There’s no name more polarising right now than Ye (fka Kanye West). Once a beloved hustler from Chi-Town, backed by street cred and the notoriety of a musical genius, he’s now become someone who makes it hard for even the most devoted fan to defend – a feeling that has only been reinforced by his “White Lives Matter” stunt at Paris Fashion Week.
Back when West was seen as a musical visionary – someone whose beat production was dumbfounding and propelled hip-hop to new heights – not one rap fan could denounce the fact that he’d secured his spot on rap’s Mount Rushmore of GOATs. To add to his illustrious wordplay and musical ear, Ye also had the ultimate back story of resilience. After a near-death car accident in 2002, he created his first ever single, ‘Through The Wire’ (released in 2003), rapping on it while his jaw was still wired shut from the crash. Nothing could get in the way of Kanye and his dreams. But this go-getting mentality we once loved is starting to really bite back.
Sometimes Ye’s unapologetic nature is inspired. Right now, a meme is circulating of Kanye blurting out, “George [W] Bush doesn’t care about Black people” – a brilliantly anarchic moment. His recent call outs of big conglomerates like Adidas and GAP have also been fun to watch – rare opportunities to see giant corporations be put in their places by a celebrity.
But you could say that Kanye hasn’t been the same since the moment he hijacked a young Taylor Swift’s VMAs award speech back in 2009. Yes, it’s stupid that, at this stage of his career, the incident is still constantly brought up, despite happening 13 years ago. But you cannot deny that, when you look at the slew of wrongdoings by the Chicagoan, it seems to have been the start of his descent.
That headline-grabbing moment is simply a speck in the negative publicity that Ye continues to get. These days, when you’re a superstar music-maker and creative visionary, you’re likely going to try to expand your brand into other fields, as West has done with fashion. Yet it’s in that world this week (October 3), that the star pulled his latest stunt and went way, way too far: plastering the slogan “White Lives Matter” on Yeezy tees.
It’s more than disheartening to see someone who was once a Black figure of hope support the very racist and white supremacist attitudes that get Black people around the world senselessly killed. Instead of taking the criticism from the many figures in music and fashion who have denounced the racially-charged slogan, though, West has lashed back, calling them “programmed sheep” for disapproving of his harmful message. He’s even gone as far as to insult the important voice of fashion journalist Gabriella-Karefa Johnson at a time when Black women’s voices in journalism aren’t anywhere near the loudest. With these careless, dangerous actions, Ye has personally put himself in a place beyond redemption.
Right now, rap is under siege of many racial issues: gentrification, the use of the N-word, and white-washing. There have been times when Ye has indulged in these issues for the worst. In his 2012 Weirdo Comedy Central special, comedic and musical polymath Donald Glover – aka Childish Gambino – noted that, in the middle of Texas, Ye would let a majority white crowd scream the N-word back at him. In a time where there’s always some sort of racial discourse in the rap community, for one of the biggest rappers, producers, songwriters and A&Rs of all time to create a t-shirt with such a destructive message is unforgivable.
It’s not the first time the artist has done something like this. Back in 2018, his ill-advised and thoughtless “slavery was a choice” quip was also unforgivable. Then, he released his eighth album ‘Ye’ – his short-yet-sweet woozy experimental record – and his collaborative album with Kid Cudi, ‘Kids See Ghosts’, a record filled with godly, whirling synths and harmonies. Both moved the focus back to West’s music and away from his destructive message. That same year, he revealed himself to be a huge Trump supporter, sporting the symbolic MAGA hat in support of the 45th US president. Once again, though, he saved himself with the heavenly album ‘Jesus Is King’, Ye’s journey to Christ distracting us all from his failed political feat. Music, it seems, has the power to solve everything for him.
That might have been the last time, though. Frankly speaking, ‘DONDA’ and ‘DONDA 2’ weren’t his best work – there was some momentary bliss buried under a bunch of filler on both. Not all of Ye’s recent features have been top quality, either. So how will music save him again? At the moment, his focus is on fashion, hoping to make “Yeezy free-zy” as he steps away from Adidas and GAP. Even if a new album could put him back in people’s good books, it seems unlikely that he has the time to work on one right now.
After endless disappointing moments from Ye (we couldn’t list all of them in this piece – surely, you can think of more), it feels like this tee is the straw that broke the camel’s back. How can you keep supporting someone that always does questionable things, and consistently fails to acknowledge and learn from his missteps? We all know Ye won’t be fully cancelled – he’ll drop something and we’ll all surely run to get it. But this latest act might just be the point of no return for the revolutionary – and what a sad conclusion to his legacy that would be.