The university offers a one-of-a-kind course examining the life and work of Kanye West
Concordia has never lacked for unconventional courses: video games and/or literature, science fiction, film soundtracks and sexual representation in cinema are all examples of unique courses offered to Concordia students that aim to give an academic perspective to the world of art and popular culture. Concordia is not the first or only university to host courses like these – the University of Victoria at one time offered The Science of Batman and The Created Medieval History of JRR Tolkien’s Middle-earth – but the one of Concordia’s new courses could truly be the first of its kind.
Kanye vs. Ye: Genius by Design will be offered at Concordia in the fall of 2022, in the Faculty of Interdisciplinary Studies in Fine Arts. The course was designed and will likely be taught by Yassin “Narcy” Alsalman, a rapper himself, who has long taught hip hop-centric courses at Concordia such as Hip Hop: Beats, Rhymes and Life.
it is not the first time that Alsalman has centered a class on a particular artist, having taught classes on Lauryn Hill and A Tribe Called Quest in the past.
“I have always taught my hip hop classes using artists or albums as the central theme and seeing Ye’s influence on so many of my students over the years – I thought this might be a compelling review and interesting from one of the greatest artists of our generation,” said Alsalman.
Classes like this are Aslaman’s way of giving back to a culture that has shaped who he is today.
“Hip hop is the most important culture of our generation. It demands to be studied, understood and respected. It’s my way of giving back to a culture that gave birth to my whole way of being and living,” Alsaman said.
The course will center on much larger themes than West’s music and his personal hijinks online.
“America and race, industry versus artists, truth and consequence, the media representation of the intellectual,” Alsalman said when asked about the themes of the course.
With a character as controversial as West, the course is likely to elicit a multitude of reactions. That’s what Dr. Eldad Tsabary, coordinator of Concordia’s electroacoustics department and unit head of the Faculty of Interdisciplinary Fine Arts Studies, knows well.
“As an academic course, I’m sure it will be difficult at times and I’m sure it will be emotional at times. But I think that’s also part of what Fine Arts does. You know, I like studying science. The arts are a great vehicle for exploring and studying subjects that have a multilevel nature,” said Tsabary, who was instrumental in approving the course to be taught at Concordia.
West is both loved and hated by many, but both Tsabary and Alsalman have made it clear that this course is not about singing his praises or tabloid drama.
“You can study any topic of interest from the point of view of curiosity and discussion, right? And there’s a lot to discuss. You know, it’s not about putting Kanye on a pedestal,” Tsabary said.
While a fan of West’s work, Alsalman is also aware of his problematic nature. However, he said it was not something he worried about when teaching this course.
“I don’t listen to the noise. As a cultural practitioner and teacher, I have to look at the big picture and not skip the Internet jump rope around storytelling. I am also well aware of the manipulation of the American media. That being said, there have always been problematic public moments with Ye and we’ll talk about those from a critical perspective, as opposed to taking sides or blaming. I want to see why, not what,” Alsalman said.
“There’s a lot of work to be done around hip hop culture and representation of black and brown communities in our schools and I want to narrow that down to Concordia and help build the presence more and more through my work.”
Ava Weinstein-Wright is a third-year Concordia honors sociology and anthropology student who is enrolled and excited to take the course this fall.
“I think music or TV shows or even clothes and fashion can be a great gateway to deeper analysis such as political analysis, gender analysis, class analysis, like it really matters.”
Although she is excited to take the course, Weinstein-Wright has some concerns about this.
“My concern with this course is that people won’t take it seriously given the height and influence it has gained given that it has reached national news.”
The university has received a lot of media attention with magazines like Complex talk about the course – something his future teacher predicted, but not so soon. “I thought it would happen while I was teaching, but it was a nice boost and surprise,” Alsalman said.
When asked why students should take this course, Alsalman had a simple answer, in a written statement to The Concordian.
“Because it’s the class of life (voice of Kanye).”
Graphic by Lily Cowper