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COLUMN: The complicated case of Kanye West



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Rapper Kanye West attends the 2019 WSJ. Magazine Innovator Awards at the Museum of Modern Art  on Nov. 6, 2019 in New York City. Tribune News Service

Kanye West is a man mired in controversy who always does whatever he can to stay on the precipice of pop culture, always trying to make another headline.

Right now, he's tweeting out his music contracts and trying to advocate for transparency in music labels. This month, he urinated on a Grammy, a metaphorical action to show how little the praise of an award matters. Before, in 2009, he found awards ceremonies important enough to interrupt a teenager on live television. This month, he compared the music industry and the NBA to slavery. Before, he described slavery as a choice. He made headlines back during Hurricane Katrina for claiming President George W. Bush, didn't care about Black people. Come 2020, he'd give his vocal support for Donald Trump. 

Kanye is a man of contradictions and mania that is lined with an insatiable need to be validated with attention and praise. Still, he garners plenty of fans and success. For every misstep, there are hundreds at the ready to defend, explain or excuse his actions. I have to wonder what makes these fans so eager to protect this singular person they do not know.

Is it the music? Kanye is, ostensibly, famous for his musical achievements. From his gospel-infused "Jesus Walks" to the synths and electronics used in "Heartless" or the harsh noise and rock-inspired album "Yeezus," Kanye is prone to changing his style. It's partly the reason why I have so much conflict with Kanye — his music is fairly good. But no matter how good his music is, I still can't respect the man.

What does his music say about him? He entered the cultural conversation with his album "The College Dropout," where he rapped about life in poverty, his faith in Jesus and God and the predatory nature of consumerism. It's a stark contrast to who he is now: a man that compares himself to Jesus, titling an album "Yeezus," a combination of Jesus and his nickname "Ye." West thrives on opulence and needless greed, using his now $1 billion dollars of worth to buy cars and fuel his clothing brand that abuses consumerist business practices. 

I'm not the first person to point this out. His decline has been documented for years, and it's a topic that never ends in fruitful conversation. It always leads to one party wishing well for him, as if his behavior is beyond him. The use of hashtags such as #PrayforKanye always rise to the trending tab on Twitter or Instagram when he puts his own billion-dollar career at risk. Sadly, from his earliest days in his career he's always been like this.

Comedian Dave Chappelle featured Kanye on "Chappelle's Show" in 2004 , making this Kanye's first televised performance. In an interview with Jimmy Fallon, Chappelle talked about a time when Kanye yelled at his agent over the phone.

He ended the conversation by saying, "Because my life is dope, and I do dope shit!"

Even in the first award ceremony he was nominated in, the American Music Awards of 2004, he stormed out in protest when he didn't win "Best New Artist." 

While I greatly dislike Kanye West, it must be said that much of his criticism is from people who frankly don't like to see any kind of Black man be successful. But my criticism isn't from a racial anger, but rather a severe disappointment in him. He's a gifted Black man with a rich background. His parents both went on to be professors and nurtured his craft. He would rap and sing about how Blackness is undervalued and its culture is stolen routinely by others, only to marry into the peak of the whiteness he criticized, a family that makes its fame appropriating Black culture. 

Time and time again, people defend and support him. And I just don't know why. Is it the spectacle of his actions and the sheer unbelievability? Is the music good enough to ignore all of the wrongdoing and personal flaws? How does one sing the lyrics "he'll leave your ass for a white girl" in a song titled "Gold Digger" and then do exactly that? How does one raised by a Black Panther go on to say slavery is a choice? How does one claim to interrupt an award show to promote Black women's success, but say that Harriet Tubman didn't free any slaves? How does one wear a crown of thorns and compare oneself to Jesus but use his millions on cars and not the cause? How does he warrant defending?

I only fear what his next stunt may be.

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