Canto Tell Me Nothing: A College Essay Comparing Kanye to Dante

Dayna Evans
Professor Rock
Medieval Studies 101
22 May 2014

Canto Tell Me Nothing and the Party of One:
Why Dante Alighieri Is Still Alive and Living Inside the Body of Kanye West

Since the dawn of time, humans have sought to make lasting art for other humans to enjoy. Dante Alighieri once wrote, “In the middle of our life’s journey, I found myself in a dark wood,” and that was how The Divine Comedy begins, Dante’s greatest contribution to society. Most recognize Dante Alighieri as the famous Italian poet responsible for The Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, but what most people don’t know is that Dante, who died in 1321 of malaria, was reincarnated in the body of Kanye West, a thirty-six year old internationally beloved rapper from Chicago. Both men are poets whose favorite themes include love, religion, evil, and the beauty of language. In this essay, I will argue that, for all intensive purposes, Dante’s soul melded with Kanye’s to make the greatest superpoet of all time.

Merriam-Webster defines love as “strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties” and it’s clear from both Dante’s Divine Comedy and from Kanye’s “Bound 2” that both men know what love is and both men care deeply for their lovers, Beatrice and Kim Kardashian, respectably. In Canto XXXI of Paradiso, Dante says:

O lady, you in whom my hope gains strength, you who, for my salvation, have allowed your footsteps to be left in Hell, in all the things that I have seen, I recognize the grace and benefit that I, depending upon your power and goodness, have received.

Similarly, Kanye West recounts that he doesn’t remember where he first met his fianceé Kim Kardashian, posing that “maybe we could make it to the church steps.” Well, they will be making it to the church steps — in Florence, Italy. Kanye and Kim are getting married in Florence, which is where Dante Alighieri is from, which contributes to enhance my thesis. Beatrice died when she was only twenty-four.

Kanye’s fourth album, 808s and Heartbreak, was a funereal, dismal, depressing album, and Kanye rapped a lot about breakups and sadness and he wore an emo outfit on its cover. The Inferno is Dante’s most emo “album,” if you want to think of the sections of The Divine Comedy as albums. Actually, it’s basically like — The Inferno is 808s and Heartbreak and Yeezus; Purgatorio is Graduation and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy; and Paradiso is College Dropout and Late Registration. Kanye’s next album could be like The Canterbury Tales, which was written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th Century and we also read in this class.

Both poets are not afraid of talking about dark issues in their texts, which shows their independent spirits. In Canto XXXIV of The Inferno, Dante describes Satan: “At six eyes he wept: the tears / adown three chins distill’d with bloody foam. / At every mouth his teeth a sinner champ’d / bruised as with ponderous engine; so that three were in this guise tormented.” On live national TV, Kanye West told the world that the president of our country didn’t care about black people, and Americans still can’t handle that dark truth. Dante put every politician that he had beef with in the boiling hot fire of The Inferno, and on “Last Call”, Kanye tells the story of his success, dropping names of people who didn’t recognize his talent early on. Kanye even says in his poignant diatribe on “Last Call” that “there’s a time in every man’s life where he gotta make a change.” That is exactly what Dante was thinking when he entered the dark wood. He was going through a lot of complicated stuff, too.

Moreover, Kanye West and Dante Alighieri are both Geminis. As Dante writes in the Paradiso, “As I revolved with the eternal twins, I saw revealed, from hills to river outlets, the threshing-floor that makes us so ferocious,” so scholars believe he was born in May or June. Kanye West’s birthday is June 8. Not to mention, Dante was probably 35 years old when he wrote The Divine Comedy, and that’s how old Kanye was when he wrote Yeezus, which is his masterpiece, too.

Both men are notoriously mercurial, temperamental, and lubricious. When Dante was exiled in 1301 for associating with the White Guelphs when the Black Guelphs took over Florence, he was asked to pay a large fine and would be burned at the stake if he didn’t. Dante refused because he didn’t believe he was guilty. According to Wikipedia, Dante declared himself a “party of one.” Many fans of Kanye West would describe him as a party of one, also. In an interview with Jon Caramanica for the New York Times, Kanye is quoted as saying “that’s just a piece of me being the opinionated individual that I am.” On “Run This Town”, Kanye drops the beat when he begins rapping. Also, Dante “ran the town,” that town being Florence, because he was very influential.

Another thing that the Middle Ages poet and the twenty-first century rapper have in common is their preoccupations with religion. Dante obviously was really religious. On “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”, Kanye raps “I had a dream I could buy my way to heaven” and weirdly, that’s exactly what happened to Dante. He had a dream, kind of, and then he was in heaven. Kanye’s breakout single was a song called “Jesus Walks” that is easily one of the greatest songs of all time and it’s about how we should be able to rap about Jesus in the club. Kanye was verging on becoming a backpack rapper back then, which we’re all thankful he grew out of.

A quality that both poets truly share, though, is that they are aware of the beauty of language. Dante wrote The Divine Comedy in Italian, which is a very romantic language and also a romance language. Take this quote as an example:

“The wax of such things and what shapes that wax / are not immutable; and thus, beneath Idea’s stamp, / light shines through more or less”

It’s hard to think of what my favorite Kanye line is because all of them are so good, but here are a few really good ones:

• “I put no ice on the Bulgari watch, just to make it hot”
• “I’m on my Van Gogh, I don’t hear shit”
• “They say your attitude determines your latitude / I’m high as a motherfucker, fly as a motherfucker”
• “So much head, I woke up in Sleepy Hollow”

This last line, which features on “Dark Fantasy”, could be the first line to The Divine Comedy. Sleepy Hollow is much like a dark wood and that’s where Dante woke up. Sleepy Hollow is a movie starring Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp also starred in a movie called The Tourist, which takes place in Italy. Who is from Italy? Dante Alighieri. It’s all connected.

In conclusion, don’t you think it’s a little suspicious that on “Champion”, Kanye raps “I don’t see why I need a stylist / when I shop so much, I could speak Italian”? And that the inscription on the entrance to hell in The Inferno reads, “ABANDON ALL HOPE, ‘YE WHO ENTERS HERE”? Was Dante telling us something? Was he looking into the future to say “You will get a poet as great as me some day and his name will be Kanye, Kanye “Yeezus” West”? On “A Million and One”, Kanye West raps, “How many years did I wait? About a million”, and though the 1300s were not a million years ago, they sure feel like it. As I said, Kanye West is the soul of Dante Alighieri reincarnated, as I made clear from my points in this essay.

Our textbook

Previously: My Eulogy According to My Orders

Art by Shane Evans.

Dayna Evans is a writer. Find her on Twitter here.