Why We Need to Talk About Kanye West
The rapper’s musical genius does not excuse him from being held accountable.
“Man, I’m so self-conscious.” Growing up, I thought Kanye West’s The College Dropout was easily the best album I’d ever heard. I couldn’t quite articulate, but seeing as the rapper and I are both Geminis, I immediately understood and felt connected to his artistry and brazen personality. The entire second hook of “All Falls Down” is one of the most insightful and self-reflective rap lyrics and examples of West’s genius. His debut rap album perfectly encapsulates both its owner’s culture and history, while criticizing Black people’s so-called Sisyphus-like quest for fame and riches, which Ye has seemingly achieved for himself. As I’ve grown older, however, I came to realize that West’s glaring misogynistic and self-sabotaging behavior has eclipsed his lyrical mastery. His startling actions towards Kim Kardashian in the midst of their divorce — purchasing a home across the street from her residence, and sending his estranged ex-wife a truck full of roses for Valentine’s Day — have made clear what a discerning few have known for years, that West can be dangerous. His stalking and harassment of Kardashian, and subsequently her new boyfriend Pete Davidson have become hard to ignore, but to publicly criticize someone who has garnered an almost cult-like following feels like social suicide.
Kanye West is the modern-day Picasso, and I do not say this as a compliment. Like the famous painter, who was artistically gifted but had complicated and problematic histories with women, West is a product of our society’s unfailing allowance of toxic male behavior. Some point to his loss of his mother and mental illness — while insidiously and casually shaming those who suffer from depression and anxiety — as the primary cause of West’s erratic behavior, when its true and honest source is misogyny. The DONDA rapper’s ingenious lyricism and culture foresight have blinded us, willingly or otherwise, from confronting the truth. Perhaps, it is Ye’s artistic defense of his disturbing “Eazy” music video, in which he buries a claymation version of Davidson, that allows him to headline Rolling Loud Miami and Coachella. The festival owners don’t seem to mind that their main attraction has threatened the mother of his four children with revenge porn, as West claims to have unreleased footage of Kardashian’s 2007 sex tape with Ray J. Although the KKW Beauty mogul was able to pivot the intimate violation into a lucrative career, West deliberately tries to invoke a sexist narrative against his former wife when she won’t capitulate to him and keep their family together.
The DONDA rapper’s ingenious lyricism and culture foresight have blinded us, willingly or otherwise, from confronting the truth.
In an interview with Hollywood Unlocked, West’s true thoughts about his muses becomes clear when he claims his ex-wife cried when seeing the alleged footage, saying, “[Be]cause it represents how much she’s been used. It represents how much people didn’t love her and they just saw her as a commodity.” This interview immediately took me back to 2015, when West made his infamous “30 showers” comment about former girlfriend Amber Rose, whom he dated before Kardashian. How anyone can’t see that Ye treats women as disposable wells of creativity baffles me.
Historically speaking, we have given male artists free rein to assault, exploit and harm others in the name of art and culture. Despite the fact that budding creatives are trained to not see their art as precious, enablers and sycophants conveniently ignore the misdeeds of the exceptionally talented. Chris Brown’s numerous rape allegations and Picasso stifling his ex-wife Françoise Gilot’s art career by preventing galleries from buying her work have gone unnoticed in favor of cultural output, our parasocial relationships and emotional investment in their creations. In Brown’s case, it’s more so the lucrativeness of the entertainment industry than talent. In a recent interview, actor Gina Gershon defended working with Woody Allen, saying, “It serves no one to keep great artists from working, even the alleged victims,” disregarding the safety of those on set, as well as the wider message it sends that misogyny, sexual violence and even child abuse can be tolerated for a price or one’s ability to entertain. Chalking up Allen’s alleged sexual abuse of his seven-year-old daughter to a “family matter” and a private situation underscores our society’s fraught and self-injurious relationship with artists, exalting them to a position above the law and moral decency.
A practice that is meant to bring folks together, engender and illicit deep emotions, should not be held hostage to the toxic impulses of a misogynistic society, as it inherently limits the scope of the art it produces.
West’s highly publicized six-week fling with actor Julia Fox was a case study in not only the rapper’s obsession with Kardashian, but also a look into the sometimes controlling and repressive dynamics of the muse-artist dichotomy. Like a scene out of Euphoria, West dressed and curated Fox’s image into a Kim Kardashian-lite version — just like Nate Jacobs, another controlling male, did with Cassie Howard. Although the Uncut Gems star asserts there is more to her than her profitable connection to West, it’s hard to imagine the Italian-American brunette will live down her infamous Call Her Daddy podcast. When Kardashian claimed that Ye introduced her to the fashion world, I instantly wanted to correct her, as it is undeniable that Kim’s clout also benefitted the rapper’s image. Now, legally single, Kardashian is remaking herself in her own image, declaring to Vogue that her fourth decade on earth is “all about me,” proving that it is possible to be more than a muse.
While I appreciate his former lovers’ resilience, Ye’s prolific status and his fans’ habitual negligence of his questionable behavior leads me to believe our temporary disapproval of his actions will dissipate upon the arrival of a new album, as DONDA 2 may well be on the way. Collectively, we need to start taking male artists to task for their unconscionable actions, or else we will live in a world at their behest. It’s unfair to the millions of artists in the industry, women-identifying or otherwise, to continue supporting a musician, as well as the many other toxic and problematic male artists, at the consequence of those who do not benefit from a male patriarchy. A practice that is meant to bring folks together, engender and illicit deep emotions, should not be held hostage to the toxic impulses of a misogynistic society, as it inherently limits the scope of the art it produces. We need to talk about Kanye, and extract madness from creative genius in order to move forward.