A centrist Canadian online magazine doesn’t really seem like the place to discuss hip-hop. But it is a good place to discuss identity.
Who we are, who we want to be, and what the world labels us as—celebrity will magnify all of these things by 1000. Then social media will “finalize” this.
We completely lose track of reality and struggle with who the internet tells us we are.
Kanye West is the dysfunctional relationship we can’t let go of. One year he is “the only man for us. A genius.” The next, he’s a “piece of shit who has been lying to us this whole time.” And now, “If you knew him like we know him you would give him one more chance. I know he wore a MAGA hat but HE’S CHANGED!”
Liberals loved Kanye after Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans was drowning and black people seemed like an afterthought to the people in charge at the time. The levees broke along with our hearts as we watched families swimming through the streets to save each other.
Telethons were hosted with celebrities reading inoffensive scripts from teleprompters. Then it was Kanye’s turn. He came out and left his swagger backstage. He was standing next to another hip-hop legend, from So I Married an Axe Murderer fame, the very white Mike Myers.
We were all confused—Kanye appeared nervous for the first time ever.
Then he broke down and said, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
In that moment, Mike Myers achieved the status of the most terrified Canadian ever.
Liberals fucking loved it. He said what no one would ever have the balls to say on national TV. No matter what political party you side with, the news either plays up fake emotion to scare you. This was a black man in pain with a platform, who said what many people thought. He was being raw.
Kanye West was already one of the best rappers and producers of all time and that act of rebellion made him iconic.
Conservatives, however, did not like that act. West and his family got death threats and he went into hiding.
People accused him of politicizing a tragedy. Some said that racism was over. That Katrina has nothing to do with George Bush. It’s not like he controls the weather. (Although I do believe that Dick Cheney might).
Some of them had points. Others didn’t. But us liberals stood by our man. Kanye was a rebel of the highest order and we would protect him at all costs.
Then he did something that was unforgivable. He said he supported Trump.
Now he was trending for a different reason. He was a sell out, a racist (?!). White people got to gleefully drop the term “Uncle Tom” to a black man who has faced more racism in his life that they will ever hear at their thanksgiving dinner.
Kanye West and celebrities in the age of cancel culture aren’t people. They are principals and when those principals sway to the side of the aisle we don’t like, then we leave them to sway in silence and shame.
We called him crazy. Sure the left says crazy is an ableist term. And sure the left says we shouldn’t speak for black people and that all black people aren’t the same and thinking that is racist but this black man stepped out of line and believes something truly unforgivable, so fuck him—he is a crazy Uncle Tom.
Kanye West is crazy by literal definition. He struggles with mental illness and bipolar disorder. It’s an issue that he talked about on David Letterman’s new Netflix show. Many liberals could have heard him talk about if they weren’t too busy virtue signalling that they weren’t watching the episode.
So, he’s always been crazy. He was crazy during your favorite song and he was crazy during the hurricane. He was crazy when he stood on a table as a nobody demanding Jay-Z listen to him. And he was crazy when he declared that “Jesus Walked.” But this was different.
But this time, he said he supported Trump—so now he’s actually crazy.
Not the kind of crazy we care about, not the kind of crazy we want help, not the kind of crazy we would fight to overhaul a broken medical system in order to fix. This fucks up the narrative we tell ourselves, so fuck him.
The main reason this upset many on the left was because it takes away the simplistic narrative that if you voted for Trump you are racist. It starts to give credence to the idea that some people who voted for Trump may have just been sick of Washington politicians and were thirsty for ANYTHING different.
Yes, I don’t like Trump. Yes, I think he is a racist. Yes, I think America has a long way to go when it comes to race. But, I think that calling anyone who voted for Trump a racist ain’t gonna accomplish shit.
Kanye was now the kind of “crazy” who watches Jordan Peterson or Candace Owens, who wears a Make America Great Again hat. He became the kind of crazy that liberals didn’t give a fuck about, like the homeless person we brush aside as we go to our progressive book club.
Kanye was no longer our “black friend.”
He has pretty much stayed out of the press until this Letterman interview. It was the first episode in the new series. It was at the top of Netflix. There he was. He remembered to bring his swagger.
My friend and I watched it. She didn’t want to watch it. She hated Kanye. She didn’t know why. But she remembered she did.
This is the way many people feel about many other people these days—“I don’t know why I don’t like this person but I remember somebody told me I’m not allowed to like him so I guess that is that.”
We watched anyway. It was great. I loved it. She loved it. I felt vindicated. She felt bad. Probably why many people on the left didn’t watch it. They knew they would feel the same way.
Kanye was guarded, he was honest, he was right, he was wrong, he spoke out on mental health, and got cheers, and got met with silence. All and all, he was a human.
He was the same human we loved years ago.
As he talked about having a “sprained brain,” woke Twitter was gleefully shitting all over a mentally ill black man. But that’s okay cause he supported Trump. Sure, he went walked back saying it. Sure, his wife got a meeting with the president and helped push through life-saving prison reform. Sure, he is a rapper not a politician. But he’s artist trying to figure out what he believes just like so many of us are.
But he was also a celebrity we could all be mad at all day.
Identity politics is the hill many liberals will die on. If you support Trump, it doesn’t matter if you are a wheel chair bound trans Mexican vegan endangered species, you are still on the shit list.
If someone you once loved, whose music brought you our of a dark place and showed you some light, says something you disagree with, should you hate him?
I can’t tell you how to feel. I’m just a white guy who can’t sing along to half the words on a West album. Some people felt legit betrayal and heartbreak. I get that. You don’t have to like anyone. But there was something about the way people turned on Kanye that was upsetting.
For a while, everyone stopped rooting for him to get better. It’s worth asking why we did that. And it’s worth talking about how he’s still here.