Kanye West in Trump hat
Courtesy: NBC

Opinion

Kanye West Is Gone

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.”

It’s definitely a loaded thing to say. You might hear it without context—like, for example, hearing that the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution should be abolished—and think it’s a bad thing. But though it may sound like a reference to blacks being intimidated, or some tragic Emmett Till allusion, it’s actually rooted in positive self-identity. The idea is that a person’s race does not diminish what he or she is, or has—therefore, African Americans should not allow themselves to covet things we think society saves for Caucasians. We are more than just good enough; we are just as good, and sometimes better, than what we believe others to be. The grass is not necessarily greener on the whiter side of town. Stay focused on yours.
But yep, the first person who came to mind when I heard my friend’s expression was Kanye West, who’s gone from one of the most unapologetically black voices in America, to an example of what happens when a talented individual is more motivated by the potential for attention and praise than the potential to make a culture-shifting artistic statement. Unfortunately, at least when it comes to wanting acceptance of people who once hated him, it now seems like you truly can’t tell Kanye West nothin’.

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.
So, how then did this same guy, who could make a song like “Gorgeous” (a damn near perfect sonic interpretation of the mentality black men need to survive in America), become so toxic to the people for whom he made the music that made him famous? The truth is that it goes back further than the MAGA hat he insists on wearing, and it’s beginning to appear deeper than something as excusable and understandably complicated as mental-health disorder. It’s pure, unchecked ego, which has seen pure, unchecked ego, or “dragon energy,” assume the pinnacle of world power, and wants it, too. It’s a man who finds brotherhood no longer among those who look like him, but rather those who consistently push, through words and actions, to keep him and his kind in subservience and dependence. That’s true, whether you blame Democrats for Welfare or not.

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.

Add to this behavior Kanye’s consistent refusal to distance himself from President Donald Trump, who has made a habit of providing safe coverage for the deplorable types we were warned about by the popularly elected 2016 presidential candidate (a.k.a. Hillary Clinton). America is now led by a man who loves publicly insulting some of America’s most prominent and visible black men, from LeBron James to Barack Obama, while saving praise for Steve Harvey, Paris Dennard, Dr. Ben Carson and, of course, Kanye West, all of whom refuse to criticize the president directly for such unquestionably bad behavior as equivocating, when given the opportunity, to denounce what are now called White Nationalists, who once upon a time were more honestly known as racists, fascists, Confederate sympathizers and neo-Nazis. And Kanye West calls this man his “brother.”

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.
Make no mistake: Kanye West remains a genius in terms of music production, and his ego lets him believe he is loved for his words, when it's really more about his own need to be heard. You can be way more chameleonic when it comes to being a producer—people will say you have range and are so multifaceted, and those folks usually spend so much time locked in a studio looking at mixing board knobs that they don’t always have great people skills, anyway. But right now, 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, just like the rest of us who think he’s gone too far.

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.

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