From 22 time Grammy winning sensation to being banned from the very same awards , how did Kanye West’s “greatest of all time” reputation take such a tumble into chaos? Tracing his career all the way back to his roots, we watch a mentally ill man with a fair share of personal trauma become less and less fit for a life of fame. So why do the media persist in portraying his character as a joke to the public? And – perhaps more importantly – is it such a laughing matter?
Influenced heavily by his roots in Chicago’s South- Side hip hop scene, a young West began to develop his signature sound in the mid 90s, a booming time for beats, though none quite like his. From the very beginning of his production days, his music had an effortless and unignorable style and uniqueness, characterised by its blended soul samples and gospel presence. Kanye invented a new way to produce, where his influences were just as much a part of his music as he was. “College Dropout”, his cheerful, creative debut album four years in the making, won the “Best Rap Album” grammy in 2005, an award in which he won three times following with his next consecutive album releases. As Blender reviewed in April of 2004, “He has his own personality: not a gangsta or a player but a diligent pragmatist.” West created a new trend in rap culture, daring to venture from the stereotypes of gangs and fame and money and girls, instead focusing his cleverly formed lyricism on the relatable, his youth, his family. Nobody else on the scene delivered such personal bars in such a powerful individual style, making Kanye’s debut revolutionary and plummeting him to a position of renowned rapping greatness very early on. Yet, to call him a rapper feels near insulting. West’s musical career from the beginning was inseparable from his large and personable character, a trait which both rewarded and, eventually, destroyed him.
So, what went so wrong?
A tragedy that rippled its way through West’s personal life and career was the death of his mother, Donda, in 2007. Donda was an incredibly important figure in Kanye’s life, as not only his late manager, but the closest person to the rapper as he navigated his life and career. Most damagingly, he believed her premature death at 58, caused by undergoing plastic surgery whilst having pre-existing heart conditions, to be the fault of his own. West felt that his Mother’s life had been sacrificed for his success, a guilt and grief that has been evident throughout the entirety of his career following. He told Q magazine, “ My mum. If I had never moved to Los Angeles, she’d be alive … I don’t want to go far into it because it will bring me to tears.” Furthermore, this tragic, monumental loss in his life happened during the height of his career. Kanye was in a position of immense grief in a very public position, with his success reliant on his characterful persona. This moment is a pinpoint for where West’s character began to take a very different turn from the greatness he was on track for, as he found himself entangled amongst fame, status, crippling grief, guilt, and rapidly deteriorating mental health, all on display for the public eye.
Perhaps the most public incident West found himself embroiled in was his Taylor Swift feud. Infamously, the rapper interrupted Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards, 2009, to proclaim to the audience that Beyonce was more deserving of the award she had received. This caused much controversy online, as spectators felt West’s humiliation of the pop/country singing superstar was completely out of hand. Though he had already begun accumulating a reputation for his outspokenness, this became a polarising moment for Kanye’s fanbase and wider viewers. This moment began a spiral of hatred towards the rapper, directed from both the media and the public.
Kanye’s complicated relationship with his mental health led to his diagnosis with Bipolar in 2016. Firstly, dealing with the reality of such a life-affecting disorder as a father, and as a husband is difficult enough. To have to do this, while being slammed by the media- is another matter. Kanye famously made a personal choice not to take medication. While this is a controversial decision which has further caused backlash towards him, when you consider his trauma and his treatment by figures of authority, is it surprising he has little trust in medication? And, in a free world, should this be something to make fun of?
It does, however, seem to explain his pattern of unnerving social media behaviour since his recent divorce. Block capital rants, personal attacks on other huge names, he has become a laughing stock for those scrolling through his Instagram.
I by no means defend some of his actions, especially not for such an influential figure in the public eye. But take a moment to consider, if this was somebody else, somebody whose media coverage wasn’t so hateful, would you see the same egotistical lunatic? Or, perhaps, would you see a severely distressed man, struggling through divorce, fatherhood, Bipolar disorder, and the loss of those closest? Although it may not seem like it, (and although he may not believe it himself), Kanye West is just a human, like the rest of us, and maybe, just maybe, needs to be treated with a little kindness.
– Elinor Wallis
Featured Image Source: Still Via Youtube // Kanye West – Gold Digger ft Jamie Foxx // Kanye West