Kanye Omari West: Hip-hop’s reigning king, perpetually in the headlines. An inescapable tour-de-force fueling the media with headlines galore.
But a deeper significance lies within the drama of last year’s antics than just the headlines: Is Kanye still “black enough,” no longer stepping up for his community and people like he did during the era of Hurricane Katrina? West was criticized for his lack of “blackness” in the slam poem called, “Footnotes for Kanye,” written by poet-activist Jasmine Mans who says,
“Can you hear all the Black kids calling your name / Wondering why the boy who rapped about his mama getting arrested for the sit-ins didn’t sit in.”
Has Kanye gone to the white side? Many feel that he’s a sellout because of his visit with President-Elect Trump in his gold-plated penthouse apartment, where he debuted his blonde hair. Kanye told the world he would’ve voted for Trump…if he had voted in last year’s election.
But what the media fails to recognize as it shit-talks Kanye West for the upteenth time is that Yeezus, like a Transformer, has more to him than meets the eye. For starters: a string of mental disorders we know very little about.
While Kanye West’s personal struggles and downfalls will only officially be known by Kanye and his close group of friends, family and health experts, other experts have made some assumptions.
Psychiatrist Dr. Rachel Kitson reflected on the topic of his mental illnesses on the website “shrinktank.com,” suggesting Kanye is experiencing a series of problems. . Included in the long list is Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Identity Formation, and the God Complex in her article, “A Psychologist’s Perspective on Kanye West.”
Again, these are well-reasoned assumptions made by a professional, but we will never know for sure what’s really going on in his mind. Despite his life being made public, Kanye reserves the right to keep his mental disorders private.
As an individual who has been frequently open about her personal struggles and mental disorders through writing, I can attest what Kanye is struggling with is a battle we will never see. He deserves to take the time to wrestle with his demons and get back to creating.
To fully understand why Kanye acts the way he does means we have to look back at his history, starting with the beginning of his career back in 2002…
LIFE OF PABLO
(or the career of a god)
Kanye West started in the music industry the old fashioned way: moving to New York City with a mixtape and a dream. Come 2002, Jay-Z liked the mixtape and signed him to Rock-A-Fella records.
Kanye West has been under the public’s scrutiny since his career got started in 2004 with his critically-acclaimed debut studio album, “The College Dropout,” an album that reflects on his short time in college.
With 2.6 million copies sold, West scored ten Grammy nominations, taking home three. The best thing to come from the album: “Through the Wire,” which was produced when Kanye’s jaw was wired shut from a near-fatal car crash.
In 2006, West created controversy on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, dressed as Jesus Christ with a crown of thorns, blood dripping down his face. In the cover story, which can be found on the magazine’s website, he discusses his fame, his dedication to his music, and his goals for nothing less than complete success.
Many of Kanye’s recurring themes are hardly different from eleven years ago: he’s outspoken, questionable, well-outfitted, and is willing to go the extra mile to make his music nothing less than perfection.
West continues to experience tremendous success with his albums. 2005’s “Late Registration” and 2007’s “Graduation” are made as a sort-of trilogy alongside “College Dropout,” giving the world cult hits like “Gold Digger.”
In 2009, he notoriously interrupted Taylor Swift’s award receiving for Best Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards. President Barack Obama called West out as a “jackass” for his remarks, and Kanye revisited the event in his notorious single, “Famous.”
West retreated to the island of Hawaii to get away from the media’s madness where he recorded “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” The album is considered by longtime fans to be one of his last great albums, an example of the extent of Kanye’s style choices. West plays with not just one genre, but many, and “Lost in the World” is truly one of his best.
BLACK TO THE
As of late, Kanye has continued to be a figure of media fascination. In 2015, West debuted his fashion line, “Yeezy” in collaboration with the sportswear giant Adidas. The fashion show itself was eyebrow-raising: models standing in lines of four, moving upwards to the sound of a horn, the clothes urban and post-apocalyptic.
“I choose to partner with Adidas because, as you will experience today, Adidas is a brand that enables creators to create. Boost is the industry-leading technology, and I had to use the best innovation,” he said of his collection.
About a year ago, Kanye outdid himself by renting out Madison Square Garden to debut Season 3 and his entire album, “The Life of Pablo.” Instead of allowing a select few to attend like in most fashion shows, it was as if he invited the entire planet.
2016 wasn’t anyone’s year, but it could be argued that it especially wasn’t Kanye’s. Critics and egalitarians alike called out West for his offensive lyrics towards Taylor Swift in “Famous.” (Swift fired back at him for “taking credit for [her] success” at the Grammys.)
In December, Kanye was shunned for kissing up to President-Elect Donald Trump, when his Twitter explained that he was simply meeting with Mr. Trump to discuss black issues.
“I feel it is important to have a direct line of communication with our future President if we truly want change,” said Kanye over Twitter. “I wanted to meet with Trump today to discuss multicultural issues. These issues included bullying, supporting teachers, modernizing curriculums, and violence in Chicago.”
Naturally, the tweets got no media attention and soon became the butt of many a late night talk show joke alongside his newly lightened locks. A black writer for the Huffington Post said Kanye has “turned himself White now,” another member of the Kardashian family, addicted to fashion and social media.
SO WHAT GIVES?
Has this notorious pop culture figure sold his exclusive $2,000 Yeezy Boost soles to the white man? Not at all.
When studying Kanye West, what needs to be stressed is that this is a man impassioned by his artwork; a man who’s constantly looking to better himself as much as he can. He has these endless ideas and wants to do whatever he can to give the world his artwork, whether or not the world wants to accept it.
This is the man whose mother, with virtually no money, spent $25 an hour so a thirteen-year-old ‘Ye could record in a studio. The guy who became the “College Dropout” with the hopes of making it big.
But the media refuses to report about this Kanye, because the backstory of Kanye would never make for clickbait and tabloid purchases. Instead, the man is turned into a shitstorm by the paparazzi.
“They smile in my face is what I don’t like. / They steal your whole sound, that’s a soundbite. / The media crucify me like they did Christ; / they want to find me not breathin’ like they found Mike [Michael Jackson],” West raps of his relationships with the media, and perhaps with reality, in his revamp of “I Don’t Like.”
It’s this truthfulness, this rapping from the heart, that gives Kanye his strength. But it’s also the cinematic anthems that give him his critically-acclaimed glory: Jesus Walks, Ultralight Beam, Lost in the World, POWER, and Love Lockdown have so much to talk about in terms of their depth and the way they’ve been produced.
What we can learn from the Kanye stories is a big lesson on how we (don’t) treat mental illness here in America. It’s one thing to have a mental disorder when you’re a regular Joe or Jane; you get to deal with it without the speculation, your face never getting plastered on the cover of US Weekly. We’re not Kanye; we will never have to deal with being one of the most influential and the most famous black individuals on the planet.
And with every disorder comes the good and the bad.
Kanye is no different, folks: he’s no different than any other person out there with a dream and an artistic vision. The only difference is that he’s a celebrity in a world where famous people can’t be respected for their mental illnesses.
Column by Morgan Connelly