Kanye West and the Misappropriation of Love
Who do you love, Kanye?
Still from TMZ
It would be fair to say that Kanye West, a man who has chosen to be part of one of the, if not the most, performative families of all time, isn’t the best authority on what love is, and what it isn’t. On the topic of love, the rapper, who built a majority black fanbase when blackness and its profitability mattered to him, tweeted the following on April 27:
“It’s really cool to say I hate you. But it’s not cool to say I love you. Love has a stigma.”
But what can this mean, coming from a man who has no idea of the conversations happening outside of his own self-absorbed, self-important, pseudo-intellectual ones? I personally can’t remember the last time I told somebody that I hate them, can you? I tell my friends that I love them on a daily basis. “What would you do today if you are not afraid of the consequences of failure?” Kanye tweeted on 29 April, like some sort of shit Morpheus. Well, Kanye, it’s not failure that we’re afraid of, it’s often what boils down to a fear of not being able to pay our bills or keep a roof over our heads. The luxury of failure is often bound up in financial security and emancipation from capitalism/ rent/ bill paying/ eating to survive -- luxuries that many of us will never know.
Kanye’s Twitter rant seemed to make some sort of nonsensical sense on 28 April when he tweeted one of a series of text messages with ‘Wes’. The exchange showed a picture of (Kanye’s late mother) Donda West’s surgeon, Dr Jan Adams, with Kanye’s accompanying words: “This is my album cover. This is plastic surgeon Jan Adams. The person who performed my moms final surgery Do you have any title ideas?” and then, “I want to forgive and stop hating.” Wes replied “LOVE EVERYONE”, an unhelpful and untrue suggestion that ‘love’ is in any way synonymous with the process of healing that is needed after unimaginable grief. “I love that”, Kanye replies.
In an open letter published on The Blast, Dr Jan Adams responded: “Don’t put my picture out there and claim you are about love. Love deals with the truth.”
Kanye West has told us, frequently, that he wants us all to be free. Days after sharing the exchange regarding Dr Jan Adams, which goes some way to explaining his behaviour, in a completely bizarre interview with TMZ Live he suggested that his recent Twitter frenzy is a result of him thinking and feeling freely. “We don’t know how to think for ourselves,” West blathered. “We don’t know how to feel for ourselves. People say, ‘Feel free’ but they don’t really want us to feel free. I felt a freedom in first of all just doing something that everyone tells you not to do.” One has to wonder what freedom millions of dollars has afforded Kanye West. We could all change the world if we had Kanye’s finances, his influence, his Twitter following, his back catalogue, if we had the opportunity or the networks to help us create and produce a joke of a clothing line that sells moth eaten garments at a price point unaffordable to the fans that lifted Kanye up when he released The College Dropout, his first album, rooted in predominantly black soul and RnB sound. He added, in his TMZ interview, “By the way, I am in hip-hop but I’m not just in hip-hop. I’m a black person, black community, but I’m not just that.” A reminder that one of the most frustrating things about Kanye West is that he himself doesn’t seem to understand that black people are, and have been, very nuanced in their work, and in the culture that informs them. Many, many black artists, writers, performers, have produced works that express and embody not just black culture, but showcase an understanding, appreciation of, and immersion in, the wider world.
Kanye truly believes that he is an original and a genius, and that his thoughts are standalone. He is not, and they are not. During the conversation with Harvey Levin and Charles Latibeaudiere of TMZ, West said, like an uninformed idiot: ”When you hear about slavery for 400 years. For 400 years?! That sounds like a choice. You was there for 400 years and it’s all of y’all. It’s like we’re mentally in prison.” In this, his need to be sensationalist, to be provocative, and to perpetuate some unsubstantiated idea that he’s an intellectual, Kanye has told not just his fans, but those who spread hate, those who tell us to ‘get over’ slavery, that slavery was all in the mind, that slavery was voluntary. That it could have been avoided if the millions of black people who had been ripped from their countries, tethered together like animals, chained below the decks of ships to vomit, defecate and die on each other as they crossed the seas to live a life of enforced servitude, rape, torture and death that was often prayed for, had just turned around and said: “Do you know what, I’m not into this. I choose not to do this.”
This is the same Kanye West who rapped in Never Let Me Down: “I get down for my grandfather/ who took my mama/ made her sit in that seat/ where white folks ain’t want us to eat /at the tender age of six she was arrested for the sit ins /and with that in my blood I was born to be different.” He followed that with: “Racism’s still alive / they just be concealing it.” This is the same Kanye West who, a millionaire living in a $60M dollar house in a gated community, then tweeted that he would be similar to Nat Turner, who led a rebellion of slaves, and born slave turned political activist Harriet Tubman.
It’s easy to be angry with Kanye. But what isn’t easier to shrug off is that Kanye West is a man who seems to be suffering from mental illness. I’m not a psychologist, but his words and actions aren’t that of a free thinker or a maverick; this is a man who lost his mother, and her love, at the height of his fame. These are the blunt, unsophisticated, embarrassing actions of man who has clearly been unable to process this loss, a man unable to properly redirect the love that he held for his mother, whose love has turned to hate for his own people, and a man who is lashing out at his own community in his need to place blame.
The thing about love is, we all deserve it, the majority of us will experience it in some form, and for those of us who aren’t millionaires, love, not money, is the thing that sustains us. Kanye West is a man who doesn’t deserve our attention or indeed our love, the love that he tells us we should extend to our enemies, and to our captors. Who do you love, Kanye? You certainly don’t love black people. What do you love? Is it fame? Money? Notoriety? Do you love yourself? Do you know what love is?