Five years ago, Kanye West (or Ye as he prefers to be called now) marched up to the TMZ offices and said that “slavery was a choice.” This is despite the overwhelming 400 years of evidence to the contrary and the fact he spent a Yeezus album cycle going from each talk show, speaking about self-empowerment and wanting to break out of the creative box the fashion industry had placed him in. Now, he’s willingly boxed himself with groups of people who will gladly use his anti-black and anti-Semitic rhetoric and discard him the minute he doesn’t have any more value.
That’s been taking a hit recently — West has lost backing from the CAA, his Adidas deal, and his billionaire standing, amongst other things. Even as the heavy hammer of accountability hits him hard, Kanye West is counting on one thing to keep him afloat — nostalgia. Kanye wants you to hold on to that “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People” comment so tight that you hope that person will come and absolve all the wrongs he’s done.
An interesting thing to watch from 2018 onward in Kanye West’s social standing is the shift it took from him being a magnet because of his provocative nature. People continued to flock to him despite his “slavery” comments, red hat-wearing, and saying Harriet Tubman didn’t free the slaves. Artists lined up to get tracks produced by Kanye and even stayed in the Georgia Dome with him during the Donda sessions. Journalists flew to Wyoming for listening sessions. People bought his exorbitantly priced fashion line and welcomed him back with open arms when he started doing Sunday Service. It’s something Kanye himself mocked in 2016 The Life of Pablo track, “I Love Kanye.”
Trust me, he knows. Kanye knows you’ll think of where you were when you first did the “Jesus Walks” dance or all the times you sang “Good Life” that it renders people unable to see what’s in front of them. It becomes wondering why we put on rose-colored glasses to see West’s Drink Champs interview, and the “Defcon 3” tweet has been a long list of horrible comments by him just because he made College Dropout. Now, there is something to be said for the companies and wealthy individuals who knowingly hitched a wagon to this circus and are only now speaking up about it and cutting ties. Especially when they overwhelmingly jumped on the bandwagon of championing the George Floyd protests and the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. But wrong is wrong.
When it all comes down to it, anti-blackness and anti-Semitism are both the symptoms of white supremacy — something that Kanye has willingly allowed himself to be the voice and face of. In the third part of jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy, there are moments where Kanye’s old friend Coodie turns the camera off as Kanye goes into one of his rants. As disappointing as it may be, he realizes in those moments the old kid from Chicago isn’t there anymore. This is a place we all have to come to. Yes, Kanye’s aura pushed everybody to be their weirdest, most confident selves, but there isn’t a soul sample in music that can erase the effects of hate speech.
Many people have tried to explain it away — pointing to the loss of his mother and his battle with mental illness as reasons things like this keep happening. In reality, there are thousands of people all over the world who are battling with the same and have not said hurtful things intentionally. So, we have to ask ourselves if this constant eulogy over a person who no longer exists is helpful — as those who maintain proximity to him to catch vapors from the clout do.
Throughout Kendrick Lamar’s latest album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, cautioning that he and artists like him are not our saviors. Funny when you consider how Ye has positioned himself closer to gospel music in recent years. Maybe Ye’s boisterous hubris, which made him declare “he can say anti-Semitic things, and Adidas won’t drop him,” was always meant to end this fashion. However, we must be careful that romanticizing the past leaks into enabling bad behavior in the future.
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