Kept inside, the pain is poison, but when artists, especially Black artists, let it out, its genius. But genius is not a typical state with normal expectations; it’s acceptable for a genius to act (or actually be) crazy. In fact we often want that in our Black artists. We expect them to be crazy, love them more, in fact—deeper, better—if they are.
Rachel Harper, “Crazy”, Black Cool
On the track “Kill Jay Z,” big brother Jay addresses his little brother ‘Ye and calls him “insane.” Relatively speaking, everyone is normal and Mr. West is crazy. ‘Ye would agree that he’s “crazy” but argue the definition of crazy. For receipts, I turn to his last project, The Life of Pablo where in “Feedback” the Chi-town rapper repeats the line, “I’ve been outta my mind a long time” twice and later adds, “name one genius that ain’t crazy.” Then on “Saint Pablo” he relates himself to Albert Einstein (a genius in his own right) and being this generation’s most influential. He also raps that his labeled “out of control” because he won’t allow others to control him, but not to worry he’s fine.
Some of us are not necessarily worried, but we do wonder about the future presidential candidate. For example five days before 4:44 dropped, another legendary rapper from Brooklyn, MC Lyte posted this on her Instagram:
The comments to the post vary in agreement. What’s interesting is the relationships that people have with the rapper. There are fans who root for him through it all and those who say “I miss the old Kanye” and he knows it. The Chi-town rapper really is provocative and gets the people going. Hearing people argue about his genius/crazy like watching a tennis match. I say this sitting on the sidelines watching and listening to both sides. For me, the sociology of Kanye West will always be rich with dichotomies, contradictions and nuances that are not above criticism. I do wonder about the genius, that is Kanye West.
Yeezy has an unadulterated honesty about his double consciousness, which, he may argue is because he is a Gemini. Kanye gets the history and understands the circumstances and points the finger at everyone including himself. While wearing a Louis Vuitton backpack or a pair of Maison Martin Margiela sneakers he rhymes about the effects of capitalism and racism in the Black community because it is his “responsibility to turn up and tell you the truth.” There are two nuanced Kanyes, but people want to see the side of Kanye that they like the most (and sometimes he says how he feel at the wrong time). Therein lies the conflict.
For his Yeezus tour, the rapper/producer not only wore Margielas on his feet with the outfit to match, but a Margiela full-headed mask. Why? According to his…uhmmmm…monologues during the tour, ‘Ye does not want to be seen as a Black man or a celebrity. He wanted his ideas to speak for themselves, hence hiding his face.* He begins to justify the fully ornamented mask:
…So tonight if only one time I will explain. ’Cause otherwise I would feel so tired and drained, and I know you don’t feel my pain. Or don’t give a f—k about my pain. And I realize, realize, I realize this, I realize this…
He later adds…
Yeah it’s one time in my life, where I can just be me tonight…if you ask why I put on this mask, [it’s] ’cause when I don’t have the mask I have to worry about, “Is my face the right way for the camera, ’cause I don’t want them to give the wrong shot to somebody who wants to take a shot at me… So if I wanna be not too aggressive and fully expressive and give y’all my message I suggest that you just let me wear the mask.
The thing is, we been seeing the complexities of this vocal Black male celebrity including his ups and downs, and his wins and losses. To keep it 100, however, we know the son of Donda West will never be the same after losing her, but we wonder if he would ever be OK regardless of what he says.**
As Kanye shared his thoughts with the audience, the stadium lights hit his adorned mask and depending on how he moved on stage it reflects a different part of the ornament’s facets. The reflection is kind of symbolic of all of the lights (you know: cop, flash, spot, strobe, street) he wanted the audience to see without seeing him…but what about the pain, Kanye?
We know that pain can become the kind of art that has us in awe, but how are you? What’s up with you and Jay, man? Are y’all okay, man? For Jay to mention Kanye like that speaks volumes, but we can’t front like we weren’t wondering where the love was between the two.
During his concerts, Kanye’s fans yelled that they “love” him, but I question what they love? The man? The celebrity? The genius? The crazy? The pain? The ideas? The message? The experience? Or the mask that cradles it all?
*A back (back) story the masks: One of Kanye’s fashion ventures went awry and he was not happy, bro.
**I am well aware that there is an elephant in the room.