I’m a die-hard Kanye West fan. 

I don’t think one can say they are a fan of hip-hop – the music or the culture – and not possess a special revelry for what Kanye West has meant to the genre.  From his introduction on College Dropout ("Through the Wire" is still on my list of 10 greatest songs), to his re-emergence on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy with such standouts like “Power” and “Devil in a Blue Dress” that still sound as though they were crafted today – all the way up to his experimental album Black Skinhead and the questionable rollout of The Life of Pablo. I’ve listened to every album West has released, even the GOOD Friday cuts many have forgotten about. I've gone to every concert, and I've fiercely defended his often-controversial outbursts through the years while jokingly dismissing his rhetoric, no matter how hurtful, as something we would just learn to endure for the sake of the artistry he blessed us with time and time again. 

So, it saddens me to say this – but, I'm no longer a fan of Kanye West.  Not in the way that I used to be, and I doubt I'll ever be able to listen to his music with the same zest as before.  What we are witnessing is not a creative genius doing what needs to be done to get his art out, but a man on a mission to sell records by any means necessary. I believe it was Ebro Darden who tweeted a few weeks ago that Kanye was on his last leg because he can't "out REAL Jay Z, out TRUTH J. Cole, out RAP Kendrick or out HIT Drake." I imagine what Darden was getting at, is that Kanye West was not the artist we’d all come to love over the years but had morphed into something else. Something much more dangerous: an amalgamation of a thing I still can’t quite put my finger on but is the direct result of a disconnection from his core self.

The danger the rest of the world recognizes in West’s recent comments regarding slavery being a choice is not, as he claims, an attempt to quell his free-thinking mentality; but a concerted effort of a people mourning the loss of our beloved anti-hero.  For years, Kanye West was the misunderstood creative genius we loved and defended while the rest of the world attacked.  His methods weren’t always ideal, but he was ours, and he ultimately came from a place of passion about his work and people close to him, that many of us related to. 

When he said George Bush didn’t care about black people – we applauded because it was clear from anyone watching the response to Katrina, that our then government didn’t care about black people.  When he stormed the stage proclaiming Beyonce’ had the best record – we cheered because she did have the best record – our Queen was being snubbed and he was defending her honor. When West got into a pointed debate with Sway and infamously said “You don’t got the answers, Sway” – we laughed because we’d all been at a point where the person we were talking to, in defense of our creativity or right to create, didn’t have the answers.    

In 2016, when he started having outbursts on stage I didn’t see a man who was going on rants just because- I saw a man who was in pain and whom, more than anything, needed help to properly deal with that pain.  I wrote a piece about the importance of black mental health and talked to friends about recognizing the signs when someone they knew was in trouble; it opened a dialogue about heeding calls for help and taking actionable steps within our collective communities to make sure those we cared about received the help they needed.  I rejoiced when he checked into the hospital and took a step back from public view again using it as a teachable moment.

I’ve always rooted loudly for Kanye Omari West.

I was excited to hear he was back in the studio seemingly recovered from all the setbacks that had prevented him from making the project we’ve all been waiting on since 2009. Then the tweeting started. As it continued, I became increasingly aware that the Kanye West who returned to our society was someone different, something I didn’t recognize and I could no longer root for, at least not without consequence.  It’s not his stream of conscious tweets about life, art, politics, and the dissection of enlightenment he has found in the time since he’s been away that scares me. It is the refusal to accept the responsibility his words and actions bear, and to instead, insist that people asking him to understand culpability are somehow attempting to quell his right to freethought.  

It's been my experience us freethinkers don't have to proclaim to the world how free we are – we are just out here, being free and sh*t. 

My English teacher once said to me “Creatives are the conscience of society – they create what others feel but are afraid to say because of a connectedness that goes far beyond any logical thing”.  I was 17 and afraid to claim my place as a writer; she was attempting to get me to understand the responsibility of my gifts at a time that I was terrified of them. I did not understand it then, but 17 years later, I have a clearer picture of what she meant: we need creatives – especially black creatives – during times of turmoil and unrest to be a voice for the voiceless and to provide hope for the culture.  Kanye used to understand that, but it seems in the process of attempting to set others free from thought prisms, he exposed just how trapped he is, and as Steven Biko, the South African activist once said: “The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”

Kanye West is entitled to his opinion, just as we all are, but as a creative, West also bears a greater responsibility to flesh out those opinions with fact – just as we all do.  Especially in this time when men, women, and children of color are seeing the weaponization of their race at unprecedented rates.  To say that slavery and the impact of systemic racism was a choice is the disavowing of every good thing we knew about Kanye West. This can’t be the same man who wrote All Falls Down and understood that having material things would never make one equal in the eyes of an oppressive society. What’s more is he is spewing these opinions as though they are facts without factually based knowledge to support it, and then claiming it as some sort of enlightened view the rest of the black community hasn’t awakened to yet.

So much of enlightenment is about unlearning past behaviors, creating new behaviors, and then allowing people to awaken in their own time because they are witnessing the change.  True awakening isn’t loud and boisterous – it’s quiet and impactful.  It’s not “I am awake now let me shake you awake”, but, instead “I am awake, and I will meet you in darkness (ignorance) to share light (knowledge), then help you move forward gently”. 

It's clear from West's latest actions that he hasn't awakened at all, only become more lost on his path. 

In short, Kanye West is gone. Our brotha dead.