As my Black Twitter timeline blew up with Bill Cosby memes and “now this” videos about yet another act of violence against someone Black, my heart dropped to see Kanye West. I had recently seen a picture of him wearing a MAGA hat posing with two other politicians and I feared for anything he might say to make things worse. Nevertheless, I opened the video and tried to brace myself for whatever he might say. What followed were feelings of shame and disappointment. Kanye had done the unthinkable, claiming that slavery was a “choice” for 400 years. This was something that I may have expected from Stacey Dash but coming from the same man who released “The College Dropout” I was devastated. It’s no secret that Kanye has long been on the bad side of the Black community, but this was something that even the biggest Kanye critic would have never seen coming.
The video spread like wildfire, instantly creating a war on two fronts. On one side there were the people who felt deeply offended and disappointed by Kanye’s remarks. For them this was the last straw, Kanye had not just fallen from grace — he crashed and burned. On the other side were the “stans” who tried to rationalize his remarks and look for the deeper meaning in his poorly worded statement. Many made posts about how they felt if there were so many slaves they should have easily overpowered their oppressors. While this may seem like a legitimate argument at first glance, it is very easy to forget the physical, mental and financial distress the people were under. Stripped of all resources, only given what was provided by a tyrant who was considered your owner. Over 150 years later, it is easy to look at sheer numbers and say what “should’ve” been done, not to mention how easy it is to overlook the numerous revolts and uprisings that did occur during this time. We will never be able to put ourselves in the shoes of our ancestors and for that reason alone it is not and will never be our place to speak on what should have and could have been done. As my mind filled with thoughts and emotions concerning the remarks and how we got here, what came to the forefront of my mind were not the words of Kanye, but those of my brother many years prior.
“When he lost the bear, he lost me.” These were my brother’s final words on his relationship with Kanye West. Following the release of the 2007 album “Graduation” (the final piece of the college-themed trilogy that also featured “The College Dropout” in 2004 and “Late Registration” in 2005), Kanye no longer incorporated the grizzly who came to be known as “Dropout Bear” in his music videos and cover art. After losing Dropout Bear, Kanye released “808s and Heartbreaks” in 2008 which proved to show a more emotional side of Kanye and then “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” in 2010, the album that many consider the best of Kanye’s career. From there he released popular albums like “Watch the Throne” made with Jay-Z in 2011; however, Kanye would also release more controversial albums such as “Yeezus” in 2013 (believed to be his worst album by many fans) and “The Life of Pablo” in 2016. No matter the project, for me and many other fans of early Kanye, no sound would be as honest and true as those during his tenure with Dropout Bear.
However, through his good and bad, nothing could seem to deter Kanye West fans. We were in a musical marriage of sorts, standing by Kanye for better or for worse. We struggled with Kanye, continued to make excuses for whatever misunderstood actions he made and overanalyzed every lyric to create even more reason to believe in his musical genius. However, over time, one by one, fans began to lose hope that we would ever get “the old Kanye” back. Many left in silence, some openly expressed their disappointment but no criticism would be more shocking to me than that of J. Cole. Releasing the song “False Prophets” in 2016, he spoke on his former appreciation of Kanye that bordered on allegiance, only to now be limited to reminiscing about the times when he could appreciate Kanye’s music. Now two years later J. Cole’s words seem to have aged like fine wine, a rather apt coincidence considering my sudden need for a drink after hearing Kanye’s remarks.
In the end, it had a good run. My relationship with Kanye was once that of an adult and baby. The adult is amazed by anything the baby does no matter how big or small and is seldom upset — if so, the anger lasts no longer than a few minutes. Kanye was the musical genius that could do no wrong, a beacon of hope for hip-hop and a role model for the next generation of eager MCs. Almost any aspiring MC, including myself, had studied “Graduation” and could likely rap a verse in every song. Now, my relationship with Kanye has turned into a cycle of disappointment and forgiveness with the hope of a return to grace. Similar to the way you watch “Saturday Night Live” knowing that it will never be as funny as it was when they had Will Ferrell and Jimmy Fallon.