Reckoning with late-stage Kanye

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After twenty years, the Kanye West experiment is over. No, Kanye himself isn’t finished; he’s still making music, selling out arenas and providing headline fodder for tabloids at your local Kroger. Yet we can now close the book on the great question that surrounded his career – can generational talent and a generational ego coexist? Unfortunately, time has shown that the ego stands alone.

Finding Kanye’s music as a high school freshman was a monumental event in my life. Where my music taste was once restrained to the CD player in my family’s Toyota Sienna, usually “Achtung Baby” and Bocelli’s “Con te partiro” on a never-ending loop, listening to “Late Registration” for the first time was mischievously transcendent — transcendent in opening up a taste which I could definitely call my own, and mischievous because I was listening to songs with swear words in them.

Indeed, even as my horizons expanded, I never outgrew Kanye. He would always be the first to tell you he was a genius, but he had every right to – few musicians have ever reinvented themselves as constantly as he did, and he could land the mark every single time. He was pompous and self-serious, but also genuinely funny and down-to-earth at the same time, looking to be the greatest at everything without forgetting where he came from.

But you cannot talk about Kanye, the musician, without coming to terms with Kanye, the self-obsessed celebrity. Even in his early days, most Kanye songs were about Kanye, and understanding them required you to follow the ever-expanding meta of interviews, controversies and rants that defined his public image. The music and the drama were one and the same; thankfully, he was enough of a character to make the drama interesting.

Yet as time went on, even devoted fans would begin to doubt if the Kanye story was worth their time. As the rants became more frequent and the statements more absurd, could you trust that Kanye was going to come out on top? By investing your time in the headlines-to-album pipeline, were you giving tacit approval to his self-destruction?

All of this is to say that 2024 is the worst time to be a Kanye fan. Everyone has seen and condemned his repeated anti-Semitic statements by now, but this is only one arm of his fundamentally broken personality.

He has thrown himself into countless half-hearted projects and nonsensical conspiracies, his inner circle is filled with shameless flatterers who actively seek to profit off of his downfall and his core fandom has been reduced to those who will always believe him to be a genius, no matter how muddled his rhetoric becomes.

Many will say that we cannot criticize him because of his diagnosis with bipolar disorder; while it is true that his mental health is a pertinent topic here (and should be saved for others besides myself), it is clear that he has no interest in helping himself. In fact, he denies that he ever had bipolar disorder, despite being candid about it just a few years ago.

It would still be hard to defend him if the music was good, but the music is probably the most notable sign of his decline. His newest album, “Vultures 1,” is aggressively alright. It’s no classic, but it’s slightly more concise and interesting than much of the hip-hop scene today.

With this album, however, Kanye has completed his years-long transformation into being the worst part of his own music. Now that he is squarely “canceled,” he has regressed into a cheap provocateur, a 46-year-old man whose lyrics sound like a high schooler bragging about their sexual escapades.

His lyrics have none of the wit, humor or honesty of his past albums, and the references to his public life show that not only does he lack self-awareness about his actions, but he has no intention of really saying anything interesting about them — they’re what Kanye does, and Kanye’s always right.

In the end, I can’t really give a grand moral conclusion about late-stage Kanye. Short of committing some unspeakable evil, his fans will always prop him up, and the media makes too much money off of him to abandon him.

I would’ve once said that Kanye had betrayed me, but with maturity comes the realization that no celebrity, no matter how much they connect with you, has any real bearing on your life, or even has a life that resembles yours whatsoever.

I will still listen to his old music because it will always contain the beauty he once manifested, and I will still rock my Yeezy 350’s because shoes cannot make moral decisions. For today’s Kanye, however, the best way to live with him is to simply not care.

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