statements led to strong backlash by fellow musicians and fans alike and were the last straw for many listeners who now deliberately avoid West’s music. It might help explain why only five people came to the meeting. When asked about this, Becker seemed to know the question was coming.
“I think if you’re gonna vote for Trump because Kanye told you to, that sounds like a personal problem for you,” Becker said. “I don’t stand by what Kanye said and I definitely don’t think it’s right, and I don’t condone it at all. But I’m not gonna stop listening to his music and just totally turn away from somebody who I idolized and loved for so many years because he made a few controversial statements. After all, it is Kanye West, he does love to stir the pot.”
Becker then discusses the fact that West survived past controversies that seemed to doom his career, but quickly points out that they were not nearly as serious as his recent issues.
“You can’t say slavery’s a choice and just get away with it, that’s not what I’m saying at all,” Becker said. “I seem to take it with a grain of salt, because he has no real political power to me. His political opinion is not going to change mine, because I’m smart enough to know that slavery isn’t a choice and I’m smart enough to know that Donald Trump isn’t the greatest president the country’s ever seen.”
When the meeting wraps up, a student doing homework behind us turns around and asks Becker what the club is about. He explains it, and the student is interested in attending future meetings. He puts his name and email down. For Becker, it’s another step forward for building a club that brings all of his interests together in a meaningful way.
“I love Kanye, I love music, I love making music, I like making art, I like meeting new people,” Becker said. “I figured this would be a great way to combine all those things into one great club.”
Kanye West Club meets Wednesdays at 7 p.m. in Appalachian Collegiate Center 111.