What Is Kanye Doing & Will It Work?

For the rest of this post, I’m going to just throw in random art I like, ’cause why not?

Boy, it’s been a week.

I waited to take a stab at writing this because I’m naturally soft-spoken, and that’s taught me that in a room full of chaos, the louder voices will drown everything out. But, everyone eventually needs to breathe; and when there’s silence again, when panic turns to pondering — that’s when to jump in.

Of course, I don’t want to talk aimlessly. I wouldn’t speak unless I thought I had something to say. Here’s why I do, in bullet points because that’s easiest.

  • I have a more contextualized perspective on Kanye West’s mind than most people who don’t know him (and probably some that do) — which is to say, most of the people who have already jumped into the cultural conversation, whether through emotionally-wrought articles or biting commentary in 280 characters or less. I realize that sounds fanboyish, and I’ll address that a few bullets down.
  • Of course, there’s music — I’ve heard pretty much every song and feature Kanye’s released, and a good chunk of unreleased ones as well (leaks, references, demos, etc.). I even got the homie Justin a brief moment in the blogosphere spotlight by identifying an unsurfaced one myself. If I type Kanye into my iTunes, I get 828 results. And I stopped updating that ish in 2016 so that’s inaccurate. (Again, fanboyish… in the wise words of Migos just wait on it!)
  • That said, music is just one medium and, regardless of where you fall on the art/artist debate, further context is always appreciated. So let me also mention that I wrote a 40-page paper on Kanye during my senior year at Columbia. It began as a focus on Yeezus, but I couldn’t write about that without touching on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and you can’t discuss that without 808s, and next thing I know I’m up for 10 hours having watched every interview, freestyle, and concert rant that’s on YouTube. I own two of the three books he has written. I’ve also read his mother’s book, Raising Kanye; still have the PDF if you want it. So yeah, I’ve engaged with his thoughts, and observed how they’ve both changed and stayed the same over time, more consistently than most.
Kazimir Malevich, ‘Dynamic Suprematism’
  • OK, so you probably think I’m out here like a fainting Romanian Michael Jackson fan at this point. But here’s the thing; I shed the whole notion of idols long ago. (Proper Muslim chap, yaar.) I was without a doubt a Kanye fanboy when College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation dropped. But as I evolved, and he evolved, and America evolved, and the world evolved, that soon evolved too. Sure, I still like plenty of his music. But I’m more fascinated with Kanye West’s perspective because his perspective, like it or not, has mattered. He has mattered. From George Bush to Taylor Swift to Kim Kardashian, and now to Donald Trump. Beyond that, isn’t every great American artist worthy of consideration? Couldn’t I have written a 40-page paper on Michael Jackson? Or Jay-Z? Or, hell, Elvis? Art’s always reflected the fabric of culture and society, and the most influential artists have always had perspectives worth engaging with.
  • And artists can be wrong, because humans can be wrong. Kanye has been wrong about things from the jump. Most of the time, he’s backtracked (though perhaps that didn’t always get as many clicks). In some cases, we’re still waiting. (Bill Cosby isn’t fucking innocent.) I guess this is where the art/artist debate comes in. I think it’s easy to separate in the case of someone like the aforementioned Cosby, or R. Kelly — people who have done horrendous things that have come to roost. It’s harder for someone like Kanye (or, another example that comes to mind is Dali) who has almost solely courted controversy for just his perspective and little else.
  • All that to say: I’m not looking at this week with a thousand yard stare after watching the quote-unquote downfall of some gilded Grecian hero. You think I have one product from his dystopian-ass line? I’d rock some Yeezys, don’t get me wrong, but miss me with 98% of that ish. If that dude’s a God, I’m a God. Wait. I am a God, and that dude is a God too. I’m a human, and that dude is a human too. He’s talking, and I’m listening; I’m not blindly endorsing. I’m Kanye West’s equal, not his understudy.

Most importantly though, to say that this moment, that Kanye himself, doesn’t matter, would be wrong. And with all this 2024 talk, this clearly isn’t about to go away. So let’s talk about it. (Whoo, that was a long intro. More art please.)

Fortunato Depero, ‘La Casa Del Mago’

A few weeks ago, I did this thing called StrengthsFinder, a test designed by Gallup Strengths Center to highlight and assess — you guessed it — people’s top five innate strengths, in order of the precedence they take in their lives.

This isn’t a plug for Gallup (cut the check and it could be though!), but a helpful framing device. It’s hard to pindown Kanye’s StrengthsFinder results, and there’s slim chance he’ll be taking the test for us to witness anytime soon, but a few choice adjectives from the list come to mind nonetheless.

Individuality

Rose Piper, ‘Slow Down Freight Train’

If there’s one thing everyone caught in the circle of Kanye West can agree on, it’s that he hates conventional thought.

For most, though, that just means he’s a contrarian. A troll. Someone giggling in the back of the room, talking to hear himself talk, or to get attention. Looking back at Kanye’s public outbursts, though, that strikes me as an incomplete read. He undoubtedly has a knack for self-aggrandizing; in a land of megalomaniacs his self-love is perhaps the most supreme. But unlike most other entertainers and public figures, it doesn’t feel like his opinion is just there to exist or is being bought. There’s a sincerity lacking elsewhere, even if the end result is chaos and confusion. This is the guy who took $20 million from his ‘big brother’ Jay-Z and still felt compelled to publicly divulge feelings of betrayal onstage: “Our kids ain’t never even played together.”

It’s certainly possible that Kanye is now ‘selling out,’ but it’s never been the case before. On the contrary, he will only say what he himself thinks. It’s compulsive, in both senses of the word. “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” “Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time!” “Charlamagne the new Oprah.” Others’ feelings or opinions on an event, person, or even himself be damned, Kanye can’t be swayed from forming and sharing his own thoughts. He can’t help himself. Remember when he walked onstage after Beck beat Beyoncé at the Grammys, and then didn’t say anything and everyone wiped their brow and laughed… until he actually did go on a tangent about it during the after-party? Even when he tries to stop, he can’t really stay quiet. He has to speak up.

So, Kanye does embrace unconventionality; but he does so unconventionally. That is to say, he embraces the very concept of unconventionality: dismissing popular perspectives on a topic, pursuing a train of thought solely his own. Which, of course, is just another way of looking at individuality.

Self-Assurance

Theodor Kittelsen, ‘Pesta Kommen’

OK, but isn’t he a narcissist? That’s a call for each person to make. Many have already committed to a stance. That said, here are some choice words from Kanye’s own mother on how she raised him:

As a black man and as a man period, he would need to be strong. This would not happen if he learned to hate rather than love himself. And in a society where our legacy is surely the love of our forefathers but also the hate of slave masters, it is imperative that parents consciously teach the love of self, the courage of Malcom, the wisdom of Martin, the tenacity of Marcus. I believe that unless combated, self-hate is easy to develop and nearly impossible to shed.

Elsewhere in the same book, Mrs. West also wrote about how she actively worked to instill Kanye with self-confidence to counteract the negative media portrayal of blacks that she felt “would only serve to cripple him and make him question himself into oblivion.” She also recognized that society teaches “that it is a good thing to display strong self-worth and to stand and walk tall” but criticizes people “when [they] really do that.”

There is no doubt the role that Kanye’s mother has played in his life, nor should be there any over how those particular teachings have influenced him. Kanye certainly does not “question himself into oblivion.” His is earnest arrogance. Sincere self-assurance. If he believes something, nothing can sway him from that. And he’s pretty consistently encouraged his fans to follow that trait, not necessarily what his own thoughts are. In his own words, he views his fans as those who “want Ye to be Ye even when they don’t agree because I represent the fact that they can be themselves even when people don’t agree with them.” He wants people to form their own views, and then double down on the ones they truly believe in. He wants them to stop questioning themselves into oblivion, like him, even if it runs counteract to others (or his own) set of specific answers and solutions. Is it surprising he says he likes how Candace Owens thinks?

But why should we care?

Belief

Jean François Garneray, ‘Whale as described in Moby Dick’

It’s one thing to believe in one’s self; one’s goals are something else entirely.

What does Kanye want? Influence, yes; but why?

Let’s rewind to when he first announced his company DONDA, back in 2012. (Remember to read bottom up.)

High hopes to be sure, but the top three tweets basically summarize the goal. Or as he told Surface in an insightful 2016 interview:

We’re all these fighting artists with a common goal of wanting to affect the world through positive change, which is this really politically correct way to say ‘save the world.’ If you don’t have the vision to see where you could go, there’s no way you can believe in the possibility of a utopia.

Pretty clear, then. Kanye West wants to save the world. He hasn’t just doubled or tripled down on his belief in a “utopia”; it’s been a theme in his interviews and tweets for years. He went into debt trying to fund his various projects. And to be sure, it’s hard to see exactly how that objective coincides with his lust for apparel. But we aren’t assessing the vision yet. We’re talking about motivation… and regardless of whether he’s doing a good job or not, Kanye West wants to save the world. “We Can Make It Better.” That’s his driving force; and that’s why he can’t stop from speaking up.

Every public moment of his that we pick apart, the opinion he has voiced has come from a place, in his mind, of wanting to see a wrong righted — even if nobody else sees anything as wrong. He wholeheartedly believes things can be better, and anytime an opportunity presents itself for him to make them better, as he sees it at least, he takes it.

And so, if you’re a part of the world (spoiler alert: we all are) — you’re caught up in Kanye’s vision. And at this point, his influence is almost impossible to dodge. We’re on the ride. You want to ignore him, but he wants to “save” you.

Futuristic

Giacomo Balla, ‘Abstract Speed + Sound’

Is Kanye West ahead of his time? Well, he has been. Musical influence aside (anyone who would contest that probably stopped reading long ago), most of his ‘outbursts’ ring pretty true in retrospect.

“George Bush doesn’t care about black people”: You can argue this wasn’t futuristic, and certainly the opinion was shared by many at the time. But for a celebrity of that stature to speak out on live TV in that manner was certainly an aberration; and, I would argue, a sneak peek at the political and social conversation more than a decade later. Our bigot president spouted thinly-veiled epithets on the way to his election win, proving that bluntness and unfiltered honesty do have a place in the spotlight. The lines were blurry when Kanye spoke then; they’re erased now.

“Beyoncé had one of the greatest videos of all time.”: …Well, first off, she did. (It even won Video of the Year later in the night, which, I mean… quite literally that makes no sense.) Not for nothing, #BEYCHELLA cemented Beyoncé as the single greatest living pop idol, and Kanye has been caping hard for her for years. That aside, it’s easy to say, who cares who wins a dumb award? But, don’t we all care now? From #OSCARSSOWHITE to Grammy snubs to ovations for Atlanta and Get Out, haven’t we all rallied around the power and importance of representation and recognition? Don’t the supposedly vain things he cared so much about in the past matter more than ever now?

Point being, Kanye has often been a ‘glitch in the matrix.’ Only, now the matrix has exploded. The ‘Old Kanye’ has become the expectation.

A quote from Jay-Z comes to mind, from after Yeezus drops:

[T]hat’s what he does, he’s like the lightning rod for the culture. No he’s actually like the cowboy, you know he runs over the hill, and like the Indians hit him with the arrows, and he comes back he’s like ‘yo there’s a lot of them over there’ and then we go over there and conquer.

Now, his track record isn’t perfect (though in some cases the jury’s still out). Certainly, his version of the future can be taken as materialistic and his embrace of certain celebrities was jarring even before Trump. But more often than not, he’s been deeper down the ark of the zeitgeist’s curve than most.

Connectedness

George Petty, untitled sketch

We’re deep in the forest now, so I’ll offer one last strength before we jump to the current moment. Connectedness.

The self-proclaimed “first n — a with a Benz and a backpack” has always thrived off bridging gaps between worlds that would seem incongruous. If X and Y seem to not fit, he’ll combine them to create Z. He evolved from putting Kweli and Hov together to Raekwon and Justin Bieber to doing shows with Ellen and Kris Jenner. He likes to bridge gaps, whether its between street and conscious, or rap and pop, or black and white, or high-brow and low-brow. He draws lines where most people think they cannot or should not exist. “Hit you with these zig zag thoughts.”

Moreover, he likes to take the very things that people associate with positive and negative sentiments and subvert them. This isn’t anything new. Here’s him explaining the title of The College Dropout when it first dropped:

[I] like to take words that have negative connotations and show their real meaning…The title of The College Dropout — that’s what that was. What is so
negative about dropping out of college? Why do we automatically shun people who drop out of school?

(His mother noted that the album reminded her of Walt Whitman: “His
music is about being human…It’s like Walt Whitman. ‘Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.’”)

Another example, after Late Registration dropped, where he discusses the song ‘Diamonds’:

I’m pretty calculating… I take stuff that I know appeals to people’s bad sides and match it up with stuff that appeals to their good sides… ‘Life’s movin’ too fast, I need to slow down / Girl ain’t give me no ass, she need to go down.’ All right, that’s really crass right? Really bogus. So what comes next? ‘My father been said I need Jesus / So he took me to church let the water wash over my Caesar.’ I go back and forth all the time.

And this inclination has only heightened over time. Homie literally sold merchandise with the Confederate flag on it, and talked about bleached assholes on what would otherwise constitute as a gospel song. He wants to challenge perception of ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ He doesn’t want people to fear words or symbols, so instead of giving them power… he grabs them, uses them as he wants, and forces them into other people’s faces. As my friend Jackson puts it: “my man’s dialectical as hell.”

And now… it seems he’s upping the ante.

Francisco Goya, ‘The Madhouse’

Donald Trump is, in my opinion, the personification of the Seven Sins. I don’t mean that in some David Koresh way; just, like, as a person… have you ever seen a worse dude than Trump? I wept when he won. How could I not have?

What in the hell is Kanye doing with a MAGA hat?

There are a few things at play here, I think, and I want to remain as impartial as possible. Let’s run through the list.

Is there anything to love about Donald Trump?

If you’re looking at it from Kanye’s perspective… yes.

If Kanye wants people to challenge conventional thought, nobody has been more effective at doing this than Donald Trump — just by existing. Every single day, we wake up and read the words “President Donald Trump” and that makes no goddamn sense. We know it’s not normal. In fact, it makes us question what ‘normal’ is. What might be the craziest part is that Trump himself probably thought he was going to lose. He broke reality by accident.

OK, but is there anything to love about Donald Trump, as a human?

That comes down to your conception of love and broader thoughts on the relationship of humankind. I have plenty notions of my own, but they’re superfluous to this discussion.

Takashi Murakami, ‘Of Chinese Lions, Peonies, Skulls, And Fountains’

Does Donald Trump present an opportunity for Kanye to leverage his influence in the pursuit of his larger goal of ‘saving the world’?

Yes, for a few reasons.

  • First, Trump has reset the cultural conversation as a whole. If you have a platform, your voice matters. Singers are getting dug for tweets from when they were 13 years old. Bernie’s quoting Cardi B. There are no boundaries between entertainment and politics, and no limits on what we know about what our public figures think. As someone with a gigantic platform, this immensely benefits Kanye moving forward. He could actually become president. They laughed when Trump said it too. Kanye quit Twitter for half a year and has returned using pretty much the same social tactics that Trump tapped into to win, albeit with a hopefully more positive end goal.
  • Second, the impact of Trump’s existence has the potential to fundamentally rewrite how people think about the very core concepts of our society. If the impossible can become impossible — “President Donald Trump” — then why can’t other facets of conventional wisdom, the ones that sound correct but don’t feel right, also be challenged?
  • Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, destruction leads to reconstruction. Comedian Hari Kondabolu likes to tweet daily: “REMINDER FOR DAY ___ OF TRUMP PRESIDENCY: THIS IS NOT NORMAL (AND NORMAL WASN'T THAT GREAT EITHER)”. And he’s right. Normal wasn’t great. You’re a Google search away from statistics, but you probably don’t need them to know that. At the moment, we’re all still adapting to the reality of chaos. But in the long term, we still need to figure out what we’re working toward. What does progress mean? More than ever before, we’re going to need to reckon with that question. And as someone who wants to change everything, Kanye clearly has a lot to share on that topic.

Is there anything to be gained by Kanye saying he loves Trump?

Yes. It’s unexpected — another jolt to people’s systems that makes them assess what they think makes sense and will happen. Again, tapping into his goal of forcing people to shed their preconceptions. It’s the ultimate mishmash: taking the most positive concept of all (love) and applying it to the worst person imaginable. It makes one think about what ‘love’ even means.

And that’s not all. It resets his influence among the people who most need their thoughts challenged: Trump supporters. In an instant, his voice matters to them again. They’re tuned back in. As The Onion deftly put it, Nation Suddenly Concerned About Black Man’s Opinion. Plus, tactically speaking, flattery is perhaps the only thing that Trump (like most of the ultra-rich white folks who sit in charge of our society) really respond to. After years of yelling to get into rooms and being denied, a smile and signed hat seems to have finally granted him access. Love is hard to hate on it, especially when genuine. (Again, I’m not the one to make the call on if it is or isn’t.)

Is there anything to be lost by Kanye saying he loves Trump?

Quite obviously, yes. We can explore this a bit more shortly.

Carmen Herrera, ‘Lines of Sight’

What can Kanye do from here?

From the few e-breadcrumbs shared by his closest associates, we can assume Kanye has some sort of a plan in his actions. This is somewhat speculation, but there are a few ways he can play this.

  • Working With Trump: I put this first because it’s the most direct route to success and yet by far the least likely. Does Donald Trump have a heart? Thus far, most evidence is to the contrary. If Trump is somehow the real-life version of the Grinch and all he needs is a big hug to stop being a selfish prick, then Kanye’s really gonna go down as Yeezus. Careful about who you deify. Never say never anymore, but safe to say this option would be pretty damn confounding for all of us.
  • The Pink Polo Approach: It worked for him before, right? Kanye has a knack for leveraging a kind of cultural Trojan Horse, wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing approach; what he described to Zane Lowe in 2013 as “bringing the flowers to the door first.” He wields perception as a weapon, and it is certainly possible that he is doing so yet again with a longer goal in mind: to position himself with a smile now, raising his platform among the ultra-elite who run and fund the country — all so he can then challenge, subvert, and attempt to influence their approaches. When CyHi the Prynce tweeted that Martin Luther King was a Republican, many Twitter users snapped back. One directly summarized the disconnect: “Martin Luther King was only a republican because the Democratic Party in the South was a private party and didn’t allow blacks to vote Democrat. #TheMoreYouKnow”. Interestingly enough, CyHi responded: “Exactly.” In his eyes, at least, there are parallels to be drawn between how MLK worked the political system with what Kanye is doing now. He wasn’t really a Republican, he just had to ‘be’ one to serve the interest of his larger goals. Perhaps Kanye is attempting to do the same.
  • New Black Leverage: Clearly, many white Americans will be confused by ‘rapper Kanye West’ seemingly aligning himself with a far-right candidate. This, in itself, alerts them to the possibility that blacks are not the monolith that the media suggests. Most blacks (most people of color in general) are Democrats; somehow, Kanye isn’t. In a larger sense, this actually helps increase the leverage of the black community. If African Americans (and again, we can spread this to people of color as a whole) are no longer tied to the Democratic party — if they demonstrate that they are looking for the best ideas, not just the least-worst, and are willing to leave their previous party to pursue them — then suddenly there is more pressure on both parties to appease them. The Democrats cannot advertise the old normal as a new solution if people of color do not buy into it. (Some of) the Republicans suddenly have reason to give a damn about what people of color think if they are in danger of losing their power and suddenly have the chance to court a new section of voters. Look at how the Democrats have been exerting more efforts to win back Trump voters since 2016; a group of voters that, if nothing else, have shown that when people are quite clearly fed up with the status quo and thus willing to vote in whatever direction they want to, those in power will actually give their opinion credence (even if it’s just hateful nonsense). None of this is to say that a person of color should ever vote for Trump (please don’t) or Republican. But if it continues to remain a foregone conclusion that they will always vote for Democrats, their voices will be easier to overlook and it will be challenging to ever truly have efficient and substantial progress for the most marginalized communities in our country. In just a few tweets, Kanye has shown a large swath of people a possibility they didn’t know existed. He’s stuck the key in the lock, and there are plenty of new doors that could be opened from here.
  • Redefining Normal: Last, but in his eyes certainly not least, Kanye has the opportunity to creatively influence the cultural conversation as we work to redefine the very notion of normal. Already, he has begun to do so. By embracing Trump as a facet without actually endorsing his politics, he is encouraging the separation of one particular sliver or idea from a larger perspective. (He hasn’t specified what idea yet, and will need to soon, but it likely ties into Trump’s own lack of conventionality and tendency to attempt whatever he wants regardless of others’ opinions.) Kanye is, essentially, encouraging his audience to stop looking at extremes but instead sort through ideas: to look at everything, including the bad, and try to pick out and embrace the good. (And, on the flip side, fans are also reconciling with the notion that the ultimate ‘good,’ their favorite artist, may indeed have ‘bad’ in him.) Again, this perspective is deeply aligned with how Kanye thinks and believes the world can, should, and will one day be. And it does make some sense. As the chaos around us dies down and we begin to think through a post-Trump world, the biggest currency is ideas. The social dialogue as a whole needs to shift away from how bad things currently are to how things can, fundamentally and lastingly, be better — and this ultimately happens through sorting through various ideas and embracing the best ones, regardless of who suggests them. In its essence, this is what collaboration means, and it shouldn’t be surprising that one of the greatest modern artists holds so much value in it. Such an approach leads to creation, and thus is needed to craft enduring, impactful solutions. And, to be clear, this process is already happening within many of our neighborhoods. But Kanye is attempting to make it happen among everyone. Saving the world means the world. He can zigzag through different audiences, drawing lines they didn’t see, forcing the conversation to expand and evolve, making people question their preconceived notions and develop and endorse their own particular beliefs. In doing so, he’s also putting his faith into the best ideas naturally winning out.
George Condo, ‘Rainy Day Butler’

One question still remains, though.

Will It Work?

Charlamagne, who has been conspicuously quiet during this week’s Twitter debacle (though what he did say certainly suggests Kanye is proceeding with intention), mentioned on his podcast that he got a text from Kanye saying nothing but “50/50.” He didn’t elaborate on what it meant, but it certainly can apply to the likelihood of whether Kanye will pull off this particular move. The best way to gauge how this can all play out is to take a look at the popular narratives and questions surrounding Kanye right now. I can hear Takeoff’s voice in the back of my head so I’ll try to make this quick.

  • This is all for publicity. But does this actually help his publicity among the audience most likely to consume and enjoy his music? Aren’t we all clamoring for a Kanye redemption story? Isn’t he blacklisting himself among his musical peers, the group that has most consistently supported him before? And hasn’t Kanye himself made it clear that he thought his influence was far bigger than music anyway? And don’t most artists stay quiet while settling their thoughts and creating something new, then come back to share and talk about it? Was Janelle Monae coming out as pansexual a few days before her sure-to-be-incredible album was released “just for publicity”?
  • Kanye is in the sunken place. But how’s that even possible, given what he has said in the past? Given his mother? And why are prominent black voices close to him still supporting him? Is Pusha T in the sunken place? Nas? Chance? Is it possible Kanye can say he loves Trump while disagreeing with everything he spouts and still believing that black lives matter? Is it possible that Kanye understands systemic racism, but has chosen a different, at first glance more sinister, route to combating it?
  • Kanye is being used. If it’s that black-and-white how come he can’t see that? Hasn’t he always been obsessed with never, ever being used? Isn’t that the very antithesis of what he wants? Is it possible we’re underestimating his intelligence? Does he already know Trump will try to do that? Isn’t it obvious? Who’s smarter, Kanye West or Donald Trump?
  • Blame Kim. This might not be my place to say, but isn’t that a bit sexist? And hasn’t she consistently voiced her support of Hillary and disavowal of Trump? And shouldn’t she support her husband publicly while addressing him more directly in private? Why is that a bad thing?
  • He has mental health issues. But why are those closest to him saying he is more lucid than ever? And how is his behavior more or less erratic in comparison to his past demeanor? Is everyone who says they support Trump crazy? Is every person of color who says they support Trump crazy? What does ‘crazy’ mean?
  • My hero is dead. Why do you need a hero? Why was he your hero? What did you embrace in him? Can you still embrace any of those things? Do you follow idols or ideals? What can you forgive and what can’t you? What narrative did you write in your mind for Kanye West? Is there anything Kanye can do to make you love him again?

I ask these questions not because I claim to have the answers, but because they’re (some of) the ones that people are being confronted with. They’re the inconsistencies, the bits of confusion, the smaller degrees on our respective moral spectrums. And, ultimately, they make all the difference.

Julie Mehretu, ‘Empirical Construction’

If people turn their back on Kanye West for what he says, if they decide that his story has ended as a tragedy, then he will have failed in this endeavor. Indeed, to many his voice has already lost its weight. And understandably so. His vision of the future is grandiose and optimistic, and hard to engage with for those still affected by the reality of modern-day American life. He clearly is coming across as out of touch with what people are going through. He’s playing around with their deepest fears and hatreds. If you can’t separate Trump the person from Trump the abstraction, if his very existence in itself is an affront to your being and incites anger, then Kanye has already gone too far. He can’t zag if everyone tunes off after the zig. He may never lose his platform, but his influence is far from finite. Can he talk with, or will he now forever be talking at?

At the center of many of these issues is, of course, race. The deepest wounds in this country are racial; it was founded on genocide and dehumanization. To many, it feels like Kanye is glossing over this history or acting if these deeply rooted feelings of sadness, resentment, anger, grief, are unsubstantiated. He is, to many, selling out the hope of equality. Another view, though, is that he is essentially hedging his bets on the fact that though we could never directly address and consequently transcend the fundamental and ideological ideas behind racism before, we can within the context of our new cultural conversation. If we rethink reality, we will rethink race and racism as a whole. But can we actually do that? Or is it too little, too late?

I want to share one last quote that sticks out to me, from the beginning of a 2004 performance episode of MTV’s Life and Rhymes. I’ll present it without commentary, then leave the topic of race for more qualified voices to address.

You know, it’s funny how black people always say ‘we used to be kings and queens,’ but really if we’re the ones over here we are the ones sold by the kings and queens. So that shows you we came from nothing to something. Like B.I.G. says, ‘whoever thought that hip-hop would take it this far’? To go from being sold by your own people to selling music to your own people.

Regardless of where you currently fall, it’s clear Kanye needs to offer further context to his statements, and soon. I’m sure the forthcoming Charlamagne interview will help, but how much remains to be seen. He’s also going to need those aligned with him, the influential voices closer to the ground, to do the same. Frankly, he’s far more likely to convince like-minded artists before he can engage with regular people. In turn, what those artists say and do will matter deeply. Chance has already attempted to defend him. Pusha has yet to speak. Imagine if John Legend changes his stance; then the conversation will really be different. If Hov embraces him, we won’t know what to do. Can he persuade the people who know him but think he’s crazy that he isn’t?

And, of course, the music will have to be amazing. But I doubt he’d return like this if it wasn’t.

Henri Rousseau, ‘The Sleeping Gypsy’

And even all that may not be enough for people to come around, to forgive him for what, intention aside, feels like a middle finger to those struggling in modern America. Jury’s still out. 50/50. I’ll make my call, you make yours.

But we’ve tried to close the book on Kanye West before and never succeeded. So, at the very least, it’s clear this particular story is still being written.

– Lucid

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