I Miss the Old Kanye

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Stacy Lee Kong

Jan 06 2021

8 mins read

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On July 4, Kanye West announced he was running for president and it was both perfectly on-brand and the last thing I’d expect from Kanye West circa 2005, when he famously said, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people” during NBCUniversal’s A Concert for Hurricane Relief, a charity telethon that was raising money for people who had been affected by Hurricane Katrina—many of whom were Black.

Actually, he said he’s running for president, though it doesn’t look like he’s filed the necessary paperwork—and it’s not even clear if he even can run, considering there are already presumptive nominees for both the Republican and Democratic parties and he’s missed the deadline to get on the ballot as an independent in many states. (According to Fortune, “registration deadlines to be on the ballots of North Carolina, Texas, New Mexico and Indiana [have passed]. The deadlines for Nevada, Delaware, Florida, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Michigan are all within the next seven days and require up to 130,000 signatures and fees to be paid. Considering that West said his campaign currently consists of his wife, Kim Kardashian West, and Elon Musk, it seems like getting on the ballots in those states within the next week will be a difficult task to complete.”)

Aside from his wife, Musk and (maybe) Michelle Tidball, the Cody, Wyoming-based therapist-turned-biblical life coach who is West’s supposed running mate, no one is taking the rapper’s announcement seriously.

And yet, we can’t stop talking about it.

I am obviously not immune to this impulse. (Hi, hello, please settle in for 1,000+ words on West’s potential presidential run.) But it’s worth thinking about why we are so willing to be distracted by something that has almost no chance of happening.

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“My greatest pain in life…is that I will never be able to see me…perform”


I honestly think part of it is that people want to see West get his comeuppance. From a musical standpoint, he’s a genius—but for more than half his career, any conversation about his talent has been overshadowed by discussions about his arrogance. I get it: He has literally said the words, “my greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live” (🙄). His 2013 album was called Yeezus, a play on Jesus, and it included a song entitled “I Am a God.” His ego has its own gravitational pull. But plenty of celebrities are arrogant; what makes West so much less likeable than, say, John Lennon, who also famously favourably compared himself to Jesus, or Axl Rose, who was so imperious that it arguably cost him his band, or any other white rocker whose arrogance is mistaken for confidence? Duh: his race.

As Micah Singleton wrote in The Verge in 2015, “When you contrast the first half of Kanye West’s career in the public eye (‘00-’07) with the second half (‘08-’15), the only major difference is West’s interactions with America’s two most high-profile white women [Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian]. And if you believe the dramatic increase in unfiltered hatred and the complete dismissal of the talent of one of the most accomplished artists in a generation has nothing to do with the racial discomfort precipitated by a black man ‘scaring’ America’s white sweetheart and entering into an interracial relationship with America’s favorite guilty pleasure, you’re sorely mistaken.”

At least some of the reaction to West’s Twitter announcement, and to a truly wild Forbes interview with the rapper published on July 8, feel gleefully dismissive. From Complex writer David Gardner’s implication that West is pulling a stunt to promote his upcoming album (“Kanye West isn’t really gonna run for President, but his next album will be called Presidential Dropout,” he tweeted) to memes arguing that West is just being a troll, people aren’t just disbelieving, they also seem smug about the fact that he’s out of touch and doomed to fail. And, it’s hard not to see a connection between that smugness and West being a Black man who refuses to make himself small or palatable.

What’s complicated is, West is out of touch and doomed to fail. And while there has been some concern that his Vision 2020 campaign would split the Black vote between himself and Joe Biden, thus helping Trump win, I’m not actually sure that’s true, only because he has already lost many Black people and other people of colour, for whom his support of Trump feels like a betrayal—and not just of his community, but also of himself.

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Over the past few weeks, Kanye West alienated many fans by expressing his support for President Trump and sharing his opinion about slavery being a choice. A…


West was the firebrand who publicly held George W. Bush to account for his response to Hurricane Katrina—which for many millennials was their first exposure to public Black rage, as Mychal Denzel Smith argued in The Nation in 2015. And, as a HuffPost oral history of the moment pointed out, it was galvanizing. The piece quotes C.J. Lawrence, who was a law student at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston at the time and lived close to the Astrodome, where about 30,000 evacuees from New Orleans were infamously housed for five days in terrible conditions. “Hearing Kanye West say what he said in 2005—a lot of us as young people felt empowered. West in many ways became a champion for us by speaking out nationally in that way,” he told the publication.

That wasn’t surprising. The rapper came from a family of activists and regularly covered police brutality, slavery and the prison industrial complex in his music. But it’s also why the MAGA-hat wearing, White House-visiting version of West seems like a completely different person, and one who no longer cares about the people he used to champion.

There’s also something else capturing people’s attention: West’s mental health. It’s likely he isn’t well—on Thursday, People reported that “in the past, he has suffered both manic and depressive episodes related to his bipolar disorder. Right now, he is struggling again.” For the gossip mag newbies, if you read something in People, it’s likely accurate. As Gawker explained back in 2010, People rarely prints unsubstantiated rumours, instead relying “on scoops that have been spoon-fed by publicists.” So, this seems legit. And that means it should be part of the conversation we’re having.

But here’s the thing: Yes, it’s uncomfortable to hear a supposed presidential candidate say “he envisions a White House organizational model based on the secret country of Wakanda in Black Panther,” as Forbes put it. Or that his campaign motto is “YES!” and his party will be called The Birthday Party because “when we win, it’s everybody’s birthday.” But calling him crazy or treating his struggles like entertainment is ableist. West’s diagnosis isn’t the reason he’s not a viable candidate for U.S. president—it’s his lack of experience, strategy, platform and/or plan.

To be clear, this isn’t a defense of Kanye West. The biggest reason we can’t stop talking about his presidential run is that it’s infuriating. In the first three years of Trump’s presidency, he rolled back environmental protections, appeared to advocate for police brutality, instituted draconian immigration policies, undermined public health recommendations around the coronavirus pandemic, further disenfranchised Black voters and encouraged white supremacy, among what feels like thousands of other horrible decisions. And according to political analyst and Slate contributing writer Heather Digby Parton, if Trump is elected for a second term, things will likely get much worse. “The experience Trump has gained during his tumultuous three and a half years in office is that the presidency is immensely powerful and he can get away with anything,” she wrote on Wednesday. “[He] knows that if he is re-elected, he will have virtually unlimited power, and he is promising his followers that he is going to use it to fight the culture war. He’s not being metaphorical. He means it quite literally.”

So, the stakes feel particularly high this year—yet in that Forbes interview, West admitted he didn’t care if his campaign would help Trump win, saying, “I’m not denying it, I just told you. To say that the Black vote is Democratic is a form of racism and white supremacy.” Even if everyone believes this is a publicity stunt to promote an upcoming album, shoe drop or even just his brand, it’s hard not to feel angry at West’s callousness and disregard for Black lives.

So yeah, there are legitimate reasons to criticize West. But coded (or not-so-coded) statements about his race or mental health aren’t among them.

And Did You Hear About…

Two must-reads by Canadian journalists: Kathleen Newman-Bremang wrote a heartbreaking, infuriating and very familiar piece about the ways even “dream jobs” are tainted by racism for Black woman in Canadian media. And Donnovan Bennett wrote brilliantly about being one of the few Black sports journalists in Canada.

Vulture’s profile of Michaela Coel.

The very dramatic story about the rise and fall of costume jewellery company Alex and Ani.

Naya Rivera’s suspected drowning in a California lake, which some people are saying is the latest addition to the “Glee Curse.”

This really smart response to the incredibly stupid free speech letter in Harper’s.

Bonus: adorable children.

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