During a recent conversation that didn’t even involve Kanye West, a friend of mine used a phrase I’d never heard before to describe his take on how African Americans are sometimes distracted by their experience in this country. Certain black people, he said—including himself—occasionally get caught “looking over there at them white folks.”
At the possible alienation of the hip-hop community, which propelled him into the upper echelon of star power and influence, he now pretends to be a bridge between the two Americas we were told by his fellow Chicagoan Barack Obama didn’t exist. We know now that John Edwards, for all of his wrongness, was right when he first pitched our country to us as a divided land. And we also know that it’s not a new idea—a literal war was fought between these two Americas, and though there was apparently a victor and a loser, the side that came in second still hasn’t exactly surrendered.
Kanye West, as “Ye,” has become a live-action publicity stunt more than a producer and creator of music of value. He wears water-bottle costumes on national television; associates with colorfully coifed, teenage trap-pop “musicians”; brags that his bipolar disorder is actually a “superpower”; asks rival rappers for their forgiveness one week, then demands they reach out to him about possible disrespect toward his wife and her fidelity, or lack thereof, to their marital vows. He praises right-wing thought leaders, and rips liberal and progressive political ideas, under the guise of free thought. He trolls, provokes, incites, instigates and throws rocks, because he knows that at a certain level of success—and with continued willingness to sell himself out to higher bidders than those who once considered him an ally—he can only fail up.
It’s difficult to understand this new “Ye,” and to put together words that can explain the level of disappointment and disillusionment myself and other black men of a certain age, who once thought Kanye West could do no wrong, now feel. This guy, this “Ye,” is an unrecognizable shell—an empty gift box wrapped with its own receipts. The gift that was once inside now looks and smells like gas. Kanye has come to see himself as a god, and in this Age of Ego, confidence, not content or context, is king.
Ye is riding the dragon, or perhaps the elephant, and throwing away an entire generation of fans for a new crowd that probably can’t wait to see him fall.
It’s nothing new for a celebrity to go through periods of unpopularity, becoming a pariah before getting right back to the place from which they fell, or at least close enough to be considered “un-canceled,” or re-invited to “the cookout,” as social media loves to say. But it would be great if people would seriously just stop talking about Kanye West, because as long as we care, the more he’s going to make us care, without truly giving us anything to care about. His tweets are not uplifting anything besides his Twitter reach. His rants are not uncovering any new truths people aren’t already aware of and are working to spread without his true underlying motivation—to promote albums people aren’t even sure they like. With every distracting, gaslighting thought he releases into the digital ether, there’s some new Kanye thing to discuss that’s not really inspiring anybody.
If there’s anything he’s doing that’s worth talking about, it’s how he could make fans of the same people who hated him after his famous “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” line, and his trophy-acceptance hijack of Taylor Swift, and how those defending him back then are now against him. That’s something that not everyone can do. Kanye can now claim to be one of the only black men in history who has been hated by white people on both sides of the political spectrum. He went from what Ice Cube—and likely/quietly many of his new Republican friends—might call "The n—a you love to hate,” to a man who now draws the ire of folks like David Crosby, Lana Del Rey and even Captain America (nope, Chris Evans is not a fan), who are mad at him for being too far to the right, or just saying stupid shit in general.
It appears that Kanye is looking too closely at Trump's strategy and thinking it would work for him, too. But the truth is that what works for a rich white man in America—bombast, overconfidence, spectacle, gaslighting, trolling, flaunting, instigation, sexual harassment with limited consequences—doesn't work the same way for black men. And it truly seems like what Kanye craves more than anything else is a taste of what it feels like to be seen as something other than black. Which is why it looks, sounds and seems like he's fighting himself.
But it’s still entertainment, I guess, and therefore, we're all winning—fans, haters, social media, traditional media, Adidas, etc.—as he continues to look more and more like a loser. It's entertainment, but it's not "G.O.O.D." music.