Amidst all of the outrage surrounding Kanye West’s recent antics, I could see that there were probably a lot of people still quietly (and loudly in some cases) holding out hope that the Kanye they had known and loved since the pink Polos was still there. The common thread between those who were done with Kanye and those who made excuses for him in recent weeks was that everyone just wanted to feel good about being a Kanye West fan again. Unless you’re just a hardcore contrarian, it’s always going to be easier to go with the grain. Even as a music journalist, telling readers (and editors) what they want to hear is far more lucrative than being the writer who will shoot straight every single time — trust me. With Ye, Kanye’s eighth studio album, I think we’re finally coming to a place where people have to consider how long people are going to pass off garbage as high art and how many missteps a “genius” gets to make before that title is stripped away like the powers of the Black Panther.
To give some context on my views on Kanye the musician, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is my favorite Kanye West album, hands down. It’s not my favorite because I cared about what he was saying on it or for his rhymes on the album, but because it was something I’d never heard before in terms of production and overall artistry within rap music. Yeezus may have done the same for fans of that project…if they’d never heard of Death Grips before. This was the album where I was able to step back from being a fan of Kanye the artist and realize that what he was saying seemed to be coming from a place of vanity as opposed to a place of wanting to do right with his platform. It sounds cool to include an anti-establishment message in your music, but things get fishy when people start realizing how well the establishment is working for you and how happily you continue to contribute to it. For me, it took Kanye making music I no longer cared for to allow me to focus on how hollow his sentiments tend to be. That being said, I approached Ye with the same reluctance as I did The Life Of Pablo. Unfortunately, this project is just as bad to me, compounded by the disgust Kanye himself brings to the table as a human being. It’s impossible to separate the art from the artist when the art is about nothing more than the piece of shit the artist has portrayed himself as.
Stop making excuses for Kanye West. Kanye West is a 40-year-old millionaire and a father of three. You don’t still get to be “misunderstood” at 40. 40 is also too old to still receive praise for not having filters. We’ve chalked every outburst up to “passion” or “genius” without realizing that the monster we’ve created is now a grown ass man who should know about tact and the importance of educating oneself on the subjects he inserts himself into. A 40-year-old should know to read the room and look before leaping. A 40-year-old should be able to keep his self-indulgence in check when it comes to making statements and decisions that invalidate so many struggles and break the hearts of people who got him to where he is.
It should be obvious from his listening party in Jackson Hole, Wyoming that Kanye West doesn’t care about hip-hop and the roll-out for Ye is the perfect soundtrack for that. No disrespect to the state of Wyoming, but nobody’s ever unveiling a hip-hop classic in Wyoming. The press and others who were invited to Wyoming to hear it last night can’t be expected to give honest takes when they’re dancing around a bonfire like they’re at an extra-pretentious Burning Man. Well…we could expect them to give honest takes, but that’s not how music journalism has worked in many years. Everybody just wants to be in the mix.
Here in Silicon Valley, far from the “free-thinkers” and culture vultures tweeting live from Wyoming, Ye doesn’t sound so good to me. The album starts with a rambling spoken word and devolves into more self-indulgence. Kanye seems to name-drop mental illness more on this album than he does Tom Ford’s in interviews. It’s done in a way that makes me think mental illness is the next thing to brag about, since there’s only so much you can do with cars and jewelry these days. On “Violent Crimes”, Kanye makes some very uncomfortable comments about North’s impending adolescence, nudging the toxic masculinity up to a smooth 11. I won’t delve here because we could be here for longer than the actual album is discussing every cringey line.
On the song “Wouldn’t Leave”, an ode to Kim Kardashian of sorts, Kanye describes Kim’s reaction to his outburst on TMZ where he called slavery “a choice” before his confrontation with Van Lathan:
“Now I’m on 50 blogs gettin’ 50 calls/My wife callin’, screamin’ ‘We ‘bout to lose it all!’” (“Wouldn’t Leave”)
It’s no surprise that the standout reaction from Kim would be “what about the money we might lose” and not the disgusting statement that slavery was a “choice” and what that means to Black Americans. Kanye doesn’t linger on this point, but it’s clear that Kanye was more interested in the “50 blogs” and “50 calls” than the many people who still believed in him who were hurt by the comment. Throughout Ye, Kanye continues to make comments in his rhymes that seem designed for repugnance as opposed to them being a piece of a story he’s genuinely trying to tell.
What’s going to change now? While I’d like to believe that we’re at a point where people can collectively agree to let their dollars, clicks, and attention speak for their core values and divest from Kanye West, we don’t live in that place. After all, Kanye once tried to “reclaim” the Confederate flag and people seemed to forget about that within the week…and here we are again.
If Ye accomplishes anything in rap or in music at all, it will be forcing “influencers”, “tastemakers” and critics alike to start being honest again, lest their audience start sniffing out the payola in their reviews and think-pieces. Unfortunately, a lot of music journalists today are just Stans with a wi-fi connection and a click-through quota to meet before they get paid peanuts. The supposed makers of taste are mimicking whatever the charts say, so the collective palate is tainted by a lack of critical thinking and honesty. Will Ye have pro-Kanye music journalists and influencers looking funny in the light? That depends on all of you.
Shaka Shaw is a freelance music journalist based in Oakland, California. For inquiries: therapdad[at]gmail.com.