My first time seeing Kanye West perform was in 2004 at North Carolina A&T’s Homecoming concert. At that time, he was performing at various college campuses while promoting his new album: The College Dropout. During his performance, it was easy to see how much he wanted to be successful. He had the eye of the tiger. When he addressed the crowd, it was not to brag about being a genius, or to talk about clothing designers whom his audience had probably never heard of. If I remember correctly, he was wearing a Ralph Lauren shirt, and a pair of jeans. He was relatable to the college crowd because his choice of topics reflected his background. He talked about working in retail stores; he talked about fraternities and sororities; he talked about relationships with women; he complained about student loans (the bane of my existence); and other topics many college-educated students could relate to. Not only did he talk the part, but he looked the part of a student because he wore clothes that many students could afford or kind of afford(one time for those refund checks). Kanye seemed very genuine, which I think won over masses of fans.
It always seems that with any great rise to fame, there is a story of a fall from glory. This has happened to many great musicians (Bobby Brown, Jodeci, and many others). For Kanye, I believe his descent began after his mother passed away even though he was able to mask it from the public for quite some time. I would be willing to bet the people who were close to him witnessed a change well before the public saw destructive signs.
From 2004-2011, Kanye released four certified classic albums: The College Dropout;Late Registration; Graduation; and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. During this six-year run, he was on top of his game as a producer and musician. I guess I should have known that his reign on top would not last forever. After all, most athletes and musicians have a prime that usually does not last longer than ten years. I do not know if this is determined by an audience who grows tired of hearing the same voice, or by a person’s lack of hunger once he or she reaches a certain level of success. Either way, as the law of gravity dictates: what goes up must eventually come down. Unfortunately for Kanye, his descent from the top of the game has been very painful to watch because he has literally been making statements that seem to be completely illogical. I obviously do not know who he has in his circle, but it would seem that someone would be trying to reel him in before he goes too far off the deep end.
I believe Kanye’s issues began rising to the surface sometime after his mother passed away in November 2007. Based on interviews, and songs he made about her prior to her death, it was clear that she was very important to him. In 2008, less than a year after her death, he made probably his darkest album: 808 and Heatbreaks. Art is often a reflection of reality; after listening to this album, it was clear to me that he was in a lot of pain. Unfortunately for him, his pain did not translate into a great project like Mary J. Blige. She seems to make her best music when she is going through an issue with her love interest. His 2008 release is his only album between 2004 and 2011 that I did not particularly care for. In 2010 when he released My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, I thought Kanye was back. Boy was I wrong.
Sometime after 2011, I believe his behavior became noticeably erratic. I remember hearing stories about him arriving to award shows clearly intoxicated. He started proclaiming more and more about his greatness and how much a genius he is. He also started disrespecting respected members of the media, e.g. Sway “You Ain’t Got the Answers” Calloway. I must digress for just a moment to briefly discuss that infamous interview. Kanye completely went off on Sway and you could tell that Sway was trying to remain calm. Yet, you could also tell that the RN inside him was thinking “I will slap the s**t out of this midget if he does not stop disrespecting me on my damn show.” Although that interview was funny, it showed just how far Kanye was out of touch with reality. This was certainly not the first time he said something controversial, however, it was the first time I remember feeling like he had no reasonable basis for his behavior.
2016 has been a terrible year for Kanye—one of the great producers in music history. He seems desperate to reclaim the spotlight that he used to have because of his musical gifts. He is married to a Khardashian, a family that is synonymous with controversy. Didn’t Kanye see what happened to Lamar Odom? In all fairness to Kanye, I think he is suffering from some sort of diagnosable mental disorder. I have even talked to friends who are mental health experts and they too believe that he has a mental illness. As one of my Facebook friends posted the other week, Kanye West is on the verge of being the subject of an Unsung episode. For the sake of the hip hop community, I hope he can bounce back from this set back because We Miss The Old Kanye.