What Should We Do About Kanye West? Maybe…Nothing

Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images.
In the decades since his debut as a plucky young rapper from the southside of Chicago, Kanye West changed the way we thought about music, fashion, and how both intertwined with hip-hop. And no matter how you feel about him, the music maverick’s work has undoubtedly left an indelible impact on culture as we know it. Unfortunately, more recent years have twisted West’s legacy into one of chaos, controversy, and confusion, leaving even the most passionate card-carrying members of Team Yeezy mulling over a question that’s particularly difficult to answer: what should we do about Kanye? 
As millions are tuning into jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy, the revealing Netflix docuseries about West’s unique origin story, a disturbing narrative is running parallel. The sheer awe and inspiration that we feel from watching West literally speak his success into existence in jeen-yuhs is being muddled by the pandemonium we’re seeing in real time as he uses his own hands, Instagram post by Instagram post, to disassemble the reputation he so painstakingly built.   
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Looking at the man currently subjecting the internet to threatening songs and endless screenshots of personal texts, it’s hard to imagine that the Kanye West of today is the same backpack and skinny jeans-wearing visionary of days past, but controversy has always been the rapper’s bread and butter. When West first hit the mainstream scene in 2000 as a producer for Roc-A-Fella, he had the industry split; the hip-hop scene was simultaneously taken aback and impressed by the newbie’s unabashed confidence in himself and his musical talents. Self-possessed to the point that it felt arrogant, West knew even as a no-name producer for the label that his destiny was to to change the face of music — a prophecy that would come to fruition with the release of critically acclaimed works like The College Dropout, Late Registration, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and 808s & Heartbreak. As his star grew, so did his ego; the more that West became a force in hip hop, the more he believed that he was the most important person in the music industry. That hubris both helped and harmed him, making West one of the richest, most respected figures in the game while also leading him to believe that he was a god amongst mere mortals. 


[Kanye's] hubris both helped and harmed him, making him one of the richest, most respected spans in the game while also leading him to believe that he was a god amongst mere mortals.

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So when exactly did we start giving Kanye the side-eye? Depends on who you ask. For some, the wariness might have stemmed from his unforgettable moment at the 2009 VMAs when he interrupted Taylor Swift’s big win for Best Female Video Of The Year by declaring that Beyoncé had “one of the best music videos of all time.” (For all intents and purposes, he did have a point; “Singles Ladies" had the world in a vice grip.) For others, it was his dogged campaign to make Kim Kardashian the first lady of Team Yeezy. His remaining supporters would later be pushed away by his shocking pivot to conservatism and alliance with former U.S. President Donald Trump. Many of West’s fans, peers, and close friends were aghast to find that he had aligned himself with the president in 2016, seemingly approving of the racist, xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic, and classist rhetoric that Trump and the Republican Party spewed at every turn. Though both men suffer from an inflated ego, their sudden connection still felt off brand. How could the same man who accused former President George W. Bush of not caring about Black people during the devastation of Hurricane Katrina actually love Trump? Was the Kanye who critiqued the evils of capitalism in “New Slaves” really the same guy who would claim that 400 years of slavery felt like a “choice” just years later? 
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We knew that something was off behind closed doors, and in 2018, the rapper admitted to wrestling with his mental health on his eighth studio album, Ye. West’s promotion for the project divulged that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2017 and had been struggling to manage it since. The candid reveal brought his erratic behaviour full circle, helping us realise that West’s highs and devastating lows weren’t simply fuelled by ego. He was going through it, and we needed to show him compassion and empathy as he did the work. After all, West’s music had saved so many of us in our darkest times — didn’t we owe him some understanding as he fought for his own healing? 
Yet, as we regarded West with more nuance and grace, it became harder to shake the disquiet we felt from watching him from afar. The more he publicly raged, the more uneasy we became, wondering what, if anything, the people in his inner circle were doing to help him get better behind closed doors. West’s antics came more frequently in the years that followed, and each one was more outlandish than the last: pivoting to “gospel” music, rehashing old beefs, disrupting the legitimacy of one of the most important elections of the 21st century by running for president (again). We were worried about him, and enraged by his actions, but what could we do? He was a grown man. That sense of helplessness and inner conflict about West’s situation hasn’t gone away. If anything, it’s only gotten worse over time. Today, the general consensus on West’s antics is pretty much unanimous: it’s getting weird over there. We’re seeing more and more concerning behaviour from the former hero of hip-hop, and it’s far more sinister than the usual trolling; what we’re observing now feels dangerous, like something that could actually put people (including his loved ones) in real trouble. 
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How could the same man who accused former President George W. Bush of not caring about Black people during the devastation of Hurricane Katrina actually love Trump? Was the Kanye who critiqued the evils of capitalism in 'New Slaves' really the same guy who would claim that 400 years of slavery felt like a 'choice' just years later? 

ineye komonibo
The breakup of the Kardashian-Wests has played out in the public eye, which is unsurprising considering the public nature of the former powerhouse couple’s relationship. However, what could have been a cordial conscious uncoupling between the two billionaires is turning out to be a frightening, emotionally abusive ordeal unfolding for the entire world to see. Rather than working towards a copacetic co-parenting relationship with the mother of his four kids, West is choosing violence, opting to take the offensive by claiming that Kardashian is attempting to isolate him from their family through the divorce. Kardashian’s decision to move on to a new relationship with actor and SNL star Pete Davidson has also elicited disturbing behaviour from her ex-husband — ironic, since he’s been romantically involved with several women since his divorce became public — including cyberbullying and thinly veiled threats in his music. When called out for the harassment by peers like comedian D.L. Hughley, West responded with more intimidation, sharing in since-deleted social media posts that he could “afford to hurt [Hughley].”
Though a specific corner of the internet continues to make light of West’s repeated antagonism, what we’re seeing isn’t anything to laugh about. Using his platform to issue threats of violence and galvanise his followers to harass the people he’s beefing with is cause for alarm, especially since Davidson himself has also openly discussed his own severe challenges with borderline personality disorder in the past. (Davidson even famously defended one of West’s viral Twitter episodes in 2018 when his then-girlfriend Ariana Grande criticised the rapper for “weaponizing his mental health.”)  
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Amidst all of the havoc that he himself has been perpetuating, West maintains that he’s not to blame; to him, the real issue is with the Kardashian-Jenners, who he claims are trying to “play with Black men’s lives” by boxing him out. On one hand, his issues with his ex and her family aren’t exactly unfounded; the Kardashian-Jenners are well-known culture vultures who have appropriated Black culture and been harmful towards a number of the Black people around them. (Jordyn Woods and Blac Chyna would like a word.) While a broken clock may be right twice a day, the reality is that West himself actually contributed to that appropriation or, at the very least, ignored it while he was a member of that family. Despite all of the problematic, anti-Black news stories that came out about the Kardashian-Jenners over the years, West only started condemning them after things went south in his relationship with Kim.
Additionally, even if he’s finally seen the light when it comes to the Kardashian-Jenners, West’s current approach is actually doing more damage than good to his kids. By taking what should be a private legal proceeding to the court of public opinion, he’s made his divorce the world’s business. And with each screenshot that goes viral, West is actually escalating the matter — and increasing the likelihood that his children, one of whom has an active internet presence, will see their dad being hostile towards their mom online. All of that talk about trying to protect his kids flies out the window when he’s the one putting their emotional welfare at risk. It’s damaging to his family, yes, but West’s gaslighting tactics (and much of the public’s devil-may-care response to them) are also a glaring example of how easily abuse can be perpetuated in society when wealth and privilege are also part of the equation. If a whole Kim Kardashian can be publicly harassed by her ex-husband without any consequences, what of the women with only a fraction of her status and visibility?
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Keeping [Kanye] on a pedestal as the voice of the people or even just as a tool for entertainment, only affirms his misbehavior, and it also further stigmatizes and villainizes others dealing with bipolar disorder. We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place; casting West out would be painful, but keeping him close could hurt us even more.

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With everything that’s going on with West right now, it’s hard to know how to move forward as (former) fans, because this isn’t the Kanye that so many hip-hop heads fell in love with. As a result, the course of action that we should take as people who once adored him and his music is somewhat unclear. Unlike the consequences for other former favourites like Bill Cosby and R. Kelly — people we’ve had to divorce ourselves from for their abhorrent crimes — cancellation doesn’t seem like the clear cut response to West. Every day, he gives us new reasons for being the top spot on our shit list, but he’s also got a permanent place in our thoughts and prayers because of the immutable nuance of his mental health diagnosis. And knowing how bipolar disorder has affected West, who’s made us privy to his many challenges by running to social media at every turn and writing about it in his recent releases, there’s something that feels wrong about just throwing him away. Still, West is problematic, and his actions, though intensified by his mental health issues, do have real life ramifications on those around him and on the culture that he claims to represent. Keeping him on a pedestal as the voice of the people, or even just as a tool for entertainment, only affirms his misbehaviour, and it also further stigmatises and villainises others dealing with bipolar disorder. We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place; casting West out would be painful, but keeping him close would hurt us even more. 
In a perfect world, maybe we — the public he so desperately wants to impress and the ones who are still clinging to the man who used to impress us — could help West get back on track, but that’s simply not our job or even within the scope of our ability as people who once looked up to him. It’s his. What is our responsibility, however, is being honest with ourselves about the repercussions of his actions and understanding how we might be playing into them by reducing his public meltdowns and threats to mere memes, fodder for laughter, and water cooler moments. As fans, we have to be willing to do away with our hero worship and see West for who he is in this very moment: a man who is spiralling in a serious way. Realistically, that might be the only thing that we can do for now. The rest is up to him. 

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