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Kanye West: Method or Madness?

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Kanye West screaming backstage

Kanye West is fantastic. Yes, I said it. Sue me. I’ve been a fan since high school, and that’s very unlikely to change in the near-future. I remember the very first time feeling good, proud even, in my dark-brown skin. Kanye West released College Dropout my senior year of high school. In a generation stuck on baggy pants, do rags, and  wannabe thugs, Mr. West got us hooked on polo shirts, khaki pants, pastel backpacks, and dreams for a G.O.O.D. future. None of the Wesley’s or Eddie’s or Grace Jones’ ever made me feel as empowered as that strong, young brother from 2004. The year I graduated. I’m biased. Yeah. But we all are. 

I remember thanking God for this dark-skinned beacon of light bucking the stereotypes, being the dude who looked like he worked for an A&R but rapped like an MC, and spoke like he only came to the Hood every other Christmas. His work has been revolutionary, and he has influenced so many (good) rappers, that the word “genius” should be used at least once in any piece about him. After all, being called great by a Beatle and having several of your albums already stored on the list of greatest of all time, is no small trick. This was my idol. This IS my idol. There have been some problematic areas, as we know. The mistake is the animosity toward Ye. This only impedes the progress of being understanding and accepting of torn, troubled souls. I would much rather people familiarize themselves with ailments than condemn someone for being weird, different, delusional.

Too much finger pointing, really. Sarcasms. Questions of whether or not Ye is mentally stable, or if he’s faking it for the fame. I do know that the first thing he did after his release from a hospital for “sickness” was to bleach his hair and go see Donald Trump. He didn’t spend time with his family, or, if so, very little. They didn’t feel safe around him anyway. Whether you believe he had that infamous breakdown which sent Kim and their kids running because of some conflict between Kim’s robbery, his meds, and the anniversary of his mother’s death ,or that he was influenced by his addiction to opioids—or some completely other theory—the fact is that this is not the working function of a normal brain. And watching West spout off a constant stream of conscious, word-association to the staff of TMZ, in the way that Donald Trump holds those anchors on Fox and Friends hostage, really does pain me. That level of mania, I’ve known it well for years. The sometimes babble, oft jumble of words, raises even more of a red flag about his internal struggle.

Something I’ve heard brought up is the possibility that maybe his shift to conservative ideas is the main reason for shift in opinion. I’m not sure about the rest of the Black Community, but that is of little or no consequence for me. I’ve watched Kanye spin out over the years. His interviews have gotten more incoherent. His conceptions less focused. And his struggles, mainly addressed in his songs, feel that much more intense. I see that there’s an urgency to the words he says that others long-suffering from mental health issues, those who have never wavered in their support for him, will recognize. He’s been non-verbally, and sometimes verbally, crying out for help for years.

I hear the argument from people who do support conservative causes, that Kanye is just thinking outside the box for once in his life. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the people in favor of this angle are forcefully pushing an agenda, one that seems to conveniently line up with the things Kanye has been saying of late. And that’s a poor excuse to downplay mental illness, just in favor of promoting one’s political party. That’s what makes this such an unforgiving irony: the same people calling Mr. West enlightened now, are the ones who have called him a nutjob for years. He just so happens to be supporting their favorite president, so it would be hypocritical, even counter-intuitive, to say a mentally unstable man is making sense for promoting rhetoric echoed by this nation’s most stable genius, and his righteous crusade to Make America Great Again.

Kanye’s statements about slavery have been another cause for concern. Of course, to each his or her own interpretation of what he means when he says that slaves remained in bondage out for “400 years. For 400 years? That sounds like a choice.” If he means people act like slaves and want to have a reason to cry…that’s pretty debatable, as many of the systems still in place long ago continue to, by their very nature, disenfranchise. Or maybe he’s literally saying that slaves didn’t rise up because they wanted to remain slaves. However, by saying such a thing, you downplay the intelligence of people who actually were slaves, because you assume they weren’t smart enough to know that remaining a slave is counter-productive and only works in the best interest of the master. That’s exactly what slave masters did, underestimate life, and miscalculate levels of intelligence. It’s the ultimate cruelty. If you believe blacks want to be shackled by confines either real or imagined, is assuming they’re too dumb to know the difference between freedom and slavery. 

Kanye’s planned new album cover is the photo of his mother’s surgeon, one of the few people she spent her final hours with. It is possible Ye still blames the guy because his mother died on that operating table. Possible still that Kanye’s mental health continued to deteriorate after her death (it happened to me after my mom died). Using that guy’s photo as an album cover doesn’t seem to be the most rational of decisions. Though, it is within the realm of normal for someone who can’t let go of a past that still haunts him. Someone bruised, disturbed, un-tethered.

An additional wrench that is jammed in the cog is that even Kanye himself is in denial or trying to deflect or maybe a combination of both. In his song “FML”, he mentions:

“You ain’t never seen nothing crazier than this n**** when he off his Lexapro”

I’ve seen a ton of funny Kanye memes over the past week. And that’s cool. It takes a wicked sense of humor to get through this life. This isn’t about being funny, though. Whether you like his music or not, whether or not you think he’s Uncle Tomming a tap dance farther away from reliability and relatability, that he’s a blowhard, or that his clothes and shoes are trash (all criticisms I’ve heard in abundance over the years), let’s be clear on something: Kanye has a mental health issue. Deny it if you will, but if I had to guess, I’d say he’s bipolar, because he displays a lot of my same characteristics (when I don’t take my meds). In other words, it really takes one to know one…he acts just as Loony Toony as me, but with a bigger bank account. And while being crazy doesn’t excuse you from being an a**hole, the man lost a tremendous amount of “friends” once he started parading around in a MAGA hat. Who left whom? Millions of a**holes jumped ship. Rather than stay to learn, to relate, to try reaching out a warm hand of support, they just moved it along because Kanye “finaly went off the deep-end”. If you said he’s crazy and bowed out, you’re part of the problem. Your choice, your solution for dealing with a problem is to dismiss people who have problems. 

I know that people love to be professional naysayers and judges, almost as much as they love to offer help, then refuse to give it once it’s needed. I’ve been bugged out in the past and people just ignored it, made fun of me, ostracized me. Our society is hilarious in that way: they tell us to be individuals, but hate if we’re too individualistic. From what I’ve seen, people care more about mental health once a kid shoots up a school (despite research that says mental health has little do with school shooters) than they do when someone like Kanye starts acting, well, like someone like Kanye. 

One thing I find particularly disturbing is that people readily accept the abnormal psychology of history’s most famous figures: that Caligula was a sex-crazed, homicidal maniac, or that Van Gogh cut off his ear due to bad wiring, or that Kafka never broke out of his cocoon of mental anguish. Yet, so many, are so unwilling to believe that Kanye West could be among the ranks of the damned, those trapped in their own mind coffins. I guess everyone just needs somebody to hate. 

That said, I think the biggest “fuck you” to people who are suffering is the stigma and the dismissal of their symptoms. My “friends” used to tell me there was nothing wrong with me, and yet, I was constantly abandoned by these same individuals once they began to see me spiral out of control.My symptoms exploded. My outbursts, my anger, my depression, and thoughts of suicide… increased exponentially.  It’s pretty screwed up, but this is where we are in society. Until we get over this struggle with ourselves, we will continue to reject psychopathy and  the diagnoses attached to them. It’s just another form of victim blaming, honestly. Kanye has been dragged through the mud for much too long, by people who just want a zoo animal to point at and tease. This is how so many groups have treated their fellow humans for generations. And it breaks my heart to bits.