I’ll be brief.
There are, possibly, two larger ways in which to understand and make sense of entertainer, part-time genius and iconoclast, Kanye West. The first and most popular way to see him is as a troubled individual who suffered a mental breakdown following the death of his mother. This resulted in him being a disjointed individual who did and said things that didn’t resonate with large parts of current culture. Most recently, of course, were his ramblings on TMZ where he declared less eloquently than I choose to write, that enslaved Africans and their descendants made a choice to stay in slavery. The emphasis being that after 400 years it was a choice. His comments made the major cable news cycles yesterday and they came on the heels of him seemingly endorsing president Donald Trump as well as posting pictures of him wearing the unmistakable red “Make America Great Again” trucker’s cap.
Popular culture was swift to roundly denounce Kanye’s comments. Most simply said he needed to be “canceled” and Black Twitter did what it did best: create the hashtag #IfSlaveryWasAnOption and memes rolled in like a tsunami. A few outliers included those who required context of Kanye’s comments and a few of Hotep Nation argued that Kanye was correct that slavery was a choice of the enslaved.
The other larger, and more complicated way, to see Kanye’s comments is to see them as simply what happens when being counter-culture goes into warp overdrive. So much of pop culture is over the top right now. Every day, everything, all the time is pushing the limits. There isn’t ever a down time for anyone to recover. What’s considered the norm is always ratcheting up and up and expanding ever outward. It ultimately begs the question, what can one do that truly pushes the limits nowadays? Enter Kanye.
Kanye has always pushed the limit in some form or another. From his direct comment that “George Bush doesn’t like black people” live on the air during a Hurricane Katrina telethon to his increasingly erratic behavior to his Confederate clothing line to his marriage into the Kardashian family, he has always required pop culture to accept his unconventional behavior. Not to mention, in 2015 Kanye declared his candidacy for the 2020 presidential election. In other words, Kanye is what happens to counter-culture when culture already is hyperreal.
Hyperreality is a school of philosophy that acknowledges the inability for individuals to distinguish between what is reality and what’s a manufactured or virtual reality; the two exist together and no one can really tell where one begins and the other ends.
It should be no shock that he would associate himself with the reigning king of hyperreal shock and awe, Trump himself. The only thing that Kanye can do to get our attention and not just blend into the background of pop culture is to be black and seemingly align himself with Trump and make absurd statements about American slavery. Otherwise, Kanye’s album release would be buried in the noise of Trump’s tweets and general White House and Washington politics that seem more and more like a spy novel, a fictional account of a lived reality. Not to mention a “regular” Kanye would have to compete with general sensations such as NBA playoffs, the Nicki Minaj vs. Cardi B debates, Wendy Williams talking about the Clark Sisters or whether or not Blac Chyna is pregnant.
Kanye is an entertainer seeking relevancy and trying to sell albums: why are we expecting excellency?
The conclusive test of whether or not people have “canceled” Kanye or not will be when the album drops. I suspect his album will do more than just fine, but be chart-topping and all of this criticism will go the way of the dodo bird. Kanye will be Kanye and culture will be culture.