I have a feeling that if I ever met Kanye West in person I would be disappointed.
They say never meet your idols because, once you do, you welcome the possibility of being unfulfilled. However, in the case of Kanye West, I'm already let down. It’s a looming feeling, one that my intuition stubbornly tells me is on point. If I ever crossed paths with Ye, my inner Kermit meme voice would give a Kanye shrug and say, "I told you so, bih." This year did my fandom no favors.
2016 began on a high note for Kanye, with every single tweet the rapper penned becoming a news headline in its own merit. I know, because I wrote many of them. My Twitter notifications were enthusiastically turned on, desperately hanging onto every 140-character opportunity Ye decided to utilize in continuing this mad scientist-esque narrative. At times it was fun, other times no one cared. It slowly turned into a philosophical mind game, one that had Kim Kardashian biting her acrylics and presumably begging her husband to display some chill on social media. There were rumors no publicist wanted to work with him, and the Kardashian family — specifically Kris Jenner — was worried. Rightfully so, considering every angle of Kanye had an identifiable mess attached to it, including the music. This was a relatively new phenomenon, considering even during Kanye’s most disorganized hysteria, his music (and its rollout) felt trump tight.
Towards the end of his Life of Pablo rollout, we were left scratching our collective heads, since the whole allure of Tidal is its exclusivity, yet Kanye’s work-in-progress was widespread and drawn out. I didn't even listen to the album until months after it hit all of the streams — much to the chagrin of fellow Kanye zealots in my circle. I didn’t want his antics to influence my opinion on the album, but it was seemingly impossible to examine TLOP without looking at how Tidal played a critical role. What was once hailed as a top tier exclusive became a moot point because, while West called out the streaming wars for being problematic, he still wanted to see his name everywhere.
While TLOP became a living example backing up his infamous creative approach aligned with the DaVinci approach of constantly poking at something and waiting for it to suddenly become perfect, the problem lies within the scope of Tidal. Perhaps after realizing he alone doesn't hold the power to save Tidal the way Beyoncé does, he decided helping his “big brother’s” venture was pointless and had to figure out a new way to become a hero, thus calling for Apple to simply buy Tidal from Jay Z and make it all go away. You know, for the sake of the music and for the sake of the kids.
All that aside, even as a die hard Ye fan, I made it a point to take my time listening to Pablo. I wanted the art to stand alone, without being swayed by what my fellow music journalists were scrambling to put together before West changed the production on one song or remixed another again and again. Was he rewriting the rules on how to debut a project or was he simply lazy and succumbing under pressure to get it done? Either way, I wasn't ready to immediately dive in and possibly be disappointed. It was like seeing West casually at the mall and questioning if I should go up to him and say hi, so I approached his work with cautious optimism.
I was later disgusted when I watched, in real time via Tidal, the must-see production he charged hypebeasts a hefty price to experience live, later relegated to a listening party of unmastered tracks played hastily off an aux cord at Madison Square Garden. It was disheartening to learn his production and engineering team were spending upwards of 20 hours a day in the studio to get the album just right — something beyond stressful when you have an unrealistic deadline and a reputed hitmaker of Kanye's stature calling the shots. I imagined his team of writers being woken up from sporadic hour-long naps with scatterbrained text messages and thirty missed calls. When everything is urgent, nothing has urgency.
It was a sobering moment for me once the veil was lifted. Yeezus solidified Kanye West as one of my heroes, a visionary I spent years obsessing over and looking up to. Knowing that my generation of musicians and creatives was inspired by him also inspired me. As exemplified through his impressive and critically acclaimed discography, Kanye had previously laid a creative foundation that set the bar high without making it feel impossible to achieve a high quality of art that is also forward-thinking. Somehow, he could do no wrong. Before Yeezus, he wasn't yet a god and we could still relate on some level knowing there was a chance we'd run into him getting a coffee or a sandwich from the neighborhood bodega. He was someone who lived his art each day and discovering some of his creative team by chance was part of his charm and mystique, i.e. signing Big Sean after he rapped in front of him at a radio station or meeting his former behind-the-scenes consultant Cassius Clay while shopping at Barney’s. Ye, as an artist, was someone who was still approachable while also semi-universally praised for his unconventional methods. This is why we believed him when he said he was a living and breathing rock star. Hell, we even cheered him on when he said he was our generation’s Axl Rose, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix.
But then something shifted, with Yeezus arguably marking the beginning of the “old Kanye.” Considering Kim Kardashian had already become his wife before Yeezus was released, as a fan, I didn’t want to factor in how his transition marrying into the Kardashian family could negatively influence his art in the near future. However, once reports rolled in that the sisters were in the studio with him during TLOP’s eccentric conception, I began to look at Kanye differently. He didn’t prove me wrong, getting off on the spectacle surrounding the album's release as opposed to focusing on perfecting the product itself. 2016 marked the year that the Kanye who wasn’t challenged when he said he was the next Andy Warhol was replaced with a version that is more Azealia Banks than it is his truest self, and sadly, a version that also is without Jay Z. He lost his credibility, and in turn, gained a new level of first-world problems that even Mark Zuckerberg's hypothetically donated money couldn't fix. How did we get here?
Pablo wasn’t the only L the rapper took in 2016, but the spotlight it placed on him didn’t show him in a flattering light. In a way, he embraced trying to look his best under fluorescent lighting by making a fair share of bold statements that could go either way in regards to protecting his reputation as the greatest rapper of all time or altering it. He put Black Twitter into a frenzy by calling for “multiracial women only” for his fourth Yeezy season. He made Chris Brown laugh by portraying him in his naked celebrity-laden “Famous” video while Taylor Swift was quick to be outraged, saying she never asked to be a part of Kanye’s playbook. From there, things only escalated, with Mrs. Kardashian-West epically sharing the receipts that West did in fact consult Swift over the phone before involving her in a controversial line on the track. All of this drama had fans distracted and eagerly flocking to purchase tickets to his Saint Pablo Tour to witness what West would do next.
Fast forward to October, and people began criticizing Kanye for being involved in his wife’s robbery in Paris, speculating that the whole thing was staged in poor taste. Following that ordeal, likely under stress and without his confidant Jay Z to vent to, Kanye instead ranted that their children don’t even play together anymore, inviting people to wonder aloud, for the first time, what happened to hip-hop’s most dynamic duo? Jay Z distancing himself from Kanye made things real while also leaving fans nostalgic not only for the old Kanye but the old Kanye and Jay specifically.
Back in 2005, Kanye was heroically calling out George W. Bush for not caring about Black people. And now, a decade later, with our country's current political climate and Donald Trump as our president-elect, we had Kanye swooping in with a tattered cape declaring he would run for office in 2020. Considering the doomsday result of the 2016 election, many agreed that a Kanye West 2020 ticket wasn’t the most absurd headline to read four years from now.
That was until last night (Nov. 17), when Kanye lost both 2016 and 2020 by vocalizing his support for Trump, admitting he didn't vote and disturbingly saying Black people need to focus less on discussing racism. Supporting Trump and denouncing racism in one night are two things that would have had a 2005 West livid and shaking in his customized Yeezy Boosts. Rap fans with faith in artists collectively sighed as we read the news this morning. First Lil Wayne, now this?
What Kanye West is doing is further exemplifying the words he ironically acknowledged on The Life of Pablo: "I miss the old Kanye." It rings truer and truer with each passing day. Being a misunderstood genius doesn't excuse you from your civic duty to vote nor does it allow you to abuse your platform without being harshly criticized by the people you're attempting to lead. Like Donald Trump, Kanye West's hypocritical actions are setting us back (if we allow them to) after he impressively spent years propelling us forward. In true Kanye fashion, he introduced the nail to the coffin, behaving erratically to throw us all off again and secure some headlines along the way. This might be the coup de grâce.
Day after day, example after example, Kanye is losing us because he lost himself. What goes up, must come down and wondering what happened to Ye this year is like looking for logic in a crazy town. If you need me, I'll be listening to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on repeat and Googling throwback photos of the old Kanye and Amber Rose in complimentary outfits. Don't @ me.
(Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)