Kanye West: More than Meets the Eye

One year ago, I published my first piece on this platform, which was about Atlanta-based rapper Lil Jon financing a primary school in Ghana. He’s added another school to his philanthropic efforts since then. Today, I want to finally talk about another rapper who recently made news with his own journey to the motherland: Kanye West.

I’ve been wanting to speak on Kanye in an organized, thoughtful manner ever since he pissed off 90 percent of black America with that press conference at the White House. Before I could get around to it, he and wifey went and pissed off the remaining black world by meeting with the president of Uganda, Yoweri Musveni.

It’s safe to say that Musveni is not a household name for most black Americans. I only got to know his record in my former life as an editor for a Pan-African website. Dude’s reputation is nothing nice. During the last election, his government had his main opponent beaten and jailed multiple times. It has also enacted repressive measures against the LGBT community (honestly, this is pretty widespread throughout Africa) and implemented a tax for Ugandans who want to use social media, which many believe is meant to limit free expression of ideas, including dissent.

So why are you giving him shoes, Kanye? To kick more ass? Why are you dapping Donald Trump, cussing on TV and telling folks he made you feel like a man because your daddy wasn’t around? Talking about slavery is a choice and the 13th amendment should  be abolished? Is Kim replacing your bipolar meds with stupid syrup or is that just how you are?

Woosah, everybody.

First, it’s a known fact that Kanye is gonna Kanye. This is the guy who came out the rap gate mocking everyone who wasn’t a college dropout like himself. Remember the second School Spirit skit? The Louis Vuitton Don pushing Miracle Whips? That’s right – He even confessed his materialism and fascination with white women way back then. This arrogance, dare I say megalomania, ain’t entirely because he lost his momma, and it ain’t the sunken place, either (although I’ve pointed to both myself).

There’s always been more to this dude than meets the eye, though. Maybe it’s a Gemini thing. Their sign is known for being quick thinkers, going against the grain, and multitasking their butts off. Think Prince, Clint Eastwood, Angelina Jolie, even “The Donald” himself.

Remember that time he sold white t-shirts for $125 and we all called him crazy? The proceeds went to support Dondra’s House, a musical nonprofit he founded in his mom’s name. Or that time when he named himself the entrepreneurial heir to Steve Jobs, Walt Disney and Howard Hughes? He made this braggadocios statement the same year that he publicly appealed for help with his $53 million debt. A website listed the stock prosperity of the companies these men started, as a sort of swipe against Kanye’s claim. What they failed to mention is that each of the men he mentioned has faced enormous failures right along with their massive successes. As another famous Gemini, President John F. Kennedy, once said, “Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.”

In two years, Kanye has bounced back economically, with a net worth above $200 million, to the point where he is in a position to bail out others, namely Amara Eniya, a Black woman who is running for mayor of Chicago as a Democrat. Just this week, he cleared her $74,000 debt with the Illinois Board of Elections.

So let me say it again for the people in the back: there is more to this brother (yeah, I said it) than meets the eye. He told the world that day in the Oval Office, “I’m more than a sound byte” but they chopped and screwed him anyway.

“It’s so many times that I talk to a white person about this, and they say, ‘How could you support Trump? He’s racist.’ Well if I was concerned about racism, I would have moved out of America a long time ago. We don’t just make our decisions off of racism. I’ma break it down to you right now: If someone inspires me and I connect with them, I don’t have to believe in all they policies.”

– Kanye West, unaired Saturday Night Live speech

I don’t like everything Kanye does. Not by a long shot. That Whitney bathroom cover was a bad move. Marrying Kim was, well… I think Kanye could and should be as willing to criticize his BFF as he is to flatter him. Of all people, he should know that being surrounded by “yes men” doesn’t make you look good.

Bottom line: Watching Kanye give 45 a hug isn’t going to make me suddenly trust that dude. Nor will it make me overlook the many valid and powerful points that he made during that press conference. Nor will a cuss word (really, people?) or Don Lemon, whose (provisional) black card still smells like hot plastic.

I don’t have to like everything he does and neither do you. We work with, live with, and even love people who we have disagreements with all the time.

I wouldn’t wear a MAGA hat, but I still respect the courage it took to put that hat on when he knew the peer pressure and ridicule he would feel. Don’t we teach our kids not to cave into peer pressure? Some of us even say the Democrats take our votes for granted.

It took me a year and a half to have the confidence to stand up and put on the hat no matter what the consequences were, and what it represented to me is not about policies, because I’m not a politician like that, but it represented overcoming fear and doing what you felt no matter what anyone said, and saying you can’t bully me, liberals can’t bully me, news can’t bully me, the hip-hop community can’t bully me. Because at that point if I’m afraid to be me I’m no longer ‘Ye. That’s what makes ‘Ye. And I actually quite enjoy when people are mad at me about certain things.”

– Kanye on Jimmy Kimmel, August 2018

I still respect his mind: the mind that said the 13th amendment is a trap. Ava DuVernay said as much in her groundbreaking Netflix documentary, and everyone nodded. So what’s changed?

I want to close with one of the most overlooked things Kanye has said about his unpopular connection with his new BFF and fellow impulse-tweeter. On Jimmy Kimmel’s show in August, he said, “We’re always pushing out so much hate and love can cure so much. Just to think am I moving in love, out of love … When I see people just even like go at the president it’s just like why not try love?”

“Now you got a situation where we need to have a dialogue and not a diatribe because if you want something to change, it’s not going to change by saying, ‘F— that person.’ Try love. Try love. Try love. Try love.”

– Kanye West, unaired Saturday Night Live speech

I think it’s ironic in the best way that the same dude who has flipped his name to draw parallels with the personas of Jesus and Gandhi goes off on a bender about love. I don’t think he actually considers Trump an “enemy”, but of all the teachings we picked up in church and the Bible about “love thy enemy,” how many who profess faith in the source of these commandments actually stand in them, especially with someone who has done such damaging things?

Dr. King did, and if we are honest, he received plenty of criticism while he was alive. That’s the way it is with visionaries – until they are dead and buried. Then the public worships them as heroes and deities. Til that day comes, I’m gonna keep an eye on Kanye, and so are you, whether in admiration or in outrage, or a blend of both.

Deidre R. Gantt is the former Associate Editor of Face2Face Africa. Prior to that, she served the Greater New Orleans community as a Program Associate with Foundation for Louisiana, where she managed leadership programs, grant opportunities and communications support to drive civic engagement and policy change. Her communications background includes a lengthy freelance career as a writer and editor, grant writer, and college writing instructor. Between 2007 and 2010, Deidre covered the rebirth of the cultural arts community in her hometown, Washington, DC, for the Ward 7 Arts Collaborative. Her professional writing career began in the 1990s as a contributing editor for Rolling Out urban style weekly. Deidre is also an accomplished poet and performer who has appeared on stages throughout the United States as well as in Tanzania and Ghana. Deidre holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Emerson College and a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Southern California.

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