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The other day I drove down the street with my windows all the way up. Not just because the air conditioner felt great, but also because I did not want the cars next to me to hear me blasting the new Kanye West project titled “Ye.” Even in line at Panera, I made sure my earbuds were securely in before I pressed play so the cool hipster dude in front of me in line could not hear.
Why am I listening in hiding? That can be complicated to answer. If you have been under a rock you may not know Mr. West had another meltdown. On the floor of the TMZ studio, Kanye declared slavery was a choice and black folks could have gotten free any time they wanted. Currently, the black community at large is pissed at Kanye. There were even talks of a mass boycott of any of his upcoming projects. I have a few theories about this mindset that contradict the current narrative of Mr. West.
Kanye Omari West, born in Georgia but raised in the tough city of Chicago, burst on the scene like the outspoken cousin the family thought maybe a little “off.” You know the one I am talking about. We love hanging with this family member but we are prepared because they also come with much drama. But that is why we loved them so much; their propensity to keep things interesting. Kanye was not a thug. He did not paint himself as a street hustler or killer. Kanye was a poet unleashed on a generation to push (sometimes angrily provoke) us to a higher level of engagement. Remember “Jesus Walks,” “Hey Momma” and the infamous telethon where he declared “George Bush does not care about black people.” The producer turned rapper was an anarchist with a backpack. And, we loved it!
Kanye kept us on the edge of our collective seats. He raged against the musical establishment when he felt African Americans were under-represented in the record industry hierarchy.
I’m not out of control. I’m just not in [their] control! ~ Kanye West
I still love Kanye! As consumers, we seem to be hypocritical in our judgments of celebrities. We cannot have the tolerable side of an activist without an equally volatile presence that manifests from time to time. Kanye attacks photographers, rants on stage when he does not win awards and even complains about friends like Jay Z and Beyoncé not showing up for his wedding. I believe this is not abnormal, but a part of the total package.
After listening to his latest project a few times, I began to brainstorm why I still had major respect for Kanye West and in essence, why I still loved the guy. Here is what I came up with:
- I respect a guy who can call himself out: This may shock you, but since his voice burst onto the musical landscape in 2004, Kanye has been consistent in judging his behaviors publically. Through his lyrics, you hear him use the recording booth as a make-shift confessional to his fans. He is not perfect, but he is honest. In the song “All Fall Down,” West raps:
I wanna act ballerific like it’s all terrific. I got a couple past due bills, I won’t get specific. I got a problem with spending before I get it. We all self-conscious I’m just the first to admit it.
- I respect a guy who makes me feel something: Many have called him a lightning rod of controversy. Outspoken and subject to spaz at any moment, Kanye seems to walk a tightrope of emotional stability. We view publically when he loses that battle. But at least he makes us feel something right? In “Bring Me Down” Kanye opens all the way up and reveals:
Made a mil’ myself and I’m still myself. And Imma look in the mirror if I need some help. Now I’ll speak from the heart, y’all all frontin’. Everybody feel a way about K but at least y’all feel something!
- I respect a guy who wears vulnerability as a badge of honor: On the record from “The Life of Pablo,” ironically called, “I Love Kanye” he again opens up how he is far from the person he was when he entered the music business. It is as if he laments being transformed by the pressures and fake relationships that are the norm in his line of work. West again revisits this montage in both songs “I Thought About Killing You” and “Yikes.” where he admits to contemplating suicide and struggling with issues related to bipolar disorder.
Twice in songs recently released by West, Lexapro has been mentioned. Lexapro has FDA approval for the treatment of depressive disorders in adolescents and adults, and generalized anxiety disorder in adults. As someone who is battled with depression and anxiety as an adult, one of the hardest things to overcome is the stigma of medications that help create a healthy balance for us mentally. I see Kanye’s willingness to share a mark of vulnerability.
Donda West raised her son to be a proud black man. Her desire to see him strong and unashamed of his talents came to pass. Kanye’s father, Ray West, is a former Black Panther and was one of the first black photojournalists at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. With a mother who advocated for better educational conditions in Chicago and a dad who was a former Black Panther, West has activism flowing through his veins. It is no wonder he leaps at opportunities to stand up and stand out!
Like him or not, Kanye West has remained true to his outspoken nature. We fell in love with a guy who made a name in a genre filled with songs about gangsters, hustlers, and violence. West literally created a lane for himself. Fusing neo-soul, heavy samples of soul music and a poet, spoken word style, Kanye became the standard. For better or worse he is our prodigy. And like so many other prodigies, there can be two equal yet polar different representations. Maybe we can do less judging and more accepting that this is who Kanye West is…the genius and the eternal antagonizer.
Opinion by Early Jackson
(Edited by Cherese Jackson)
Vulture: Your Guide to Understanding Kanye West’s New Album, YE
Top Image Courtesy of NDCA – Used With Permission
Inline Image Courtesy of Jason Persse’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Featured Image Courtesy of Rodrigo Ferrari’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License