How West Fell Twice
By Sean Lee
With a sordid look on his face, Kanye West had a brief moment of weakness. After an energetic run through of the entirety of his and co performer Kid Cudi’s debut album “Kids See Ghosts,” West found himself sweating and out of breath. Placing his hands momentarily on the glass panel of the suspended fish bowl-like stage prop, the video cameras captured West panting during the refrain of his 2009 single Paranoid. His tiredness could be attributed to exasperation resulting from his half-hour long performance preceding the song where the singer dressed in an over-sized cargo sweater, unceasingly danced and sang with the desperation of an MDMA fueled clubhead. But with Kanye West, the reality is never that simple. West, it seemed to this viewer, was tired of being a celebrity.
2018 has been a tumultuous year for the controversial rapper. After an initial meeting in 2016 with the then newly elected president Donald Trump, West took to Twitter April of this year to support the Republican president publicly on his Twitter page. His tweet expressing his anger towards liberal mob mentality and a sharing of “Dragon Energy” between him and Trump has since received over 400,000 reactions ranging from the far left’s accusations of racism and selling out to the President himself who simply replied “Thank you Kanye, very cool."
The appalled liberal reaction to West’s sudden support for the President and subsequent other conservative figures such as Candace Owens came because for years now, West himself has been an advocate for politics in line with the liberal agenda. The rapper has vocally called out against institutionalized racism (Spaceships 2004), the perception of black on black crime (New Day 2011) and famously called out republican President George Bush in 2005 for doing so little in helping the black communities who were hit by Hurricane Katrina.
But in analyzing his tweet against mob mentality, one cannot help but wonder whether West was ever aligning himself with certain politics or simply going against the grain of the mentality of the masses at any given time. It seems with this sudden shift of political associations in early 2018, West was attempting to free himself from even the moral obligations of his celebrity.
As an African American celebrity he was expected to align himself with certain politics similar to that of his protégé Chance the Rapper who has since placed music on the back burner and turned to social activism in Chicago. In this way West is similar to his peer Lil Wayne who in a 2016 Night Line interview controversially disassociated himself from the then burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement saying “I don’t feel connected to a damn thing that ain’t got nothin’ to do with me.”
Wayne was expressing the idea of an individual against generalization, he himself had no personal connections to the police brutality that was being protested. But as a black celebrity in America he was simply expected to align with a movement that generalized his individuality. West in a similar way seemed to be fighting for himself as an individual rather than a trope by aligning himself with the antithesis of equality politics he freed himself from the obligations placed on his celebrity due to the color of his skin. In this way, his visit to the White House in October should’ve been the climax of his freedom of expression but in many ways was not.
Following the visit, subsequent tweets from West revealed a distancing from politics with the rapper tweeting out that he had been used. West realized that he fell into the same trap twice. Just like his vocal against the grain politics imprisoned him in an involuntary liberal agenda, his attempt at switching sides simply made him a political puppet for the conservatives. Donald Trump has used West as a name drop for a rise in black Trump supporters and conservative Candace Owens famously used West’s name on her #Blexit campaign, which the rapper protested he had never been a part of.
Kanye West’s denouncement of politics is a denouncement of what drew his listeners to the rapper in the first place. It wasn’t just the soul samples of College Dropout that drew our ear, it was the truthfulness of racial relations that the rapper spun so well into a three-minute pop song. It wasn’t the earsplitting industrialism that drew us to Yeezus, it was the rapper’s anger at corporate greed.
At every point, besides his work with Kid Cudi on 2008’s 808s and Heartbreaks, the listener somehow spins his individual creativity into an alignment with some political party. Read any review on Fader, Pitchfork, Noisey and one will find the phrases “once socially conscious” or “non-conforming.” Socially conscious pigeonholes an artist into speaking for a larger group of people and non-conformity itself is a conformity to the minority.
So as Kanye West stood in the glass cage 100 feet above the hordes of merch-wearing listeners, I cannot help that he felt this was truly where he was free. All around me people expected a political rant, a MAGA hat, and the politics of lateness. Instead West simply performed his music, and befittingly his final song ended with the refrain “I feel kinda freeeeee.”
This piece is by Sean Lee. Follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leee.