Kanye West is a man of many talents — one of which is professing to be a genius.
“I am Picasso,” West once shouted between songs during a 2013 concert, the crowd roaring in approval of his comparison to the Spanish painter. “I am Michelangelo. I am Basquiat. I am Walt Disney. I am Steve Jobs.”
Famed singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen disagreed.
A poem written by Cohen in 2015, before his death in November 2016, was recently published and went viral on Thursday — the same day the Grammy Award-winning rapper met with President Trump, another person who has touted himself as a genius. The poem bears a blunt title: “Kanye West Is Not Picasso.”
The fiery 21 lines, published last week in “The Flame,” a book of Cohen’s last writings, were penned long before West’s bizarre White House visit and before he was quite so controversial. But many were quick to call it “a diss poem from beyond the grave.” Shared on Twitter by musician Amanda Shires early Thursday, the tweet has since amassed more than 10,000 likes and was retweeted more than 4,500 times as of early Friday.
The poem begins with the frank lines, “Kanye West is not Picasso/I am Picasso.”
West has repeatedly likened himself to the painter. Following his 2013 outburst, West repeated a similar sentiment during a 2015 speech at Oxford University, saying, “My goal, if I was going to do art, fine art, would have been to become Picasso or greater.” A year later, backstage at NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” West was recorded claiming to be 50 percent more influential than Picasso, Stanley Kubrick and the apostle Paul, CBS News reported. West’s 2016 Grammy-nominated album is also called “The Life of Pablo.”
Cohen appeared to mock West’s propensity for aligning himself with some of the world’s most prominent creative minds.
“Kanye West is not Edison,” he wrote. “I am Edison/I am Tesla.”
The Kanye-focused lines take a similar tone.
“I am the Kanye West of Kanye West/The Kanye West/Of the great bogus shift of bulls— culture.” he wrote. “I am the Kanye West Kanye West thinks he is/When he shoves your a– off the stage/I am the real Kanye West.”
It remains unclear what inspired Cohen to write the poem. Cohen talked about West in a 2014 interview with the Wall Street Journal and appeared to harbor no ill will toward the rapper, saying, “A lot of, say Jay-Z or Kanye West — you don’t have to identify with every position they take, especially if you’re white. It’s not necessary to identify. It’s the energy, it’s the resonance of truth, of person, of real experience. When we are exposed to someone’s real experience, it resonates and it invigorates.”
Whatever the reason, one thing is certain: Cohen intended his poem to be read. While the book in which the poem appears was published posthumously, Cohen did take part in deciding what pieces would be included. An article in Maclean’s by Brian D. Johnson describes the book’s tone and selections as seeming to “reflect the almost giddy vertigo of an artist standing at the brink of death.”
In other words, Johnson wrote, West’s poem was Cohen’s “koan-like answer to a poetry slam.”
Reactions to the poem are largely split into two camps: Those who praised Cohen and those who saw the 2008 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee as just another old musician griping about changing times.
“I didn’t think I could love him more,” one person wrote on Twitter about Cohen.
Another described the poem as the “ultimate mic drop.”
Montreal Gazette columnist Brendan Kelly was not a fan.
Kelly, who had met the “Hallelujah” writer and singer in the late 1980s, wrote Thursday that while the poem reflected some of Cohen’s trademark humor, “mostly there is a kind of grumpiness that’s off-putting, reminding me of all the boomer musicians I’ve heard endlessly dissing Kanye and hip-hop in general as they sit home listening to the same old Dylan and James Taylor albums.”
Many echoed Kelly’s opinion.
“To be clear: I think this sucks,” tweeted New York Times staff editor Willy Staley, adding that Cohen sounded like a “hater.”
Another person tweeted, “This just reads as ‘rap is not as legitimate as what I do.’ ”
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