LIKE KANYE WEST, I said something new was going to drop on Friday and then that date came and went with nothing to show for it. Fitting that my newsletter topic is actually Kanye. This past week, he did what he often does best: drumming up excitement for his talents via a pre-release experiential spectacle.
I vividly remember similar events in the past, such as the screening for all three versions of the “Jesus Walks” video, where I first met and interviewed ‘Ye. Then there was the theater event for the Graduation listening-cum-screening that I attended. Not to mention the film junket-styled sessions he set up for “Flashing Lights,” which was the last time I interviewed him. I was also there when he blasted the Yeezy album during a rave-esque setting behind Milk Studios. And most recently, I went to Wyoming to hear Ye. I always respected him as a complicated figure in hip-hop, who questioned and defied norms—be they cultural or societal. He was possessed by a drive to be legendary and he was equally obsessive over his production details. Personally, I celebrated his musical instincts while, professionally I analyzed his decisions away from the studio.
That balance on my part started to crack 5 years ago.
The MAGA movement gave Kanye an ethos to park his independent streak and have it rebranded as free thinking.
Inside Madison Square Garden where Kanye was previewing his Life of Pablo project, folks saw for the first time what many of us did. The audacity Kanye had for the spectacular, his real-time course corrections and later his commentary via Twitter over where the album stood or the changes he was making both before and after TLAP was released. People thought he was going crazy. I thought people were getting a peak at pure Kanye. I halfway finished an essay saying as much.
Fast forward a few months to Trump riding down those escalator steps to announce his presidential candidacy.
The MAGA movement gave Kanye an ethos to park his independent streak and have it rebranded as free thinking. The tenor of his voice had long changed
into something that was unrecognizable from his Chicago drawl, then he cozied up to Cheeto Mussolini and Candace Owens, and the ugly remarks started hitting more than his music. The lowlights include: “‘I’m with her’ just didn’t make me feel — as a guy … it was something about this hat that made me feel like Superman” and saying “Slavery was a choice” and tweeting
that his wife and the mother of his children a white supremacist.
He always had the music to recalibrate his public standing.
After storming the stage at the VMAs to protest Taylor Swift and proclaim in the name of Beyonce (a story I covered
while at MTV), Kanye holed up in Hawaii and delivered his masterpiece, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Old Kanye wasn’t ever coming back and instead this was the new reality.
Since then, his drums don’t snap like they used to and his rhymes don’t illuminate like they once did.
Yeezus was uneven at best. Many look back at The Life of Pablo with reverence but it was retread masked as innovation. Ye was confounding.
It was while in Wyoming for the Ye listening when Kanye as a person started to crest with Kanye the musician for me. I thought I could play my part as a journalist to participate in the event and absolve myself of the road he was heading down. Despite his music trending the wrong way, there was always hope that the Old Kanye would emerge and somehow wipe out the backlash and wash over it with goodwill. I was playing myself.
The same criticisms of his recent work plagued Jesus Is King, but I engaged with that project even less, allowing myself to emphasize who Kanye was over his work because he seemed to put more effort into that. He mounted a run for president as an independent in a move that many saw could be harmful to democrats/most Americans in the push to get Tangerine Hitler out of the way. Old Kanye wasn’t ever coming back and instead this was the new reality.
I’d been waiting for his new material to anchor this essay with tidbits of his lyrics to highlight my points. But after listening to the Donda
bootleg, it didn’t really matter. It sounded like knockoff Playboi Carti; or, as my brother Bonsu coined it
Holy Drill. Funny and also furthering his damnation.
I won’t know if that version was close to what he was going to be released since he’s said to be
retooling the project.
What I do know is that Kanye was incredibly influential, perhaps the most influential rapper/musician/culturist of the past 25 years. It powered his classic material and those snare kicks knocked so hard they also booted the placement of the line he could cross over and over again. He’s been flipped sides like Anakin, though, and no matter what comes of Donda
it’s too late he’s gone