I miss the old Kanye, straight from the ’Go Kanye
Chop up the soul Kanye, set on his goals Kanye
I hate the new Kanye, the bad mood Kanye
The always rude Kanye, spaz in the news Kanye
These lyrics from “I Miss the Old Kanye,” a song on West’s recent album The Life of Pablo, have resonated with me since its release. But they rang particularly true a few weeks ago when I woke up to find that Kanye had gone on one of his infamous rants during the most recent performance of his Saint Pablo tour. He said that he did not vote during this very crucial election. And not only did he not vote, but this black man who has black children — who has a wife, mother, and daughter — added that if he had voted, he would have voted for the orange monster president-elect, for the biggest bigot, the most sexist and vile human being. He didn’t stop there, either. He went on to say that black people need to "stop focusing on racism" — basically, to just get over it.
Kanye’s comments shook me to my core. They hurt me deeply for many reasons, but above all else, because I have long felt like I know Kanye. I remember the first time I ever heard his music, the first lyrics I heard: “She don’t believe in shootin’ stars / But she believe in shoes and cars.” I was hooked by the dazzlingly simple beat, the perfect soundtrack to end a perfect summer day. Every radio station in Chicago played “Flashing Lights” hourly during the summer of 2008. I memorized every word to it and found a way to (illegally) listen to every song from Graduation.
I was especially tantalized by the way West fully, eloquently encapsulated the struggle of being black in America, and specifically being black in Chicago. He did so in the song “Good Life,” with lyrics like, “I always had a passion for flashin’ / Before I had it, I closed my eyes and imagined the good life.” Don’t even get me started on the “Homecoming” lyrics, like, “Every interview I’m representin’ you, makin’ you proud / Reach for the stars so if you fall, you land on a cloud / Jump in a crowd, spark your lighters, wave ’em around / If you don't know by now, I’m talkin’ ’bout Chi-Town."
There is an immense amount of pride that comes with being from Chicago: Yeezy taught me that. I remember when he first came on the scene and radio DJs said that this lyrical genius was from the South Side. I didn’t believe it; I couldn’t believe it. His music told a story of a place I’ve always been proud to call home. It spoke to me and spoke for me. He spoke of the South Side as if it’s a magical place where heroes are made. It’s also rough — that goes without saying — and many people know about the crime, poverty, and lack of opportunities that persist there. But Kanye showed me that there is also a vibrancy here that is unparalleled by any other city. He showed me the beauty of Chicago.
His account of the struggle that comes with growing up in Chicago sounded a lot like my own struggle growing up on the East Side — 79th Street, one of the roughest areas in the city. As a preteen, I didn’t know that people from my side of town could make it out. But there’s beauty in that struggle: Yeezy taught me that. He inspired me to never let my circumstances or what anyone thinks of me hold me back.
I remember visiting my aunt after my eighth-grade graduation and just sitting and listening to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy from start to finish. I cried. That album taught me how to be an artist. Kanye’s flows were more technical and advanced than ever, his samples perfectly chosen, his features unparalleled. The album’s artwork was brilliant, and even the order of songs — beginning with “Dark Fantasy” and ending with “Who Will Survive in America” — meticulously told the story of a man in pain. It remains his best album to date, in my opinion. It was his magnum opus: a masterpiece. And it resonated with me. I feel forever indebted to him for that.
But then his music changed. He changed. The next era of Kanye’s career was decadent, lavish. In the past, this was a man who famously said that then-President George W. Bush didn’t care about black people. He had warned about the perils of fame and how it dilutes artistry, and had spoken out about racism in the fashion industry.
Now he uses his platform to rant about not getting enough radio time and to praise a bigot. Most recently, he met with the president-elect at Trump Tower. These actions make me question his mental stability and worry for his mental health — as have many others, based on his recent hospitalization. Hollywood can get to people, even the most talented people. Fame, money, and publicity seem to have affected West’s perception of reality, and it has made being his fan extremely difficult. I have had to separate being a fan of the man from being a fan of his music, because it’s impossible to defend his rants on Twitter and at concerts, or even his behavior on any given day.
Kanye’s erratic behavior may seem like a publicity stunt to some, but the nature of his music and his behavior post–My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy worries me. We’ve publicly watched the mental health of this man — a genius and a hero to many — deteriorate over the years, and we just laughed. We brushed it off as Kanye just being Kanye. But now he’s clearly at an all-time low.
I don't idolize Kanye anymore. His music will forever be a part of my life and my journey, and I hope he gets the help he needs, but I think it's important to take someone seriously when they show you who they are. Sometimes you have to recognize that your idols need to change before your values do.
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