“The class of life”: Concordia’s new Kanye West course

The university is offering a first-of-its-kind course examining the life and work of Kanye West

Concordia has never had a shortage of unconventional classes: Video Games and/as Literature, Science Fiction, The Movie Soundtrack, and Sexual Representation in Cinema are all examples of unique courses available to Concordia students that aim to put an academic lens to the world of art and pop culture. Concordia is hardly the first or only university to host classes such as these — the University of Victoria at one point offered The Science of Batman and The Created Medieval History of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth — but one of Concordia’s newest courses may 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 courses centered around hip hop at Concordia such as Hip Hop: Beats, Rhymes and Life.

This is not the first time that Alsalman has centered a course around one particular artist, having taught classes on Lauryn Hill and A Tribe Called Quest in the past.

“I’ve always taught my hip hop courses using artists or albums as a central theme and seeing how much influence Ye had on so many of my students throughout the years — I felt this could be a compelling, interesting examination of one of the greatest artists of our generation,” said Alsalman.

Classes like this are Aslaman’s way of giving back to a culture that shaped who he is today.

“Hip hop is the most important culture of our generation. It requires to be studied and understood and respected. This is my way of giving back to a culture that birthed my entire way of being and sustenance,” said Alsaman.

The course will centre around much grander themes than just West’s own music and personal online hijinks.

“America and race, industry vs. artists, truth and consequence, media representation of the intellectual,” said Alsalman when asked about the course’s themes.

With a figure as controversial as West, the course is likely to elicit a multitude of reactions. This is something that Dr. Eldad Tsabary, the coordinator for Concordia’s electroacoustics department and unit head for the faculty of Interdisciplinary Studies in Fine Arts, is well aware of.

“As an academic course, I’m sure it’s going to be difficult sometimes and I’m sure it’s going to be emotional sometimes. But I think that’s also part of what Fine Arts is good at. You know, I like to study science. Arts is a really good vessel for exploring and studying topics that do have a multi-layered kind of nature to them,” said Tsabary, who played a role in approving the course to be taught at Concordia.

West is both loved and loathed by many, but Tsabary and Alsalman have both 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,” said Tsabary.

While he is a fan of West’s work, Alsalman is also aware of his problematic nature. However, he has said it is not something that worries him when teaching this course.

“I don’t listen to the noise. As a cultural practitioner and professor, I have to look at things in totality and not do the internet skip rope around narrative. I am also well aware of American media manipulation. That being said, there has always been problematic public moments with Ye and we will talk about those in a critical lens, as opposed to taking sides or blaming. I want to see why, not what,” said Alsalman.

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done around hip hop culture and representation of Black and Brown communities in our schools and I want to chip away at that at Concordia and help build the presence more and more through my work.”

Ava Weinstein-Wright is a third-year student at Concordia in Honours Sociology and Anthropology, who is signed up and is excited to take the course this fall.

“I think that music or TV shows or just even clothing and fashion can be a great gateway into further analysis such as political analysis, gender analysis, class analysis, like it’s really important.”

Even though she is excited to take the course, Weinstein-Wright has some concerns about it.

“My concern with this course is that people aren’t going to take it seriously considering the height and clout that it’s gotten considering it’s reached national news.”

The university has received a lot of media attention with magazines like Complex talking about the course – something that its future professor predicted, although not this early. “I thought this would happen while I was teaching but this was a pleasant boost and surprise,” said Alsalman.

When asked why students should take this course, Alsalman had one simple response, in a written statement to The Concordian.

“Because it’s the class of life (Kanye voice).”

Graphic by Lily Cowper

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