Victor Virgile via Getty)
Unlike artists like Michael Jackson or R.Kelly, whose controversies sat in the shadows until they were outed, Kanye West has, for years, been airing out his dirty laundry on a public clothesline.
In the last month or so, Kanye broke a streak of social media silence by appearing at Paris Fashion Week sporting “White Lives Matter” slogan tees aside populist right-wing pundit, Candace Owens. A few days later he’d air private conversations with Supreme’s Tremaine Evory on his instagram, distastefully discussing the late designer Virgil Abloh. Then, a barrage of anti-Semitic statuses followed. While accusing Diddy of being controlled by Jews, he tweeted, “going death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE.”
Removed and suspended from both Twitter and Instagram, he then posited that George Floyd actually died of a Fentynal overdose rather than police brutality. The Floyd family now suing West in response.
Just this week, West bid to buy Parler, a fringe social media website popular with the far-right. A cherry on top.
It goes without saying: none of this is a great look.
It’s a sad trend of activity that’s plagued Kanye’s output for the last few years. Appearing – then hastily disappearing – from platforms with a new controversy. As an outspoken Black artist with considerable influence and power, who has grown an impressionable following over the decades of his career, he has become a symbol of success. But just as quickly, and with every outburst, he continues to deceive an audience that held him to a Hall of Fame standard.
Kanye has never been shy from controversy. In fact, some would argue that he revels in it. Maybe it’s a convoluted scheme at social media domination, or an attempt at a point about free speech and political power (I doubt it). Perhaps it’s just him taking the piss, or maybe the pressures of fame have taken him to boiling point.
Whatever it is, Kanye has successfully perpetuated a relevancy outside the bounds of his music and art. It’s a success that I once considered genius. Now, I’m not so sure.
I’ve been a fan of Kanye since I was about 10, the year that Graduation dropped. When I visit home, it’s still the only album my sister and I listen to on CD while driving around the streets we used to live. It changed my perception of storytelling in music, intricately weaving West’s own anxieties about being a Black man in a white-dominated music industry while remaining equally triumphant about his success. I spent hours as a teenager listening to songs, over and over, until I knew every lyric, to every single song, in every single album. It changed the way I looked at myself – and my place in this world – especially being a brown girl that wanted to be something.
Every one of his projects – except maybe the long-winded Donda – changed me in some way. Whether it was innovative sonics, nuanced lyricism or honesty, whenever he was brought up, I fought for him. And I wasn’t embarrassed about it.
I held on for so long.
But the fatigue has set in. Now, I am embarrassed. What started off as a somewhat cheeky mic grab from Taylor Swift has become an all-out war of alternative and extreme ideology.
Though Kanye has always been Kanye – slightly narcissistic and driven to reach the top by any means necessary – the lyricism that once pressed themes of Black empowerment and overcoming hardship has become nothing more than a vehicle for religious and political dogma.
When that “White Lives Matter” T-shirt made its rounds on social media it was a big “fuck you” to all who have worked tirelessly for decades for the plight of racial equality – it’s even said to have reinvigorated the #WhiteLivesMatter hashtag used by white supremacist groups online. Whether or not that was Kanye’s intent, it’s the space he gave it. His actions have become less about art and more about controversy for controversy’s sake.
People might say that it’s still possible to separate the art from the artist, but in Kanye’s case, I’m not so sure. It’s the artist themselves – their thoughts, their actions, their drive – that makes the art in the first place. Every bit of who they are goes into their creations. They’ve profited off of it, reaped every benefit, created a legacy from it.
For Kanye, his art is suffering. His energy is funnelled in all the wrong places. Instead of making art that’s nuanced and has something to say, he doesn’t say things for a particular purpose other than shock.
If this all turns out to be a joke, a publicity stunt, or something else, then that’s just as bad in itself. For now, I have given up.
Though Kanye’s past songs might no longer represent who he is as a person – “I miss old Kanye” is immortalised on the internet – the creation of “Ye” has become a public persona of its own.