To unpack the complexities of Kanye West in a single sitting would mean unpacking all the juxtapositions inherent with his artistry. Over the years, he has displayed freewheeling confidence crippled by crushing insecurity, experienced unprecedented success overshadowed by tremendous loss, and unapologetically challenged music industry politics even if it meant publicly sacrificing his contemporaries. Critics scowled at his ego and crucified his semantics (which is commonplace anytime a black man comes off as self-assured and outspoken) but fans were always there to carry West over the coals. For them, the risk was always worth the reward, and the reward was music.
His debut album, The College Dropout, was as innovative as it was intriguing. The resilience he brilliantly displayed on songs like “Through The Wire” was met by the unfettered honesty of gems like “All Falls Down.” His next four albums were both sonically progressive and lyrically daring, culminating in 2013’s darkly-tinted Yeezus. Yeezus, his sixth record, was his strongest foray into stark, atmospheric synth-soaked territory that rappers tend to shy away from. Not only did West explore both auditory and lyrical defiance (song topics ranged from substance abuse to racism to systemic self-loathing), he basked in it. He also displayed a potent amount of self-awareness and came to terms with the amount of influence he possesses over both hip hop and American culture. However, his latest ravings—with Twitter serving as his pre-selected soapbox—go beyond being problematic: they are downright self-destructive.
West’s infamous unwarranted online Twitter beef with Wiz Khalifa last month over the tentative title of his seventh album The Life of Pablo was more than a simple sparring of words. Embedded in his tirade against Khalifa was an unnecessary quip about his ex-girlfriend (and Khalifa’s ex-wife) Amber Rose. Not only did West accuse the model of tricking Khalifa into getting her pregnant, West proclaimed ownership of both the existence of her and her son. Although Amber effortlessly fended for herself and came out on top in a battle that had nothing to do with her, this wasn’t the first time West spoke ill of her and used her past profession as a stripper to invalidate her humanity. Despite his blatant misogyny on both accounts, he never formally apologized nor did he face any real consequence.
His declaration of Bill Cosby’s innocence shortly followed and left many wondering why West would endorse a man who is facing nearly 60 allegations of rape and admitted—in court documents—that he acquired drugs with the intentions of giving them to women he planned on having sex with. Not only is he perpetuating the stigma that victims of sexual assault face and trivializing their experiences but he is essentially encouraging others to do the same (he also condoned the romantic relationship rapper Tyga had with Kylie Jenner while she was underage). He’s gone on to beg Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for money, encourage white publications to keep mum about his music, and have a mini tantrum about his stage being altered for a recent SNL performance. To understand the damage, West’s actions need to be placed in a broad social context.
This kind of behavior supersedes grabbing mics out of the hands of winners at award shows or yelling at prominent journalists in interviews–it is far more dangerous than that. Many can reconcile West’s remarks with his creative genius; that his antics are unconventional, inappropriate, or just simply crazy but his music is so groundbreaking that how he conducts himself really doesn’t matter. Considering that the scope of his influence is so vast, that statement is asinine. Fans look to West for not only music, but for colloquialisms, for fashion cues, for inspiration. Just because he can routinely say absurd, offensive, and insensitive things without repercussions doesn’t mean that he should–especially if they include bashing women, discarding victims of sexual assault, or bringing innocent children into verbal altercations. Although Pablo has been widely praised by the same publications West insisted not to speak at all about his music, perhaps further excavation of his erratic impulses will force them to occur way more calculated as opposed to relentlessly reckless.