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The disgusting impossibility of being a Kanye West fan in 2022.
I think I tweet a lot of my ideas before I decide to write about them.
I grew up on Kanye’s music. I have spent considerable free time learning the lyrics to Black Skinhead and Can’t Tell Me Nothing — two tracks that will forever be among my favorites. I’m not an album person, but Graduation and Yeezus are two albums I’ve devoured multiple times (sorry, fans of MBDTF). I was proud of telling everyone that Kanye West was #2 in my all-time artists list. My parents had to bear me playing Stronger in a car with the entire family in it — to date, I don’t know what they felt about hearing someone rap “You could be my black Kate Moss tonight”. Maybe they’ll tell me when they read this.
(Good for them that they didn't hear “Lamborghini mercy, yo' chick, she so thirsty”.)
Kanye was, for a good two years (if not more) as essential a part of my late adolescence as brushing my teeth.
To the extent where, before I was mature, I would find convenient (but obviously terrible and weak) to defend him for the things he’s pulled off. Crashing Taylor Swift’s moment at the MTV VMAs, making him the “victim” in his relationship with Kim Kardashian, the entire lead-up to Ye. I’ve alternated between loving him, sympathizing with him for his bipolar disorder, and ignoring his misdeeds. But never hating him, or cancelling him, because how could I? To quote one lyric that aptly described my passion for his music:
“When they reminisce over you, my god.”
Call it a moment of awakening, or a moment of “you’ve finally come to your senses”, but the dilemma of calling yourself a fan of this landmark artist has become infinitely worse. And I'm nowhere close to talking about the delays in his releases. There's something about the perception that Kanye has of himself, and the world around him, that bugs me. This perception has led to a public image of the figure that's both a lot of signal, and a lot of noise. An image that only became more disheartening to notice once there was a sweet Netflix documentary about him.
Last month, Netflix released jeen-yuhs, a three-part docuseries about Kanye. For the purpose of charting his rise to greatness, Kanye allowed Chicago natives Coodie and Chike to film him on-the-go. The duo has captured some legendary music moments as a result: for example, the time Kanye plays Through The Wire for Pharrell Williams. It took Pharrell an entire verse to figure out why the song was called so — for the uninitiated: Kanye suffered a nearly-fatal car accident in 2003. His jaw required intensive surgery, so it had to remain clamped with wires. He decided to rap through the mouth, about that accident.
I haven't seen the third part of the show yet, but coincidentally, three things stood out to me about it. To begin with: a) the discourse around it.
The documentary is, first and foremost, a recap of Kanye's genius. So if you did do so, you're extremely correct in thinking that the fanbase lapped it up. The Kanye fanbase is notorious for protecting and promoting whatever ongoing positive narrative there is about him. One look at YouTube, Twitter, or r/kanye is enough to make you wish you didn't see those comments. This is a fanbase that would often criminalize and mock the wife in an attempt to side by their favorite celebrity, adding to the sexism she faces anyway. She might not be perfect, but there was a time when Kanye fans said that she was like one of those white people in the movie Get Out.
But it's the lack of nuance and contextualization of Kanye's history with his current being that really surprises me. Kanye fans find it extremely easy to isolate his brilliance from his mind-bogglingly horrible decision-making. I'm sure that, fan or not, you've all heard of the “I miss the old Kanye meme”. There are people saying that Kanye has always been like this, and there's no old or new Kanye. So, basically, he's always been insufferable, unforgivable and Jesus actually can't walk?
The one really smart piece of introspection around the man post the release of the documentary came from Jordan Calhoun on The Atlantic. Like me, his late teens/early 20s were made better because of Kanye. But he also articulates a feeling that I can’t help but resonate with:
In the past few years, Kanye’s never-ending buffoonery includes saying that being enslaved was “a choice,” criticizing Harriet Tubman in a failed presidential run, and publicly harassing his ex-partner and others. I could say that I “dislike” what Kanye has become; I could cite his mental-health struggles, or his mother’s passing, or the cost of being a misunderstood “genius.” I wish I were that understanding.”
My resonation with this chunk leads me to reason: b) my own synthesis of who Kanye was and is after watching a bit of this documentary. A quick primer of the things that made me have a gripe with Kanye:
harassed ex-wife Kim Kardashian with very weird grand gestures
platformed Marilyn Manson — a storied abuser with more than a few allegations against him — on a song joking about going to jail for said accusations
said “slavery is a choice”
took potshots against his longtime collaborator and good friend, Kid Cudi, repeatedly to the point where the two didn’t speak — at least twice
And this is not even addressing Kanye’s vocal support of Trump. This 2018 piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates puts that endorsement in an interesting perspective: Kanye wants to escape the clutches of being black, instead of embracing his identity. Legendary producer T.I noted that despite Kanye’s word to Trump, he hadn’t even heard of the travel ban to America that Trump had instituted for many Middle Eastern nations. I have no way of saying that I resonated with Coates, because he came from a lived experience. But this Kanye also once stood up to George Bush in the wake of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, saying that the president “didn’t care about black people”. One of the things that made me a fan of his unabashed self. Coates made a ton of sense to me, comparing Kanye to a post-surgery Michael Jackson.
It was only in 2018-19 that I gave thought to the question, “Who is Kanye?” Maybe he could be all of those things together, because there must be a universe were both beliefs that he held, could be held simultaneously, right? I let it slide, because in my mind, it seemed like ignorant, wishful thinking. What if he had known all of Trump’s discriminatory policies beforehand? Would he have made his “dragon energy” claim then?
I also started developing my own critical thinking process from that year, because college does that to you. One conversation that often came up with my friends was this idea of separating the art from the artist. Names came up. Michael Jackson, John Lennon, Elvis Presley, David Bowie, R Kelly — all artists we’ve all listened to, and still do. But Kanye was still universally appreciated, because his mishaps were only limited to saying things, and not, say, things like assault. Many of us might have also made the mistake of attributing his political thoughts to his bipolar disorder. Would that mean political and social opinions are a function of mental illness? That’s not fair to everyone else who’s suffering from mental illnesses. I might not be an expert on mental illnesses, but there are people with bipolar disorder who are empathetic and care for their fellow human being. Where do you draw the line?
But what has put me over the edge is the Manson feature on Jail Pt 2. I find it hard to say that we can separate this decision from his personality. The theme of the song seems to be a kind of man who believes that all the wrongs are committed against him only. I do believe that Kanye has been a victim of excessive media scrutiny, which has also diluted what we sometimes think of him as a whole person. But he took it to a new low with Manson saying “Guess who’s going to jail tonight / God gon’ post my bail tonight”.
Lastly, c) the tone of the docuseries. I liked what I got to watch: Coodie painted a lovely picture of Kanye’s struggles, and his relationship with his mother — Donda West. But it was also tinged with a sadness that seemed to say “we all know how this will end”. Coodie followed Kanye for much of the start of his career, but then with time, he just became another small part of Kanye’s last entourage. The story is that he didn’t get personal facetime with him until Kanye launched Sunday Service. And it is supposed to be a commentary on the pitfalls of fame, but I like to think that that’s only one factor among many that have led to what Kanye is today.
And again, what is Kanye today? I can’t tell. The documentary is, besides a celebration of his career, also a reminder of the fact that this might not be the same Kanye we once knew. The Kanye that was unafraid to write on how murderous white America was. The Kanye who was unafraid to say that he was flawed, and always found something wrong. The Kanye who said:
“So what the Devil wear Prada, Adam-Eve wear nada, I’m in between but way more fresh…”
Maybe it’s my way of learning that celebrity worship doesn’t do anyone any good. But Kanye was not just worship to me. He made music for growing up, for the soul, pre-exam, post-exam, pre-interview, post-interview, pre-crying, post-crying. I still listen to the music that made me a fan of him, because sometimes I need it to bring me back to life as a sane person. Now, I don’t know where the soul of it all is anymore. He spends his time hanging out with the holy gang of masculinity and toxicity (disclaimer: two artists that do have places in my playlist) — Drake and Future. He seems to have built around himself a dangerous echo chamber, where everyone will play yes-man.
Maybe I’m missing some nuance in these arguments, and maybe I don’t understand what he’s going through. He’s still technically brilliant, and still knows how to conduct an orchestra, for himself and for others. But what was a source of inspiration and struggle to me, now screams a lack of self-awareness. I’ve gone from loving him, to looking retrospectively on all his transgressions, to shitting on him, to now possibly being indifferent about what he does. I may try out his new stuff (I haven’t tried his Donda 2 release on YouTube), but I couldn’t care less about it anymore. I can’t say I forgive him, because he doesn’t owe me — a fan — an apology. He is his own person. But if I’m being honest?
I miss the old Kanye.
[If you can, please do read the first hyperlinked article! It’s by a friend who writes amazingly, and you can find all her published (she’s published max) stuff here.]
[I’m working on a pretty ambitious piece which was supposed to come out this month. But on the advice of a friend to not wait, I decided to write something that’s been on my mind for a good 6 months. This is that piece. But I can’t wait to show you the other one! Happy Holi!]