‘Star Stories With Touré’: That time I got into Kanye’s head and how it offered a glimpse of the future

OPINION: In "Star Stories With Touré," I talk about meeting the mercurial rapper nearly 20 years ago and seeing the roots of the madness.

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

I saw the thing that would ultimately ruin Kanye a long time ago. See, almost 20 years ago, when he was a hot new rapper with his debut album, “The College Dropout,” roaring through the culture, I went to Kanye’s house and hung out with him as part of a piece I was writing about him for Rolling Stone. I tell the whole story on my animated show, “Star Stories With Touré,” but let me tell you part of the story, the part that showed me some of Kanye’s psyche.

I met Kanye at an apartment he had then in New Jersey. It was the day after he took possession of a $25,000 neck chain with an image of Jesus Christ in colored stones. It was an extraordinary piece. There were yellow stones to represent his blonde hair and blue stones for his blue eyes and red stones to represent the tears of blood coming down his face. There was even a little crown of thorns. It was extraordinary. It was also a Caucasian version of Jesus Christ. I don’t know about you, but I am certain that Jesus had brown skin and brown eyes and kinky hair —I believe he looked like a modern Black man. Not Bjorn Borg. So when I see Black people extolling this whitewashed image of Jesus, I’m honestly disappointed in them. How could you do that? How could you be part of this epic lie that Jesus looked like he was white? 

So when Kanye asked me what I thought of his chain, I felt compelled to tell him the truth. I was a little mad that he was rocking a white Jesus. But I didn’t want to offend him. I was there to spend a day with him for my job so I had to create a harmonious interaction. But I didn’t want to betray my own principles to do it. So after he said, “Do you like my chain?” I said, “Why is it a white Jesus?” He waved off the question like it wasn’t a big deal even though the whitewashing of the most famous Black man in world history is absolutely a big deal. 

An hour later, we were in a town car driving to his meetings in Manhattan when, out of the blue, he said “Do you think other people will say something about this being a white Jesus?” I realized I had gotten under his skin. I had not meant to do that, but now we’re stuck here. But I also realized how fragile his ego was. One person he barely knew had made one comment that wasn’t affirming one of his choices, and it was bothering him. A few moments later, he canceled several of his meetings and decided to go back to the jewelry store to see if he could change up this piece. One comment from one person made him reconsider his whole chain.

Even back then, Kanye was extremely sensitive, and yet his mother told me that he had always been extremely self-assured. She also told me that she worshipped the ground he walked on. She had given him the emotional tools to fight his way up from a nobody. She had given him the ability to believe in himself even when no one did. He had developed a huge ego and a lot of self-assurance as well as a lot of insecurity. His career has been a vacillation between that ego and that insecurity. So much of what we know about Kanye stems from a tug of war between, on one side, his massive ego and his towering belief in himself, and, on the other side, the fragility of that ego. Those two things and the contradiction between them have defined Kanye and I saw all of that the first time I hung out with him. But this is just a part of the story. The whole story is much deeper, and it includes a run-in with Jay-Z. Check out the whole story at “Star Stories With Touré.”

Touré, theGrio.com

Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s” and the animated show Star Stories with Toure which you can find at TheGrio.com/starstories. He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.

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