Following the unfortunate and untimely death of his mother, Kanye West spiraled from a levelheaded musical prospect, into a fatigued trope of a creative genius unable to function or socialize in polite society. Virtually unknown in 2004, the subsequent success of his first studio album, The College Dropout, propelled the extraordinary producer-turned-rapper into a pop culture heavyweight. His cleverly innovative production style alongside his lyrical content was a transformative force in hip hop. Almost singlehandedly, he revolutionized the hip hop music scene and became a industry powerhouse, attracting an eclectic audience of seasoned hip hop heads, believers of a just cause, counterculture enthusiasts, and spoiled white fraternity brothers.
But over the years, Kanye shed away a productive image to become a repetitive tabloid joke. At first his “indiscretions” were daringly authentic, easily attributable to a Black man fully aware of his Blackness, especially within the context of global capitalism. There was the slip-of-the-tongue in 2006, when he told the world that then President Bush “didn’t care about Black people” in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. His delivery was awkward and humble, symptoms of a man forever wrapped in the speed of constant observation.
I personally rejoiced when I heard the notorious comments; at the time, he was speaking a truth that few would. I further rejoiced when in 2009 at the Video Music Awards, he climbed on stage and told Taylor Swift that Beyonce had the “best video of all time.”
But this was also around the time when Kanye West transitioned from a politically-inclined creative visionary subdued by the strength of his talent, to a flagrant diva. Encompassed by extreme arrogance, Kanye was no longer enraptured by nimble humility. With a mounting display of commercial sales, and the bank account and social clout to match, Kanye embraced the caricature of the boastful nouveau riche. His newly found fortune led to a detachment of sorts; he was no longer the vanguard of the hip hop enthusiasts who welcomed his innovation. Now he was the token frat boy, an embodiment that early on, he claimed to be against.
The shift in Kanye’s social dynamic is highlighted by recent news that he cosigned the use of the N-word by French designer, Jean Touitou and his brand A.P.C. Touitou’s fall men’s collection is inappropriately called “N*ggas in Paris,” a title derived of the hit song of the same name. Kanye has a relationship with the brand, and reportedly gave his blessing to the racist collection “inspired” by street wear.
Kanye’s involvement in such an egregious display is a head-scratcher. He’s been openly vocal about racism and the lack of diversity within the fashion world. His controversial album Yeezus, was a declaration against those major fashion houses that refused him equity in fashion design and creative management. Kanye repeatedly tells us that he’s creatively brilliant enough to deliver inventive styles for elegant consumption. And, yet, he empowers this lazy and unimaginative misinterpretation of Black culture in one of the most offensive ways possible.
The beautiful, dark, twisted mind of Kanye West will somehow rationalize this behavior. He’ll justify his actions as an expression of creativity, and an army of faux revolutionaries masquerading as seasoned demagogues, will shallowly justify his actions.
Over the years, I’ve supported Kanye as best I could. When he called himself a god, I understood where he was coming from. A Black man has every right to call himself a god, especially in comparison to a “thug,” “pimp,” or …. “nigga.”
But this latest antic I cannot support. Kanye, ironically, pimped himself out to achieve some semblance of fashion fame. He positioned himself as a voice of Black people, by giving his blessing to a white designer unable or unwilling to empathetically investigate the history, context, of durability of Black fashion. Kanye was in a unique position to educate and influence, but he threw his privilege to the wayside, in favor of perpetuating the very thing he’s always railing against.
Kanye is a shameful disgrace to the man he use to be. To paraphrase my favorite urban philosopher Charlamagne Tha God, Kanye West is now Kanye Kardashian. He makes moves based on an easy paycheck and fame (or infamy), instead of self-determination or responsibility to an entire racial or ethnic group. Kanye is no longer a voice for me. He no longer represents my pro-Black political ideology. Instead, he succumbed to the clutches of racist capitalism. He is someone I no longer recognized.
I will still find his music beautiful. But his mindset, now ravaged as betrayal, is dark. And the stuttering mental justifications that undoubtedly assuaged his subconscious guilt, are intricately twisted.