By Matthew Gozzip Community Editor
Last week, Kanye West released a series of seemingly casual tweets detailing his creative process to help announce both a new album and some new items for his Yeezy clothing line. The stream of consciousness slowly morphed into a conversation about uniting a fractured nation, culminating in an endorsement of President Trump’s bombastic beliefs and attitude.
To make matters worse, West visited the headquarters of mega tabloid TMZ last Tuesday and suggested that slavery was a choice. "When you hear about slavery for 400 years...for 400 years? That sounds like a choice,” said West. “You were there for 400 years and it's all of y'all. It's like we're mentally imprisoned.”
This “New Kanye” is quickly becoming a pariah and a punchline and for good reason — the comments are ill-advised and cannot be forgiven. Distorting facts and, in my opinion, marketing his personal perception of the world as a definitive reality, is irresponsible and disrespectful to many of the people who have died due to racial discrimination and continue to struggle today.
West is no stranger to speaking his mind but to suggest that his latest controversial remarks are a ploy to stir up headlines to promote his brand is a shallow observation. West has won more than 20 Grammys, single-handedly shifted the culture of fashion in the hip-hop community and is known as one of TIME’s most influential people in the world. West doesn’t need publicity — all the recent antics are just a cry for attention.
When you begin to analyze West’s life, this realization becomes more apparent. West is the son of a Black Panther and a college professor who participated in sit-ins, suggesting that he has been aware about civil rights advocacy from a young age. Early in his career, West regularly appeared on the Def Poetry Jam television show to talk about the need for consciousness about social issues in the black community.
This is the same man who stood in front of millions of people on live television and called out the president for his failure to protect predominantly black communities during Hurricane Katrina. This is the same man whose albums discuss the pitfalls of capitalism, the importance of black empowerment, the need to support the broken communities and the deconstruction of machismo in rap and hip-hop by being vulnerable with his emotions.
It’s important to note that Kanye has experienced recent tragedy and adversity. Between his mom passing away from complications from surgery, Kim Kardashian-West being held at gunpoint while he was on tour and the development of several new ventures, West has not given himself a proper break from the repeated stress.
The real tipping point came during the Saint Pablo Tour when he left mid-performance after a performing three shows in three consecutive days. After his wife’s ordeal, West began to exhibit odd behavior during performances, most notably arriving a hour and a half late to the the show in his hometown of Chicago and barely speaking to the crowd. During the Sacramento stop of his tour, West performed only three songs before leaving the stage and cancelling his tour after being hospitalized for stress and exhaustion.
I attended the show in Inglewood the final night of this three-show stint in Los Angeles. The first part of his performance concluded with a video tribute to his wife and children celebrating her birthday. After singing half of “Only One,” a song written about his mother and family, Kanye’s voice began to waver and he cut the song. He apologized to the crowd because his voice was fading and left the arena 20 minutes before his set was scheduled to conclude.
West was emotionally distraught but many still proceeded to scold his lack of professionalism amidst the pressure of it all. Poor mental health is not an excuse to make offensive comments, but a dismissal of West’s character is an unfairly swift reaction to a man who has given so much to so many people. There needs to be outreach.
Many of Kanye’s closest colleagues have attempted to reconsider his remarks through text messages and sit-down interviews in the past week, but many of them are giving him a lenient pass. Discussion about what he said won’t make him want to change — being upfront about his destructive behavior is the only thing that can produce change.
One thing I have noticed in the interviews he has participated in is a genuine sense of hurt and shame for putting his family and fans through so much. On top of that, he never felt he got full closure about the events surrounding his mother’s death.
When West announced he would use the portrait of his mother’s surgeon as the cover of his new album, the surgeon reached out to Kanye in an open letter that provided a “healing moment” for Kanye. A similar moment occurred in his interview with Charlamagne tha God when he apologized for his more controversial remarks. It seems that he genuinely cannot help himself when he is alone and without support, instinctually relying on people he doesn’t really know to comfort him.
I only point these things out because I’m a huge fan of Kanye. The first album I ever bought was “Late Registration,” my first introduction to an art form I now love dearly. And although I am appreciative of everything Kanye has done for me, I know I can be an ardent critic while still providing empathy. I’ve dealt with the harsh realities of neglected mental health, from loved ones who have passed away as a result of untreated mental illness and the personal difficulties I’ve experienced. Broken trust, extreme stress, a constant spotlight, emotional trauma and a constantly introspective mind blend together to make a poisonous lifestyle that seems inescapable at times.
West's intensely troubling remarks delegitimizing the impact of slavery and his gross abuse of privilege to selectively ignore the stark realities of systemic racism cannot be retracted and he should be rightfully lambasted. Despite all of this, West is not just a disillusioned celebrity. He is a thoughtful person with a powerful voice in need of an intervention, a true deconstruction of his past through proper mental health care.
As observers, we can’t really do much but hope his loved ones help him. Keep your opinions of Kanye but don’t forget to also keep your humanity.