The curious case of Kanye West
Kanye West is a pop culture phenomenon. Over the years, the Chicago-born music icon has given us some of the most meme-worthy rants, from declaring that President George W. Bush didn’t care about black people on national television to infamously interrupting Taylor Swift’s VMAs acceptance speech to announce that “Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time.”
While shocking and politically incorrect as he may be, Kanye’s outspokenness earned him respect if only for saying exactly what’s on his mind (and sometimes others’). His unleashing on President Bush touched on the racial undertones of the government’s inadequate response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and his interruption of Swift’s Best Female Video win inadvertently called out the music industry’s penchant for overlooking black artistry. He even stood up against the racism he faced while breaking into the fashion industry.
“I’m just saying, don’t discriminate against me because I’m a black man…” West said in 2014. “They let Pharrell make those glasses, and we liked them, right? They let me make those shoes, and we liked them right? And they say, ‘No no no n****r. Not no more. That’s too much… Stay in your place. Sit in the front of that show and wear this jacket I made you. Do what you get paid to do.'”
Though incoherent and manic at times, Kanye’s sound offs served as heroic assails against white supremacy, the political neglect of black and brown people, and the never-ending issue of racism in America. But Kanye’s status as hero for the underdogs quickly turned to crazed outlier after his most recent rants championing President-elect Donald Trump and, surprisingly, calling out friends Beyoncé and Jay Z.
“Beyoncé, I was hurt because I heard that you said you wouldn’t perform unless you won Video of the Year over me and over ‘Hotline Bling.’ In my opinion — now, don’t go trying to diss Beyoncé. She is great… We are all great people. We are all equal,” he said in a 15-minute rant at his show in Sacramento, California.
Dragging Beyoncé’s husband, Jay Z, into the mix, he continued: “I’ve been sent here to give y’all the truth. Jay Z, call me, bruh. You still ain’t calling me. Jay Z, call me. Aye, bruh, I know you got killers. Please don’t send them at my head.”
Just days before, the rapper had a similar exchange with an audience in San Jose, where he announced that if he had voted in the 2016 presidential election, he would’ve cast his ballot for Trump. West exalted the real estate mogul for his “futuristic” style of communication and his unabashed resistance to being “perfect.” During his Sacramento show this past Saturday, West walked off the stage after performing for just 30 minutes. Others who got caught in Kanye’s wrath were Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerburg and MTV (“F*** MTV!”).
He later canceled the rest of his tour dates due to “over exhaustion” and, as a shock to many, was hospitalized Monday night.
What transpired on the “Saint Pablo” tour, however, was not the typical rant we’re used to seeing from Kanye. By all accounts, it was a public meltdown and maybe even a cry out for help. Even fellow industry peer Snoop Dogg acknowledged that something was terribly wrong with the controversial musician. “This n*gga is crazy,” Snoop said in a video uploaded online. Soon after, the hashtag #KanyeIsOverParty became a trending topic, poking fun at Kanye’s outbursts.
Though meme culture in the digital age has normalized the act of turning one’s misfortune into a timeline roast, Kanye West’s comments don’t deserve laughter as much as they do serious concern. In his own words, Kanye, is a “hurt” man who chose to take to a stage in front of thousands — whom he knew would record and tweet his every word — and essentially used it as live performance diary for all to see. More specifically, airing out the dirty laundry of his apparently estranged friendship with Beyoncé and Jay Z, who according to Kanye, declined to call him and wife Kim Kardashian after she was robbed in Paris and for whatever reason failed to set up playdates with their young daughters.
In a span of a decade, Kanye went from rebuking one Republican president’s lack of care for communities of color to glorifying one who possibly serves as the party’s greatest threat to said communities and went from once defending Beyoncé’s name to unintelligibly sullying it in the name of pettiness. Even more, the evolution of the Kanye Rant has become less about using his voice for a greater good and more about just being heard. But what’s most troubling about the Kanye West phenomenon is that we’ve watched him unravel in ways that suggest he is in great need of help, a safe space where he can express his emotions when things get overwhelming.
It’s also worth noting the death of Kanye’s mother, Donda West, who tragically died in 2007 after undergoing elective cosmetic surgery. The loss of his mother may have very well been a turning point for the musician, who admitted to blaming himself for her death. Coincidentally, West once thanked Beyoncé and Jay Z for helping him through his “darkest hours.”
One can only imagine the emotional and spiritual warfare Kanye must endure as one of the most polarizing and talented musicians of our time. Once a struggling yet ambitious artist from the Southside of Chicago, Kanye reached heights very few black men like him have seen or will ever see. He is a man who’s entered spaces where he’s not only an anomaly but often judged long before he enters the room. And with fame and massive wealth, there’s literally no one who can tell him no or set him straight when he’s wrong. Couple that with being married to an equally polarizing wife — whose public image likely causes others to distance themselves — and you’ve got a man who’s trapped in a bubble where there are very few people he can relate to and even fewer people who care about his wellbeing. How suffocating that must feel.
While Kanye often pontificates about the exclusivity of his genius and fortunes, all signs point to the possibility that, in actuality, he is in desperate need of acceptance and love. Not fanatic followers and inquisitive media who relish in the fantasticalness of his celebrity and simply pass off his antics as “Kanye being Kanye.” Not a wife and family who have pledged their lives to ‘likes’ on social media and mass public consumption.
Only Kanye truly knows exactly what he needs to live his life peacefully, but what’s certain is that peace, for him, is more of an ideal than it is a reality. One can only wish that Kanye finds whatever it is that he is so desperately searching for. Whatever it is, let’s hope he does so away from the noise and distractions of the world.
Gerren Keith Gaynor is the Homepage and Opinion Editor at theGrio.com. Follow him at @MrGerrenalist.