Where’s the old Kanye? He’s where music and politics intersect

Sarah Robinson, Culture Columnist

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Holly Coughlan
In 2002, a Chicago producer got in a car accident that left his jaw wired shut. The single resulting from this injury, “Through the Wire,” is featured on his debut album, “The College Dropout,” which eventually went certified triple platinum.

The producer rose to fame quickly in the rap world not only for his lyrics, but also for his expert musicality demonstrated in his beats and affectionate arrogance.

He tackled issues of racism, police brutality and violence on the streets of Chicago.

I am, of course, referring to Kanye West — the pink-polo-wearing,  “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” Kanye West.

I don’t want to talk about  President Donald Trump and West. I truly believe that it is not my responsibility to draw anymore attention to the budding bromance. I am far more interested in looking at West’s music and trying to understand the progression of his fame and, in consequence, his alignment with our 45th president.

West has been one of my favorite musicians since I heard “Heartless” off of the 2008 album “808s and Heartbreaks.” In my opinion, West’s sixth album, “Yeezus,” is truly one of the best produced albums of all time.

I want to know what happened to the college-dropout producer who became one of the most important musicians in hip-hop history. I want to know what his recent controversies say about the intersection of music and politics. Is this what happens when a celebrity becomes too famous and too rich?

These are questions I can’t fully answer, but I do have some ideas.

Naturally, I’m deeply disappointed in the turn West has taken in recent months. His alignment with Trump is a blatant attack against the people he used to advocate for and stand with.

West said that slavery “sounds like a choice,” in an interview with TMZ in May 2018.  This comment was obviously met by much criticism, and West later apologized citing mental illness as the reason for his outburst.

Mental illness in the music industry has not been treated with the urgency it deserves.

Mental illness has claimed the lives of too many musicians to count, most recently Mac Miller and Lil Peep, who both struggled with addiction.

The music industry prizes the act of a broken artist and uses mental illness as a part of the act, leaving the musician in an extremely vulnerable state. Though mental illness is likely a factor in West’s recent behavior, it in no way should be regarded as an excuse.

I believe that somehow West has survived this disturbing trend, which leads me to an even more disturbing idea: is this what would have happened to Peep, Amy Winehouse or Kurt Cobain had they survived? Does fame only allow for insanity to follow?

Another theory, of course, is that West’s wealth is allowing him to align himself with the ultra-wealthy Donald Trump. Capitalism has treated both of these men pretty well, though I believe West has worked harder for it. Aside from their seemingly obvious differences, these two men love money, and here in late-stage capitalist America, it would make sense that this is what they bond over.

In all honesty, I haven’t been able to fully boycott West the same way I have with other controversial celebrities. His music is important to me. “Monster” still goes hard, “Love Lockdown” remains a banger and “Bound 2” brings me back to a time of genuine happiness in my life.

You could say “I miss the old Kanye, the straight from the go Kanye,” but I in no way condone his recent actions. Where West used to be an advocate for social justice, his recent actions are an attack on a community he used to support. I’m not quite sure who this new West is or what he will do next, but I will be here listening and waiting patiently.