Goodbye, Mr. West

Photograph Source: Peter Hutchins – CC BY 2.0

Let’s start here: Kanye West is a musical genius.

Say what you will about the man, but he knows how to make great music. He single-handedly changed the sound of hip hop with his use of sped up samples on his first album. He did it again a few years later when he dropped 808s and Heartbreak.

He is responsible for two of the most daring Hip Hop albums of all time—Yeezus and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (MBDTF). Sadly, since 2017, Mr. West has fallen off musically. What’s worse, he seems to have embraced a political ideology that is both harmful and evil.

Kanye West has always been a divisive figure—but I thought he was my kind of divisive. The kind that made white people uncomfortable by telling them the truth about white supremacy and challenged patriarchy. I lauded him for his “George Bush does not care about black people” comments on national television, and I thought he was brave as one of the early people in hip-hop to stand up for LGBTQ+ people. Yet, recently, Ye has done some alarming things.

It started with him wearing MAGA hats. Then he kept meeting with Donald Trump and taking pictures with him smiling like he had just met Jesus. Now, he is posing in White Lives Matter shirts with Candace Owens, bullying Vogue fashion editor Gabriella Karefa-Johnson, posting antisemitic statements on Twitter, and saying weight shaming things about Lizzo.

The easy thing to point out is that Kanye is bipolar. And while this is true, it does not explain all his behavior. If he was just being impulsive or displaying high levels of grandeur, it would make sense. But Ye is doing more than that—and even if he is having an episode (as I suspect he is), he has been playing footsy with the radical right ever since 2017.

And no matter how bad I would like to write off his behavior as due to his mental health, the fact that he posted antisemitic comments just after the holiest day in Judaism is inexcusable. (It’s inexcusable any time of the year, just to be clear.)

I have been a Kanye apologist for years. I’ve written about my love of his music. I’ve defended him to my friends and loved ones. I continued to listen to his music—even when it wasn’t great—because he would have flashes of brilliance that was often times hidden in self-indulgent albums.

I can’t anymore.

I was once able to separate art from artists. I listened to Marvin Gaye even though I knew we was…problematic. I loved James Brown even though I knew he was abusive to the women in his life.

R. Kelly changed all that.

With R. Kelly, I began to see that supporting an artist who is engaged in evil behavior makes you culpable. I stopped listening to Kelly. I let Marvin go; I’ve since stopped putting James Brown in heavy rotation. I must do the same with Kanye West.

No, he isn’t hitting women; he isn’t engaging in activity with underage girls. He has just aligned himself with vile, unapologetic political evil, and I can no longer support him.

Goodbye Mr. West. You could have been great.

Lawrence Ware is a professor of philosophy and diversity coordinator for Oklahoma State University’s Ethics Center. He can be reached at:  Law.writes@gmail.com.