New Kanye, Same As The Old Kanye

How Kanye West’s latest barrage of asinine thoughts have given him the attention he seeks — and how dangerous that really is.

Kanye West at the TMZ offices (photo credit:The Hollywood Reporter)

“Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity.” — Frantz Fanon

I know that you might be going through what I am going through, which for the sake of this piece might be called “Kanye West fatigue.” The last two weeks have seen the eclectic producer/rapper return to Twitter, go on a steady stream of New-Age styled affirmations before making the record scratch loudly by proclaiming that he liked how Candace Owens thinks. For those who don’t know or didn’t really give a damn until now, Candace Owens is a rising darling in right-wing circles a la Tomi Lahren. She bills herself as (insert eye-roll) a “reformed liberal” who feels conservatism is the only way that Black Americans can rise out of their present situation, & has gotten heavy scrutiny on her assertion that Black men being shot and brutalized by police isn’t about racism. Owens has even gone so far as to use the “red pill” metaphor from “The Matrix” movie franchise. (I’ll touch upon that more later.) Kanye caught a lot of heat for that, and so he decided to double down and declare his love for Donald Trump, current president of the United States.
Claiming they both had “dragon energy”. Even going so far as to show off that
visual MAGA hat which he said was signed and is akin to other white supremacist symbols like the Confederate flag and the swastika on Twitter. In two photos, one of which prompted many to proclaim he was indeed in the infamous “Sunken Place” from Jordan Peele’s masterpiece “Get Out”.

President-elect Donald Trump poses for photo with Kanye West shortly after the election, November 2016. (photo credit: The Guardian)

While ‘Ye’s love for Trump isn’t anything new — we all remember when homeboy decided to visit him in Trump Tower days after the 2016 election, complete with the Golden Lords hairdo from “The Meteor Man”. But no one was prepared for what he said this past Tuesday while in the TMZ offices and studio, owned and run by Trump confidante & lawyer Harvey Levin. That was when he decided to drop this mental turd nugget: “When you hear about slavery for 400 years … For 400 years? That sounds like a choice.” The very next statement? “You were there for 400 years and it’s all of y’all. It’s like we’re mentally imprisoned.” He was immediately challenged by TMZ staffer Van Lathan in a firm and direct way. Kanye decided to go back to Twitter to try to stem the damage from that latest bit of mental diarrhea. I saw my Twitter timeline and Facebook feed erupt with anger at what he said. Some are still going, days later. News pundits are chiming in. There’s even dignitaries such as the one from Nigeria who offered for West to take a trip to his country to see the remnants of what the Transatlantic slave trade was there. Charlemagne The God, the personality from New York City’s “The Breakfast Club” morning radio show has said we can’t throw him away. Steve Harvey has said he needs a strong, older Black male figure in his life. Old Man Ebro,
upset over Kanye’s apparent “heel turn”, has taken to Twitter to ask if there’s a Black woman who’d give him a hug.

You want my two cents? Understand two things about Kanye West — he doesn’t truly care about other opinions unless it hurts his money, and understand that he lives for controversy as creativity. Both of these things in the age of Trump are like swallowing Tide pods and chasing them down with Crown Royal for certain individuals.

To me, Kanye West has always been rap music’s high priest of contrarianism. It was evident from the beginning of his career, when the journalist Toure’ sat down with West for an interview for Rolling Stone and the subject of his “Jesus piece” came up. That was telling to me. It illustrated the contortions someone who’s Black has to go through publicly and privately well, but it also revealed that West is someone who both afraid of and indifferent of public reaction. Someone who’s inured themselves enough that their whole aura gives off an air of arrogance. It’s worked for Kanye as a force field through various controversies big and small from Jesus pieces to the infamous MTV Awards interruption to the even more infamous “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people” statement during televised fund-raising for those affected to Hurricane Katrina. The “HOW SWAY?” moment. And even his showing up with Kim Kardashian West at the Met Gala a few years ago with blue-eyed contacts.

Kanye West with colored contacts at the Met Gala, May 2016. (photo credit: Complex)

Through everything, he’s grown larger in life as a highly-sought after producer and fashion maven with his own clothing line. But this latest episode smacks of something gone awry within. When I first heard about the TMZ tirade, I said to myself, “this is Kanye West’s ‘pound cake’ moment.”

“Egotism is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity.” — Booker T.

The fallen visage of Bill Cosby, once viewed as “America’s Dad” due to his creation and portrayal of Dr. Cliff Huxtable on the iconic NBC series “The Cosby Show” due to his conviction of sexual assault on a retrial to me, seemingly elicits the same kind of heated conversation among Black folks that Kanye has. There are many (including myself) who are saddened by how the
comedian and educator has come to this state of affairs. And many who are angered at how he had a hand in his own self-destruction. Some are still delusional to the point where they will craft and create conspiracies so intricate that you feel like you’re trapped inside an RPG listening to them. This isn’t new — folks love conspiracies or the whiff of them. “The Matrix” has become part of popular conversation because of the core idea that this world we live in is a highly-crafted illusion, and I’ve heard it used for reasons why someone didn’t get a job to how Michael Jordan used to always get certain calls. That’s not to say that there haven’t been or aren’t any in the works. In this case with Cosby it becomes too easy of a fall back, something to hold on to because we can’t bear witness to the fall from grace. And we forget that at one time, Bill Cosby was literally near this same spot that Kanye West is in for the moment. Someone who was so upset with the state of the Black community in their eyes not rising up that they took to a mangled and hot-take ready form of Black conservatism. It’s not by accident that Cosby’s tirades, lauded by Fox News and other white right-wingers who love to insist that Black people only need to behave with “respectability” in order to succeed gained so much traction with his notorious “pound cake” speech to the NAACP took place in the same year Kanye rose to fame with “The College Dropout”. The beginning of an ascendancy, and now the beginning of someone’s descent.

Kanye’s comments on slavery are that moment where someone in his position has decided that they are above the issues of race. Their success has made them “color-blind”. Their exceptionalism affords them a position where they’re not affected by what plagues the Black community and other communities of color. Until it does. Because exceptionalism does not replace complexion as a protection against the systemic racism embedded within all that we know as the framework of American society. A society that still operates as it did with the Founding Fathers with white men of means as the default. Cosby had to find that out with the murder of his only son, Ennis in 1997. Kanye had to deal with the horror of his wife Kim being held up at gunpoint in a robbery in their apartment in Paris, France as he was doing a concert in what seemed to be a targeted attack because of their stature. That
exceptionalism, when dashed can be crippling. It can lead to bitterness. I’ve seen it up close, and you might have as well.

Both men were (and still are) supported by a cadre of people who want to hold onto what their artistry gave to the world, to the point they’ll put themselves in a bad light. Take Cosby. The amount of caping that has been going on to where I saw one meme posted that claimed that Cosby didn’t need to sexually assault Andrea Constand because she “looked like a man” and he was surrounded by co-stars WHO PLAYED HIS WIFE AND DAUGHTERS who would’ve been better. Yes, that sickening. West’s comments on slavery have also brought the worst out of some people in that light, which has prompted me to have Ghostface Killah’s “Biscuits” on loop for the past week because these fools are defending Ye’s words verbatim. Even one or two among the famous. There’s even a fan theory floating around about how all of this is part of an intricately crafted performance art scene with an album to come.

Please miss me with all of that. Being the high priest of rap music contrarianism like Kanye is doesn’t equate him to being a Trickster figure. Trickster figures in art are more multi-faceted, and in turn a bit more eloquent. Kanye’s logic is like that of the withered O.G. who clutches a can of Steel Reserve outside of your local bodega or corner store telling you how to get rich only if you can spare a dollar towards the next can.

There is nothing “artistic” about the horrors past and present that the Transatlantic Slave Trade has wrought upon those of the African continent and diaspora. Point blank. And he knows this. He’s been to the NMAAHC. He’s
been “pro-Black” and conscious in the past.

There is a need to still hold Kanye in the light of being that “genius” that was bestowed upon him back in his “Through The Wire” days right up to “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”. Since those days, he’s had some stumbles. One of my people hit me up privately when I publicly stated how displeased I was with Kanye setting it off on radio host Sway in that interview. They tried to tell me in their opinion, that he might have done too many interviews. Even now, you have people like the aforementioned Steve Harvey, Charlemagne and Ebro looking for someone to save him. Looking for reasons to explain this away. They can’t. And maybe they shouldn’t try, especially if it means in the case of the latter making Black women take on a role of therapist when it’s not their burden to bear. Maybe Kanye’s public miscues say more about their own flaws which they haven’t fully addressed and would rather not have everyone know about. Like their attitudes towards women, or a self-hatred they may think they tucked away with their Gibaud jeans. ‘Ye did confess to his opioid addiction, and admit that he got liposuction because he didn’t want the press to rag on him like they do his brother-in-law, Rob. He still has a vulnerability more accentuated by the loss of his mother, Dr. Donda West. But it’s all hidden behind the mask of ego he has. Kanye represents a kind of Black power in terms of its proximity to the system, a shaken fist in the face of the powers that be. Something on the surface that satisfies but doesn’t really sustain like fill-up meals at fast food franchises. But like Icarus, he flies too close to the sun with wings that aren’t as stable as he thinks. He’s recovered before, but I don’t know how he will now. Maybe he won’t.

And maybe we all have to let that take its course. Because while it’s obvious he’s going through something, it shouldn’t be the knee-jerk reason that we use to excuse this latest bit of shame. Kanye’s latest comments are dangerous in a time where it is once again a more open season on Black lives and other lives of color. That his egotism and self-assurance ringed by a framework of yes-men and women is already apparent, but this newness is troubling. And yes, there will be those who still ride with him. Much like they’ve done with Cosby, R.Kelly, O.J. Simpson — you get the drift. The fact that there are many other celebs of color who are vehemently distancing themselves from him, and that he’s been embraced by racists like Paul Joseph Watson says that egotism he has is now a broken compass. We can’t wait for Kanye to find his way back to freedom by the North Star.

For him, his kind of slavery is a choice. We can only pour one out and make our own way to liberation as we need to.



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Christopher A. Smith

Freelance writer. Author of 3 books of poetry. Raconteur. Queens is the county, Jamaica is the place.