Anyone who knows me knows what an intense, unabashed Kanye West fan I am. So they might’ve found it odd that in the past couple of weeks, I’ve been quiet throughout the constant headlines about his public antics, often keeping my commentary to a couple of sentences and an eye roll before changing the subject, avoiding diving into my actual feelings about it. But no, it’s not that I suddenly just do not care, or that I am no longer a Kanye West fan. What I am is disappointed. In denial. Numb. Exhausted. And heartbroken.
That might sound like a dramatic response to the actions of a celebrity, someone I’ve never met. But since I was 16 years old, West has been the voice in my ear aggressively pushing me to dream bigger, go harder, reach higher. He has quite literally served as the soundtrack to my adult life, from bus rides listening to The College Dropout as an awkward high school junior to The Life Of Pablo nursing me back to happiness after a breakup, to just two weeks ago, when much of Yeezus pushed me across the finish line of my first 10K. The word “Dreams” tattooed on my wrist was inspired by my favorite Langston Hughes poem — but also nods to the mantra I frequently pull from West’s song “I Wonder” on my toughest days: “I’ve been waiting on this my whole life/These dreams be wakin’ me up at night…”
That kind of intimate relationship with an artist’s music goes beyond fandom. It’s emotional. Spiritual, almost. So you can imagine that hearing the Black man who’s inspired you to be a better you utter the words "When you hear about slavery for 400 years...That sounds like a choice" isn’t just crazy, or laughable — it’s devastating. And the irony is that the man who created the music that’s helped me protect and maximize my energy over the years is now draining me of my energy with his words and actions. Every day, friends and colleagues hit me with “I told you so’s” and “I think it’s time you finally let go of Kanye and abandon ship.” Now, I’m left with a personal question: Can I separate the ridiculous actions of this man enough to still be a fan of his incredible music?
"The man who created the music that’s helped me protect my energy is now draining me of my energy with his words and actions."
Of course, separating the art from the man is a debate many have grappled with often over the past few years. I still don’t feel okay quoting episodes from my beloved The Cosby Show or watching previous pleasures like Frida and Midnight In Paris. But, unlike men such as Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, or Woody Allen, Kanye West has not committed a crime. Let me be clear: We cannot compare Kanye West publicly stating his opinion to men committing sexual assault. West has not physically harmed anyone, or done anything illegal. And though he has denied it, it’s still very possible that mental illness could be a factor here.
Still, his messages are very hurtful, and warrant the question of how fans can continue to support or defend him. It’s very difficult to remedy the fact that the son of a Black Panther father and noted scholar mother, the lyricist who gave us “New Slaves” — “You see it's broke nigga racism/That's that 'Don't touch anything in the store'" — is now casually mentioning to TMZ that he thinks 400 years of slavery was a choice. It’s equally confounding that the person who once declared on national television (during a Katrina telethon) that George Bush doesn’t care about Black people is now applauding a president who is racist, sexist, and homophobic. (It’s also mind-boggling that a father to two Black daughters and a Black son can support a racist who's also likely guilty of sexual assault.) And unlike, say, Michael Jackson, whose classic music you could arguably dance to without thinking about the child molestation allegations against him (a quandary for another day), West’s persona and opinions are intrinsic to his music. His rhymes have allowed us to watch his life’s journey before our eyes through seven albums — a beautiful but dark, twisted fantasy indeed.
My friends have not hesitated to tell me that I should not be surprised. And maybe I shouldn’t be. Obviously, Kanye West is beyond outspoken — and prone to questionable decisions, whether it was that infamous Taylor Swift VMAs moment or only casting “multiracial models” at his Yeezy fashion show. Still, I always held on strong. While sometimes I was genuinely worried about West’s mental health, I defended him unwaveringly, explaining that the rapper is simply an artist who likes to push boundaries, encourage debate, and spark conversation. And though his execution and delivery may not always be the most on point, there is usually a valid point somewhere in his message. Somewhere...
And in his recent interviews, there were glimmers of hope that some of the “old Kanye” remnants remain. Perhaps most promising was his two-hour sit-down with The Breakfast Club’s Charlamagne The God on May 1. He was calm and thoughtful, opening up honestly about his mental breakdown and opioid addiction. I was surprised that I could even agree with him on one thing regarding Donald Trump — that Trump’s election “proved that anything is possible in America.” But just when fans were getting just the tiniest bit optimistic that Yeezy hasn’t left us completely, then came the TMZ interview, where he rambled and bellowed to the website’s newsroom about everything from his pre-wedding liposuction to, yes, that slavery comment. (Which very quickly inspired the Twitter hashtag #IfSlaveryWasAChoice.)
We may never know what West’s true intentions are with these recent appearances and rants. Perhaps he truly is just speaking his mind and seeking to expand the way our culture thinks. But the problem is that much of this rhetoric — and the wild, thoughtless way it’s being delivered without fact-checking — feels like a publicity stunt. Watching each interview, West has seemingly become a caricature of himself, an uncontrollable egomaniac who either wants to hear himself speak or is attempting to sell records via confusing, inflammatory performance art. But as Van Lathan, the Black TMZ staffer who bravely confronted West in the newsroom after he declared slavery “a choice,” put it: “You’re entitled to believe whatever you want. But there is fact, and real-world, real-life consequence behind everything that you just said. And while you are making music and being an artist and living the life that you’ve earned by being a genius, the rest of us in society have to deal with these threats to our lives. We have to deal with the marginalization that has come from the 400 years of slavery that you said, for our people, was a choice.”
The light at the end of this endless, twisty tunnel is West’s upcoming album. And the me who has spent countless hours with her sister dissecting ’Ye songs (the two of us, plus my best friend, even once dressed as three Kanyes for Halloween) cannot wait for this album, and hopes that his family and others around him will provide the help and support that he needs. But the bigger me — the woman who is a smart, proud, Black feminist, and the woman who, ironically, Kanye West helped shape — is too disappointed that her favorite artist seems to have no loyalty or respect for his millions of Day One fans. The people who have bought his records and concert tickets and followed him for nearly two decades. The people who have carried him to the very platform he is now abusing. In fact, it seems that he has forgotten about us entirely.
And when it all falls down, that is what hurts most of all.
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