Yessica Pineda | The DePaulia

The yin and yang of Chicago’s rap royalty

October 15, 2018

Kanye West (now to be known as “Ye”) once told the world after Hurricane Katrina on national television that Republican president George W. Bush didn’t care about black people. Fast forward 13 years, he’s hanging out with president Donald Trump in the oval office, showing him what kind of hydrogen plane he should be flying around in. West has spent most of the past month going on highly controversial public pro-trump rants, and it came to a head on Thursday when West met president Trump to discuss a variety of topics. While liberals were outraged by West’s behavior, conservatives and independents have found that many of his points have some potential. Not all of his recent ideas have been necessarily bad, but the majority of them come across highly confused and misguided.

One of West’s most jarring statements in his post-show rant on the Sept. 29th season premiere of Saturday Night Live, was the sentiment that the 13th amendment (which ended slavery) should be abolished. Many were outraged by this claim, but in reality, the 13th amendment is problematic in that allows for prison labor to occur which facilitates mass incarceration. Rapper and actor Tip “T.I.” Harris, who was featured representing the left wing on West’s highly political track “Ye v.s. The People” earlier this year; actually supports West’s idea to abolish the 13th amendment.

“His whole part on trying to amend or abolish the 13th amendment I actually agree with,” said Harris in an Instagram video. “Not because I think be slavery instilled, no. It’s because the 13th amendment also says that slavery is abolished unless imprisoned. What that means is, the 13th amendment actually incentivizes mass incarceration and also increases the amount of scrutiny put on us regarding the laws that affect us differently than they affect white people. So, I know what he was trying to say but I think it was horribly worded. I know how I mean it when I say it, I just hope he means it the same way.”

Harris’ point is basically that the 13th amendment is the government’s way of continuing slave labor by essentially disguising slaves as prisoners. Harris and other public figures agreed with West on that sentiment, however, Harris has since bashed West for his meeting with Trump on Thursday. He compared West to “Stephen from Django” and described his behavior at the White House as “the most repulsive, disgraceful, embarrassing act of desperation and auctioning off of one’s soul to gain power I’ve ever seen,” in an Instagram post shortly after West’s White House appearance. Harris was far from the only one to be outraged.

“Kanye West is what happens when Negroes don’t read” said CNN’s Bakari Sellers. “The issues he went there to talk about are important issues; but we’re not sending Kanye West to the White House to talk about these issues because he can’t, he doesn’t have to depth to.”

Some have found comments like this equating West to an “uncle tom” to be highly offensive. However, West didn’t do much to avoid such comments as he made a number of statements that were highly ignorant of race issues.

“A liberal will try to control a black person by the concept of racism because they know we are a very proud and emotional people,” said West to White House reporters. “So when I said I like Trump to someone who’s liberal, they’ll say ‘oh but he’s racist’. You think racism can control me? Oh that doesn’t stop me, that’s an invisible wall.”

West’s change of political affiliation has been outraging for many, but Chicago Tribune music critic Greg Kot reminded the DePaulia that this isn’t the first time a major artist or band has broken the hearts of their fans with their political views, and in previous instances it was actually conservatives going liberal who were met with backlash.

“He wouldn’t be the first celebrity to experience a backlash for going public with his political views: Springsteen, Pearl Jam and other artists have been slammed by their fans and likely lost some followers because of their political outspokenness (backing liberal candidates),” said Kot. “Ultimately, West is playing a different game. He’s been a contrarian from the start, positioning him- self in a way to ensure he stands out from the crowd. He’s a master at creating controversy and drawing attention to himself.”

Many speculate that this is just another instance of “Ye being Ye”, saying the most outlandish thing possible to get attention. It’s probably that to an extent, but some of West’s more recent antics seem confused and ill-thought through, a direct result of his bipolar disorder. West has opened up about the condition a lot about this year, even putting the words; “I hate being bipolar, it’s awesome”, on his album cover for “Ye.”

“I think it’s important for us to have open conversations about mental health, especially with me being black because we never had therapists in the black community or had an approach to taking medication,” said West in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel back in August. “I think it’s good that when I had my first blackout at age five, my mom didn’t fully medicate me; because if she did I wouldn’t be Ye.”

Once again, West’s views on his own mental condition are self-contradictory. It’s hard to take him seriously on an issue of black Americans not having mental health support or medication when he continuously (and very publicly) will not accept either for his own condition. It comes back to a theme that can be seen with West on all of these issues; the ideas aren’t necessarily bad, but they are hard to be taken seriously because he doesn’t live them out himself.

“Kanye’s mother is rolling over in her grave right now” said CNN’s Don Lemon. “I spoke with one of her friends today, I used to live there; she said Donda would be so embarrassed by this. Kanye needs help right now, he needs to get away from the cameras for a while, and then come back and then make his case.” Ultimately, whether West is fit to be in his position right now is irrelevant. He has a close connection with the president, a billion dollar clothing brand, and he’s married into America’s “royal family” with Kim Kardashian; he’s not going anywhere soon. West is a powerful man, and with that power he has the opportunity to make a difference. Ideas like amending the 13th amendment, working on prison reform, preventing violence in his hometown of Chicago, still could all could be greatly beneficial. The only thing in the way of West actually achieving those goals though, is himself.

“West still has talent. There’s always a sense that he can still make great music in the right circumstances,” said Kot. “I think other artists will pay attention to him for a while longer, and continue to collaborate with him when the opportunity arises. But I have no idea where West’s career is heading. He seems lost at the moment, but he has shown himself capable of righting the ship in the past.”

During his widely criticized meeting with President Trump last week, Kanye West, in reference to his “Make America Great Again” hat, said, “When I put this hat on it made me feel like Superman. You made a Superman.” The city that West plans to save, however, already has a hero, and the young rapper from 79th street is not just someone the people are grateful for, but also proud to call their own.

On Sept. 17, Chancelor Bennett, better known by his stage name “Chance the Rapper,” brought West on stage during his performance at Open Mike Chicago, an event organized by Bennett to promote local artists and voices. With the whole audience focused on him, West announced, “I want to let you know I’m moving back to Chicago and never leaving.”

Following his parents’ divorce in 1980, West moved with his mother to Chicago. In the 28 years that followed, he has changed rap culture, the music industry and pop culture in general, but his impact on the city that raised him has been minimal. The Windy City was where West’s career began, but Los Angeles is where he became a star. While West was off becoming a pop culture icon, Bennett was growing up, working on his music, and utilizing any notoriety he achieved to benefit the communities right around him.

With West’s egotistic approach to life and a savior complex like no other, return- ing to a city that already has an idolized philanthropist like Bennett has the potential to create a rather volatile situation. Has a fight for Chicago’s rap throne just begun or is West too far gone to even be in the running?

Jim DeRogatis is an established writer in the Chicago music scene. A former critic for the Chicago Sun Times and current contributor to BuzzFeed News, by his own account, he has been following West since his first mixtape. Kanye has claimed that his fame will now serve as an avenue for him to donate more to the city he says he loves so much. “He can donate whatever, but Chance is rolling his sleeves up and getting dirty, just like Kanye’s Black Panther father did,” said DeRogatis. Bennett is supporting children’s programming in predominately black communities. West is calling for the 13th amendment to be abolished and sporting his signed “Make America Great Again” hat. “There’s a unique disease of celebrity that can fuck with you and turn you inside out,” said DeRogatis. “He’s not the same guy he was when I interviewed him a week after the Bush comment.” It was only 12 years ago that after a poignant criticism of the manipulation of black lives by the media, West uttered the infamous accusation: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

West’s desire to be welcomed home to a city so plagued by racial divides characterized both by physical barriers as well as cultural ones is made even more complex with his recent controversial statements. There has been an intense criticism of his seeming abandonment of the black community. In his recent performance on Saturday Night Live, he discussed some of the backlashes he has received for his budding friendship with President Trump and his disappointment in the discourse around Trump. “Well, if I was concerned about racism I would have moved out of America a long time ago,” said West. “Kanye is a reflection of the attention seeking and lightning-fast news cycle we live in,” said Kevin Shap Amaro, a senior at DePaul who believes West is acting out solely to promote his own brand. “I doubt his words are remotely what he truly thinks and are instead an overbearing need to seek attention.”

Bennett‘s rise to national fame has been sudden, and while he hasn’t attained the superstardom of someone like West yet, he isn’t exhibiting the celebrity poisoning that DeRogatis described. Last Friday, Bennett pledged $1 million to mental health services in Chicago. He started Warmest Winter in 2015 to provide coats to the homeless population in Chicago. He has donated millions of his own money to the struggling Chicago Public Schooling system and inspired countless more contributions to it by other citizens.

Aside from the money, which can be viewed as a distant act of altruism, Bennett is constantly out in the community volunteering and simply being a Chicagoan. He has also utilized his celebrity platform to discuss Chicago-based issues. Last Fri- day, following the Van Dyke verdict, Bennett tweeted “16 shots and a cover-up” and “Investigate Rahm Investigate McCarthy.” He isn’t simply a role model or idol for the community; he’s an active and vital part of it. As of the writing of this article, West has remained silent on the trial and verdict.

The two rap icons have said they will be releasing an album together called “Good Ass Job.” There is potential for a productive diarchy to emerge in Chicago’s rap game and that West can start the process of mending his relationship with the city. But with a proud community who values loyalty, it will take a lot for West to regain the trust of the city that made him. While it’s possible, it will be an uphill battle for West. As DeRogatis said, “He’s moved on. He belongs to the world now.”

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