Kanye West doesn’t need what I’m about to write.
Mostly because he’s not going to see it anyway. (Or read it. Or care.) But someone else who is going through a Kanye-esque moment might read it and finally get the help he or she needs, so here it goes.
A long time ago, before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was at a party at the home of one of my editors. We were all drinking and laughing, and as usual, I was making myself the center of attention, making people laugh with self-deprecating humor. At one point I went to the bar to get more to drink, and one of my editors was there, pouring the liquor, and she said to me, “You know, you laugh and laugh and you make jokes, but it isn’t really funny, is it?”
For the first time, I felt completely naked. She’d seen through my carefully cultivated facade and knew my truth: that I was someone deeply in pain and deeply unbalanced. It cut at my very being.
And then I went right back to drinking and partying through my breakdown.
Kanye West is partying through his breakdown. We think it’s funny, but it really isn’t.
I don’t know what kind of breakdown West is having—mental, physical, financial, emotional, whatever—but it’s happening, and we’re all watching and retweeting it as if he were any other rich fool spouting claims of Bill Cosby’s “innocence” or beefing with ex-girlfriend Amber Rose. But what is seemingly unhinged about West is coming from a very real place. He’s a musical genius who has hit his head on the highest of glass ceilings, and he isn’t taking his rich-man struggles particularly well.
He went off on “white” publications, saying that they shouldn’t write about or review his music. He tweeted that he’s $53 million in personal debt. He tweeted that instead of “opening a school in Africa,” fellow rich people should support him—namely, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, whom he also tweeted on Monday, begging, pleading for his support to the tune of $1 billion.
“You love hip hop, you love my art … I am your favorite artist but you watch me barely breathe and still play my album in your house … ,” West tweeted.
He later tweeted that he would also accept support from Google co-founder Larry Page or, really, from any wealthy Silicon Valley benefactor.
He’s not picky.
This is not how famous rich people typically go about things when trying to break out of whatever box first made them famous. They usually work the back channels, make connections and grind hard at what they want. But as I mentioned, West has hit the highest of glass ceilings. Grinding hard, which he has done to great financial loss (he says he lost $16 million on his Yeezy fashion line), isn’t getting him where he wants to go. He’s lamented this for some time.
West wants the type of access that goes beyond owning an Amex black card, beyond just being able to get a meeting in Silicon Valley because he made “N—gas In Paris.” He wants “in.”
This is why conspiracy theories that West is in the “Illuminati” are so preposterous. If the Illuminati were real, West would be furiously tweeting about why he can’t seem to get past the devil’s bouncer despite his skills in goat sacrificing. West is stuck, railing from the outside, banging on the walls of “real power,” telling tales of how he wants to change the world, so why won’t Page call him back?
West wants to be in the moguls’ club, where the titans of capitalism and commerce play. He wants to be “this generation’s Disney.” But what he wants he may never, ever be able to obtain because what he wants is entry into a place where no amount of money or fame can buy him access. He wants to be part of some “I’m in Skull and Bones, I went to Harvard/Yale, I’m white and male” s—t. But out of those four things, the only qualification West has involves his penis. The rest? Not happening.
It’s crushing when you hit that ceiling, whatever your ceiling is. It hurts when you realize you’re not going to get to where you think you should be because of your lack of ability or your race or gender or disability or outsider identity.
I know I’ve given myself a few concussions, bashing my skull at times against my own ceiling. But I don’t tend to live-tweet my misery. West does. I don’t tend to let the world know I’m an open wound that needs a hug. West does. I don’t tweet that I could be “this generation’s Ida B. Wells or Stephen King” because that would be preposterous—and, to paraphrase a famous line from a King film, they would all laugh at me.
But West does things like this all the time, on social media, in interviews. He blurts out his subconscious consciously like a nervous tick, obscuring the brilliance of his musical works with his disjointed, jarring words. You can’t listen to West’s new album, The Life of Pablo, without remembering the unhinged subtext West is offering up, a subtext of irrationality and delusion, of narcissism and pain.
“I promise I’m going to make the world dope … all I do is make [s—t] dope,” West tweeted in his cry for help from the tech titans, who tweeted nothing in return.
I don’t know what issues West does or doesn’t have; nor do I pretend to know. But I do know that he drops verses about Lexapro and Xanax on his new album, two drugs I’m more than familiar with in my own journey from bipolarity to stability. He raps about his demons, his fears. But during Yeezy Season 3, in the photos, it’s all smiles.
A fan on Twitter asked rap artist Rhymefest why he doesn’t collaborate with West anymore, and Rhymefest tweeted: “My brother needs help, in the form of counseling. Spiritual & mental. He should step away from the public & yesmen & heal.”
You can be incredibly successful, you can have everything and you can still be desperately unhappy. And West, who is still capable of putting on a show and appearing to have a good time, always seems a moment away from having the mask slip completely and falling into the abyss, whatever his personal abyss may be.
Because it doesn’t matter that West is rich. Or that he has the beautiful wife he has always claimed to want. It’s not about having his two healthy, lovely children or a successful career. It’s about having all the ideas in the world but not the temperament to explain them. It’s about being deeply talented but profoundly insecure. His screaming about awards and his lamenting over being outside a lily-white “in” crowd that he’s never getting into are evidence that he wants the kind of white acceptance no one can or will ever give him, no matter how many times he lets them rap along to his songs using the n-word.
Something in the Yeezy ain’t clean. But it’s not funny. It’s sad. Make your jokes, but know that they come at the expense of someone too foolish to realize that it’s pointless to gain all the luxuries in the world if you’re just going to go and lose your mind.