If there were a career equivalent to skin-bleaching, it seems to be in the tragic decline of Kanye West.
How could a self-asserted, overtly confident black artist seem to unravel this violently in the pursuit of white acceptance? To a true Kanye fan, it’s like living in a Twilight Zone. Could he have truly forgotten his own lyrics in All Falls Down, “They make us hate ourselves and love they wealth?” Does he have anyone to remind him? To the outsider, it seems his inner circle is either inept or indifferent to the unfolding public catastrophe that is Kanye West. The factors that contributed to this decline may be as numerous as the influences in his immediate circle.
How can we not worry at this point?
Watching West standing next to Donald Trump after being released from the hospital had some us harkening to the last footage of Amy Winehouse. This image of a blonde Kanye, appearing to dye his hair with the same toner as Trump, was jarring to say the least. West’s eyes were seemingly unfocused with a distant gaze. This, coupled with insecure body language, fueled internet rumors of mind-control and Illuminati spirit possession. Yet, I wondered how two egos that size could stand so close together. West and Trump, the twin towers of self-worship. These two megalomaniacs achieved the aesthetics of father and son, with a hint of master and slave. And we are stuck looking for a cause.
Nowadays, the Kardashian women are under the microscope to say the least. From Alex Jones to Professa Griff, the conspiracy theory videos are flying. The Hoteps and the Alt-Right seem to have found common ground in the belief that sleeping with a Kardashian may be a death sentence. From the early demise of Rob Kardashian to the transformation of Caitlyn Jenner, from Lamar Odom’s relapsing to Kanye’s institutionalization, the pattern and common denominators seem undeniable.
Yet, many fans are still in denial. Kanye’s enigmatic artistic presence, his flashes of brilliance within his egotistical outbursts, can obscure the reality that he is dissolving before our eyes. Some of us think, ‘maybe this is an act. Perhaps a marketing ploy to boost his brand or concert sales.’ His concert rants on YouTube certainly portray a man who meditates on current events, spouting his views irrespective of his fans’ disapproval…and the disapproval is loud.
Many are harkening to the days of the “Old Kanye,” from the College Dropout and Late Registration days. Against the 2004 backdrop of highly synthesized “Crunk” music, Kanye seemed organic and thoughtful, sampling musical tracks from a time when real instruments dominated the airwaves. He accomplished coming off as “conscious” without being “corny,” an extremely difficult tightrope act. Songs like “Jesus Walks” and “Through the Wire” were startlingly refreshing to a palate adapted to Li’ John and Bone Crusher…plus, Kanye’s beats were just fresher! The non-thug, foreword-thinking black kid had a champion in Jay-Z’s silent hit-maker; a platinum producer who found his voice. Real black music had returned…so we thought.
Were we too naïve for hoping a performer so seemingly self-assured could resist the forbidden fruits of fame? After all, we live vicariously through our favorite artists, and project that we could maintain our integrity if we lived their lives. Somehow, we could stay grounded in a world where we never hear “no” anymore. Somehow, our insecurities would remain unaffected by scathing reviews of our music and heartless Twitter trolls. Somehow, we believe that if we had the gumption, financial access, and global platform of Kanye West, we’d make better decisions. We believe our pro-black consciousness would insulate us from the temptations of Louis Viton. Surely, we would not court the approval of the Paris fashion scene, especially after we authored New Slaves.
Still, more of us act as if millions of screaming fans wouldn’t enflame our narcissism just a little. Every bit of the unloved child we bury beneath the thin veil of “adulting” cries out for the adulation of strangers. Who’s to say Kanye’s demons around abandonment aren’t stronger than our own? Maybe exponentially so. Could such a beast be tamed by his mother’s love and guidance had she survived the botched surgery? It’s hard to say for sure. But one thing is certain; like Michael Jackson before him, Kanye West is an icon that exposes the cracks in the black psyche. He appears to embody the aspects of self-hate latent within the minds of oppressed people. Kanye lays them bare, exposed to the world in embarrassing clarity. His rants are reminiscent of the black boy acting out on the schoolyards of Anywhere, USA. Kanye is bold, brilliant, and undisciplined, lashing out against a system that suppresses him, invisibly. We feel his pain and are annoyed by it all at once.
Perhaps most importantly, we fear what self-destructing stars represent to our own fantasies. These imploding supernovas subtly remind us that their fame is a prison built by our escapism. Our observation is nothing more than a passive participation in their collapse. It is a cruel game we almost cannot help but play. For black artists, the very doors to the luxury we spoil them with are still guarded by the sons of the ones who enslaved our forefathers.
In a painful way, we are indeed…the New Slaves. No fame and fortune can change this reality, no matter how high a black star climbs. To be ambitious in the music industry is to covet what “Massa” has kept for himself for so long. Who was more ambitious that Kanye West? Yet, here we are watching his implosion, reflecting upon the irony. Perhaps the only purpose to his rise to global celebrity was to acquire millions of witnesses to his downfall.