My hands were raised toward the air, a sign of praise to God. My head was lowered, eyes closed, as I just wanted to soak in the moment. I was not at church, but I felt like I was taken there. I was listening to “Ultralight Beam,” the first track of Kanye West’s new album, The Life of Pablo. West described this new work as a gospel album before its release, and while listening to the first song, I believed him. The choir roared through my speakers and Chance The Rapper’s verse gave me goose bumps. But as I went through the songs in the rest of the album, I found myself thinking, Did Kanye really just say that? Kanye West has always been known for his over-the-top ego and critically acclaimed music style. I am a fan of his and honestly enjoy every song on The Life of Pablo. But some of the lyrics and his recent tweets have been questionable, to say the least.
The nature of his words can’t just be swept under the rug saying, “Oh, that’s just Kanye.” We still listen to the music, but we should no longer view West as a role model or idol.
Fans can be caught in an awkward middle ground when a celebrity or anyone they admire messes up or says something they don’t agree with. I grew up a huge fan of Tiger Woods. I wrote a report on him in fifth grade because he paved the way for Black and mixed people in golf and kicked ass while doing it. He runs foundations to promote golf with children who live in the inner cities and his Tiger Woods Learning Center has five campuses across the United States that teach college-access classes to underprivileged kids.
But when he announced on Feb. 19, 2010 that he cheated on his wife with multiple women, I was 14. I was upset, but quickly forgave him, probably because I had been a fan since I could remember. I was just 14, and I thought the good he did trumped his mistake that he took ownership for.
There obviously is a difference between cheating on your wife and using controversial lyrics, but Woods apologized and some have forgiven him. West, on the other hand, has continued using controversial lyrics time and time again without remorse. In his song “On Sight” from Yeezus, he raps, “Soon as I pull up and park the Benz / We get this bitch shaking like Parkinson’s.” In the song “Blood on the Leaves,” (also from Yeezus) he compares sitting courtside across the court from your wife at a basketball game to apartheid.
West hasn’t apologized or owned up to the controversy. He isn’t obligated to, but he should. Because he doesn’t take responsibility for what he puts out there, we cannot respect him for anything else but possibly his musical talent. As listeners, we must deliberate whether we want to support an artist who makes outrageous claims or hurtful statements.
Much of the uproar about lyrics on The Life of Pablo comes from two separate bars, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why, I made that bitch famous,” and “Do anybody feel bad for Bill Cosby? Did he forget the names like Steve Harvey?”
West defends the first lyric by saying in a series of tweets, “First thing is I’m an artist and as an artist I will express how I feel with no censorship. 2nd thing I asked my wife for her blessings and she was cool with it. 3rd thing I called Taylor and had an hour long convo with her about the line and she thought it was funny and gave her blessings. 4th bitch is an endearing term in hip hop like the word n****.”
But Swift and her representatives deny the claim wholeheartedly saying, “She declined and cautioned him about releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message. Taylor was never made aware of the actual lyric, ‘I made that bitch famous.’ ”
Because of West’s past use of lyrics and the fact that he called Swift “fake ass” backstage on SNL last week, we cannot take his word. And isn’t it weird, though he had his wife’s blessing, that West talks about having sex with another woman while he is married?
And no, Kanye, I certainly don’t feel bad for Bill Cosby. Dude, the song was great until you said that. “Facts (Charlie Heat Version)” is such a great song to fire you up before an exam or even to aggressively eat your cereal, but when I heard that line, my face shriveled up and I took out my headphones. West has tweeted, “BILL COSBY INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!!” and Cosby is not. Too many women have bravely stepped forward to say that Cosby had assaulted or raped them for anyone to think Cosby is anything but guilty.
We can idolize characters or celebrities, like Cosby was adored for his television show and stand-up sets, and when they make a mistake, we may deny it or shrug it off. Of course, depending on the severity of the offense, we can accept apologies, like in the case of Woods, or have our opinions change permanently, like with Cosby.
Kanye does not apologize for his antics, but he does remain one step ahead of those who criticize him. In “Feedback,” he raps, “I can’t let these people play me / Name one genius that ain’t crazy.” Even the apostle Paul, a writer of the Bible’s New Testament — who the album is named after according to West — was perceived as more than out there during his time. Kanye West is crazy, but has reached new levels of self-absorption and being completely unapologetic.
Paul wrote in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is good and acceptable and perfect.” This verse is difficult to follow for any Christian. But it put me in the mindset that some of the things that West says are unacceptable, and should not be taken lightly because he hasn’t publicly apologized for any of them, even if he does internally regret some of the things he has said.
Even West’s former songwriting partner, Rhymefest, said that West needs spiritual and mental help. West’s narcissism has reached a boiling point and it can put his fans in a middle ground — at least it has for me. In my opinion, his music is excellent. But I’ve been disappointed with his words. Even if he may be joking, thus far, he hasn’t indicated so.
Part of me wants to keep listening to The Life of Pablo, but at the same time, I don’t think I can support West because of his words. The album is great, filled with great production, beats and also lyrics that I enjoy.
But the bad has outweighed the good for me, so I ripped off the Band-Aid and I deleted it off my phone.
West and I agree on this: Only God can judge him. I just choose not to support his music anymore.
Kanye West can take us to church. But his words can’t be taken as trivial.
Chris Crowder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.