In the film “Barbershop” and its sequel Cedric the Entertainer plays a contrarian character, “Eddie” a Black man who disputes the legitimacy of Rosa Parks’ sacrifice, the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Civil Rights icons, and the worth of the entire civil rights struggle. Similarly, Aaron McGruder’s animated series, “Boondocks” includes a character, Uncle Ruckus, who although Black voices strong anti-Black sentiments. These characters ring true throughout the Black community because we have seen them in a variety of iterations, mostly older disenchanted Black people who suggest that the younger generation merely seeks special favors from the society and is unwilling to work hard to earn what they need.
Enter, Kanye West…a talented artist whose music has helped transform the hip hop landscape. Lately, Kanye has uttered some bizarre statements that are not merely anti-Black, they are flat out wrong! First, let’s talk about the optics. Kanye West in his “Make America Great Again” hat is an affront to most Black people. But as bad as that might seem, West’s statements about slavery being a “choice,” along with his call for a repeal of the 13th Amendment (the abolition of slavery) and regularly singing the praises of Donald Trump make many in the Black community assume that West’s self described mental health issues are indeed quite serious.
I do not deny that West has some mental health and wellness concerns. I don’t know if they are bipolar disease, depression, or any other diagnosed mental maladies. What I do know is that what he has is probably treatable and I do not believe they fully explain what we are seeing in this young man.
I believe Kanye West is obsessed with celebrity. I think all this Uncle Ruckus-like behavior is tied to his need to have all eyes on him even if those eyes are on him for negative reasons. In his mind that is better than not having them on him at all. Kanye wanted his marriage to make he and Kim Kardashian THE celebrity couple. Instead, the hip hop world considers Jay-Z and Beyonce THE celebrity couple. Their “On the Run 2” tour is a sell out where ever it plays. Additionally, Jay-Z has become a brand. He has a clothing line…Kanye’s has sputtered and failed. Jay-Z has a cologne sold at Macy’s…Kanye has none. Jay-Z has authored a book (“Decoded”)…Kanye has not. Jay-Z is a multi-millionaire who owns an NBA franchise (Brooklyn Nets). Kanye is rumored to be near bankruptcy. The role Bey and Jay played in the Obama Administration far overshadows whatever Kanye thinks he’s doing with Trump.
Other hip hop artists are making their marks in other ways. Kendrick Lamar has been dubbed “the thinking man/woman’s rapper” and has not only been a half time performer at the NCAA Football Championship, but wrote the music for the wildly popular film, “Black Panther.” Chance the Rapper is changing the hip hop game with philanthropy. P. Diddy has always been an entrepreneur who has turned his celebrity into a brand also—clothing line (Sean Jean), cologne, and vodka (Ciroc). Common has won an academy award. There is enough fame and fortune to go around for every talented artist. There does not have to be just one.
I don’t where Kanye West’s egomaniacal, megalomania emanates from. I don’t know what the impact of his mother’s untimely death has been on his psyche. I don’t know how sick Kanye is. I don’t know how much we see of him and his interactions with and on behalf of Donald Trump are real or merely theater in an attempt to keep all eyes on him. I just know we don’t need another Ruckus!
Stay Black & Smart!