Wake up Mr. West, Mr West, Mr Fresh
Let’s go back to 2007. Kanye West releases his third studio album; Graduation. In case you’re not super familiar with his music, this is the album that has songs like; Stronger, Good Morning, Homecoming, and Good Life (Featuring T-Pain). All of these songs are fantastic, and this era of Hip-Hop music is one of my favorites alongside the days when Tupac was still making music. Kanye’s voice was unique and his beats were straight fire. The song Good Morning is still regularly stuck in my head almost 15 years later. In 2008 the album 808s and and Heartbreaks released, which also has several songs on it that I still listen to somewhat regularly. All of this makes it such a sad time right now.
For those of you who don’t consume the news at all, how I wish I were you, Kanye West has been in the news over the past few months for his White Lives Matter clothing as well as his extreme anti-semetic comments and rhetoric. As a result of this he’s been dropped by his big sponsor Adidas and has been getting more and more unhinged. Now I don’t want to spend too much time lingering on Kanye’s personal situation. I think he’s saying horrendous things that even mental illness doesn’t excuse. I’m not a psychologist but he seems unwell and I hope he gets proper help. But people who are mentally unwell should still be held responsible for the things they say and do. It’s not an all-encompassing shield that you just deploy when you want to say some racist shit.
What I do want to talk about a little bit is a topic I’ve been wanting to write about for a while. I actually wrote a post about this earlier in the year but ended up deleting it because it wasn’t really all that good. I want to talk a little bit about separating the art from the artist. Because there have been several artists whose music I really enjoyed that turned out to be bad people on different levels. And it’s got me thinking a lot if it’s still okay to listen to their music. I still remember when the documentary about Michael Jackson came out and everyone was canceling his music. Now I don’t listen to Michael Jackson super often, but I do go through phases where I’ll listen to his music religiously. I do this with many artists, especially older music like Phil Collins and Elton John. Now putting aside this documentary, which I didn’t see and should never be evidence against a person. I don’t know what the man did and did not do. I know he was never declared guilty and I like to believe in innocence until proven guilty. So I still listen to Michael Jackson.
But not everyone’s bad deeds are equally clear and unclear, and this next person’s story has a lot more of a conclusive conclusion. I’m talking about the worlds greatest, the man who believes he can fly and who, unfortunately, wasn’t able to keep it all in his pants. I’m talking about R. Kelly. I used to put World’s greatest by R. Kelly on repeat when I felt sad. There were many songs I used for that, but I love his voice and I went through a massive R&B phase. That’s when I went to a Ne-Yo concert and learned that I’m way too autistic for a crowd of that size. But now we know that R. Kelly was a pretty shitty person. And as much I am a proponent of separating the art from the artist, I can’t listen to the song the same. The same thing is true for Chris Brown. Insanely talented, but beating up women isn’t something I like to see out of my favorite artists. I guess I’m not enough of a Top G to support that kind of stuff.
And that brings us back to Kanye, or Ye as he’s called these days. To complicate things, this debacle isn’t just something that happened in the past either. This is happening right now. It’s so disappointing to watch. I’m fine with artists being a bit out of touch. I don’t care that Jay-Z sounds and reasons like a billionaire now, I don’t even care that Taylor Swift flies around the globe every other day. Well, I do care, but I have no problem separating these actions from the music they make. With the things happening with Kanye that feels more difficult to me. I listened to Good Morning and Homecoming yesterday and they’re still fantastic songs. But it feels a bit weirder now.
I think if I were to conclude this I’d say I don’t have the perfect answer. Every situation is different. I do think people should be allowed to decide for themselves if they want to consume the art of people they don’t support. I’ve seen people judge others on still listening to Michael Jackson or Chris Brown and the same will likely happen with Kanye West. But we have to take a step back and realize how important music is for people. I listened to a live performance by Linkin Park yesterday and I still tear up every time I listen to those incredible vocals. If it came out that Mike Shinoda actively supported NFTs and didn’t realize it’s all a massive scam I’d probably still want to listen to numb every now and then. (Sorry Mike, you’re catching strays here but I still love your music). Music and art in general can be very important to the people around us, and dealing with the fact that artists are also human can be tricky. So let’s all take a step back, listen to some old Kanye West songs, and put that positive energy back in the air. Maybe things will change for the better. Thanks for reading.