The Ghost of Kanye West
When Kanye West arrived at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on October 23, 2002, there were no trailing paparazzi, concerned fans, or industry well wishes. Hospital staff had seen far brighter stars perish under their care. Publications hastily wrote 100-word filler articles that were destined for obscurity. No one cared or knew to care.
His body lay marred with minor scrapes and abrasions. His jaw was fractured and would require emergency reconstructive surgery. It seemed like more of a punishment than a treatment for the budding producer turned rapper who insisted on being heard. Close friends and family insisted he was lucky to be alive.
Shortly after his hospital release with his jaw still wired shut, he wrote and produced his debut single, “Through The Wire”- stamping his ticket to hip-hop ‘lore.
What would happen next was something that no one other than perhaps Kanye could have predicted. His debut album, “College Dropout” was not only a critically acclaimed commercial success, it redefined the tenor and aesthetics of hip-hop. The arrogant kid from Chicago who wore pink polos paired with Louis Vuitton backpacks now had the world’s ear.
He accepted his newfound responsibility and spoke directly to a generation who in turn exalted him up the stairs of their hearts. He was the son of a Black Panther and a college professor. And now he was ours. Brazen and uncompromised, Kanye continued to push the limits of conventionalism while feeding his need for acclaim.
He highlighted equalities, took on world leaders, and jumped over unqualified award recipients in a single bound.
They labeled him a bully. We crowned him a genius and called him king. And he gave us more Kanye. Lots of Kanye. All the Kanye.
Then something happened. The tenor and aesthetics of hip-hop shifted again. While Ye was still held in high regard, he was no longer the focal point of hip-hop. The generation he once nurtured no longer needed a ventriloquist. But Ye still needed the validation and high praise. And he would do anything to secure it.
Relationships with his longtime friends became estranged. Often spilling out in public spats. His erratic behavior inspired a mound of arm-chair mental health diagnoses. And his once brilliant critiques were now incoherent rants that would have served more of a purpose on the cutting room floor. The kid from Chicago was now an aging man who was struggling to leverage his dependency for visibility.
He couldn’t do it musically like he had done so many times before. Even his most loyal fans whispered under their breaths how they missed the old Ye. The map he routed to infinite greatness took him right back to where he started — muted and nonessential.
In perhaps what may be his final curtain call, Kanye has turned into the machine he made a career raging against. The gatekeepers he once vowed to extinguish now intrigued him. We scratched our heads and wondered what did it profit a king to gain the world and lose the fans who crowned him. The fatal mistake of destroying his legacy for shock value will be what ironically defines Kanye West.
As he goes, so goes the man that was and might have been.