I have the honor of not only being both Black and a woman, but a day one (or like two), fervent fan of all things Kanye West. The producer, the rapper, the icon. When I was first introduced to the sounds of Kanye, he came off brash, unapologetically not-cool, and was floating in that weird space where you believe in yourself but you desperately want everyone else to see it too. (Some people call this “your 20s.”) I related to Kanye. I understood Kanye.
But being a Kanye fan soon came to mean getting increasingly frequent “Did you hear about Kanye?” texts and reading them with increased anxiety. It's not that Kanye fans blindly defend Kanye; we simply see ourselves in Kanye and prefer to consider him and his shenanigans human. That's gotten harder over the years. In fact. I now have quite the litany of issues with Ye: misogyny, slut-shaming, his rapey people he surrounds himself with, the habitual line-stepping, his seeming desire to not tear down any system but rather sit atop a broken and oppressive one, etc.
Kanye is a polarizing figure. His come-up backpack rap about putting the hours in spoke to us as millennials. Watching him prove his haters wrong, grind to the top, and stay vintage arrogant Kanye was inspirational. As a true, completely indoctrinated Yeezy fan, his misogyny, ignorance, and obsession with material things just came with the territory. It’s like my friend Ella noted, “saying that hip-hop is misogynist is kind of missing the point that our entire society is misogynist”. And that’s not a lazy defense of hip-hop; misogyny is just as prevalent in other genres of music. I listen to almost every kinda music but if I had a Bechedel test for appropriate rap music I’d only listen to Will Smith. I pick my battles.
Kanye fans master the art of selective outrage. For example when Kanye wondered aloud on one of his singles if anybody feels sorry for Bill Cosby, I grimaced but ultimately ignored it. Kanye was Kanye’ing again. But when Kanye Omari West tweeted in all caps that Bill Cosby was innocent, that was it for me.
As a Black female Kanye fan, his insistence on ignoring and undermining Cosby’s victims hurt. It hurt a lot. It is extremely common knowledge that most survivors of sexual assault do not and will not report the incident. I know I didn’t. Even still, I didn’t throw my hands up and decide I was done with Kanye. It just happened. The veil was lifted. My white plastic Yeezy stunner shades were shattered. I saw what everyone else saw: the desultory arrogance that fueled Kanye's persona.
I didn’t see myself in him anymore and it sucked. Kanye had a tremendous impact on me. Most importantly, Kanye gave me confidence in my potential. Black women don’t get cool, positive, confident adjectives. We get ‘bossy’, ‘sassy’, or ’arrogant’. When Kanye happily rapped, why you think me and Dame cool? We assholes! I realized I didn’t care what label I got in terms of my spectacular dopeness. I’d just be me and let the chips fall. But when he tweeted in defense of Cosby, Kanye let me down.
Thinkpieces and angry tweets resounded with different versions of “we lost Kanye” – either to drugs, the Kardashians, the Kardashians, or the Kardashians. And I sadly agreed. Album title changes and SNL performances didn’t even excite me. The flame had burned out.
Then I watched Kanye West perform “Ultralight Beam” on Saturday Night Live alongside Chance the Rapper, the-Dream, Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin, and a choir. I watched the performance 5 times and realized I let Kanye down. Let me explain.
Is it ok that Kanye thinks Bill Cosby is innocent and used his platform to say it? Constitutionally, sure. BUT BRO. WHY? Then his “Ultralight Beam” performance reminded me who am I to judge I’m reminded that sometimes we put too much on the very people who put themselves on the line. What leader or celebrity do we consistently support? Name one. It's like Kendrick Lamar rapped on “Mortal Man” off his To Pimp a Butterfly masterpiece,
Kendrick goes on to rap:
And I felt convicted.
In church, conviction is the moment you realize you ain’t been living right. Your actions ain't been matching your alleged beliefs. It can be different for everyone. Maybe you walk into church one Sunday after skipping service for 6 months and the sermon happens to be on faithful church attendance — you feel convicted. “I know I should be going more often,” you say to yourself. This is just an example, not an attempt to make you feel bad about your lackluster enthusiasm toward Sunday morning services. Your girl ain't been in months-- ok years.
But yes. Conviction is exactly what I felt when I watched gospel superstar Kirk Franklin point at a laid out Kanye West on the SNL stage, and pray during “Ultralight Beam” In this world we’re looking for more. God please keep my little brother safe. ‘Cause out here’s he’s fighting this war. The image of Kirk Franklin stepping over a slain-in-the-Spirit Kanye is a tableau those raised in the church can easily recognize. Kanye is just like us. He’s just like me. Imperfect. Constantly fucking up. But trying.
I have plenty of problematic beliefs and behaviors I’m still trying to unlearn so who am I to let Kanye’s shortcomings ruin my image of him? Unfortunately an element of being birthed and raised in oppression, as Black Americans typically are, is we take and pass on oppressive traditions and habits. There’s shit we were just raised in as Black people. There are social hierarchies we’ve internalized. There’s colorism. There’s homophobia. There’s so much we fight to reconcile. That takes unlearning. Successfully finishing college and grad school didn’t preclude me from this process of unlearning outdated, illogical, or oppressive beliefs. And it certainly doesn’t give me the right to give up on Kanye. The real test is if I ever extend this empathy and love to someone like Chris Brown. Survey says no.