I’ve been struggling with the Kanye of it all. I love his work. I’ve loved his work since before he was on the mic. A lot of my favorite hip hop songs were produced and masterminded by Kanye. His music has got me through some hard times. He’s incredibly talented and that shines through, even when he is indulging the worst of his impulses. I know his claims that he is a genius are not well-received but I can tell you that they’re not without basis in reality.
I don’t know what to make of this post-YEEZUS Ye. He doesn’t feel like the Kanye I thought I knew. But maybe that’s the problem with ‘stan’ culture*. In this age of constant access and proximity to celebrities via social media, it is almost impossible to separate the artist from the art. We consume everything they produce and everything produced about them- good, bad, questionable, inaccurate- and we feel we’re getting to know them.
As a writer, I can sort of relate. I’ve written a lot about some deeply personal issues – my marriage, my family, my kids. People sometimes assume an intimate knowledge of my inner life that they really don’t and couldn’t possibly have. They only know the narrative I spin out of the life I lead offline and off the page. Whilst that narrative contains me, it is not all of me. It’s not even all of the story. It doesn’t contain the reflections or narratives of the people who’ve lived it with me. The same is true of other artists. When Kanye declares ‘I am a god’, he is sharing a slice of himself, refracted through several lenses, recorded, produced and presented through the machinery of the entertainment industry. As maddening as it is to seemingly have access to someone’s inner world by way of their art, and still be blindsided when they do something inexplicable, like meeting with Donald Trump, it’s a useful reminder that we only know as much as we’re allowed to.Even so, this doesn’t diminish one’s relationship to the art. That’s the nature of art. It is a conversation between artist and consumer and context. As an artist, you can’t expect to hold on to your art once you’ve shared it. It speaks to those who consume it, allowing them to make new meaning of and with it.In late 2014, as I was approaching the final weeks of pregnancy, Kanye released ONLY ONE. Kanye’s work is always at its most breathtaking when it is about his late mother, Donda. On this track, he reaches into his mother’s love for him to imagine what she would say to him now, as her son and as a new father:
Hello ‘Mari, how ya doin’?
I think the storm ran out of rain, the clouds are movin’
I know you’re happy, ’cause I can see it
So tell the voice inside ya head to believe it
I talked to God about you, he said he sent you an angel
And look at all that he gave you
You asked for one and you got two
You know I never left you
‘Cause every road that leads to heaven’s right inside you
So I can sayHello my only one, just like the mornin’ sun
You’ll keep on risin’ ’til the sky knows your name
Hello my only one, remember who you are
No you’re not perfect but you’re not your mistakes
I am inspired and moved by how much Donda loved her son. That even years after her death, he is able to draw on that love to create and comfort himself. I listened to that song over and over again as I carried my son into this world. I thought, I can only hope to be that kind of mother for my children. That they can find and draw comfort from me, even when I can’t be present. What an incredible gift to leave your child.With everything going on, I hope he can still hear her voice in his head: you’re not perfect, but you’re not your mistakes.