It’s easy to sit back and laugh at Kanye West’s erratic behaviour and publicity stunts. One incident catapulted Kanye into the spotlight and which plagued the news and brought a lot of media attention was in 2009 at the Video Music Awards, where Kanye grabbed the microphone from then 19-year-old country pop singer, Taylor Swift, who was about to accept the award for Best Female Video. In that moment, he proclaimed: “Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you and I’mma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time. One of the best videos of all time!"
Even Barack Obama publicly called West a ‘jackass’ with multiple news outlets debating on the matter but with all Kanye’s outbursts in his career, one can only think there’s something real going on here. These sudden outbursts were just the start of the outspoken and somewhat “rude” Kanye we all know.
Last week, Kanye, 39, was admitted to the University of California, Los Angeles clinic after suffering a “psychiatric emergency”, following a series of rants at a Sacramento performance, where he criticised Hillary Clinton, Beyoncé and Mark Zuckerberg. He performed three songs before storming off stage then cancelling the remaining dates of his Saint Pablo tour.
Concerns for his mental health have been raised by an onslaught of celebrities who took a stand on social media against people making jokes about mental health. Producer and Rapper 9th Wonder, tweeted: “Been knowing the brother upwards of 13 years. Mental healing is a serious thing, no matter what. Stay strong Kanye West.”
It’s been reported that Kanye is being treated for ‘severe sleep deprivation’ with his mother-in-law, Kris Jenner, stating: “He’s exhausted, he’s really just tired. He’s had a grueling tour and it’s been a grind so he just needs some rest.” But if we look at Kanye’s timeline of outbursts, publicity stunts and devastating incidents, the self-confessed ‘douchebag’ seems to be suffering while the whole world laughs at him.
Let’s rewind back to when Kanye, at 24, was producing soul-sampling big hits for Roc-A-Fella founder, Jay-Z. The Chicago-native produced the bulk of Jay-Z’s classic, The Blueprint, but he wasn’t known as a rapper. Kanye had big ambitions for himself but suffered a setback after his almost-fatal car crash in 2002, which provided the inspiration for his first true big hit, “Through the Wire”, a song he rapped with a broken jaw.
Between 2004-2007, Kanye released the albums The College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation – all commercial successes that turned hip-hop into something bigger and brighter. With the success of his albums, he developed an interest in fashion, collaborating with the likes of Louis Vuitton and Phillip Lim.
But then something tragic happened. Donda West, Kanye’s mother, who had been the inspiration behind several of his career highlights, including singles like “Hey Mama” and “Only One”, died the day after receiving multiple cosmetic surgeries. Kanye always blamed himself for the death of his mother and even told Q Magazine, “If I had never moved to L.A. she’d be alive.” He continued, holding back emotion, “I don’t want to go far into it because it will bring me to tears.”
As Kanye’s biggest fan, Donda West watched her son rise from being a wannabe music producer to one of the biggest names in the industry, and even to this day, she remains a major influence throughout her son’s recent endeavours, including the recently released third edition of his fashion line Yeezy Season 3 as well as his latest album, The Life of Pablo.
A death of a loved one can put serious strain on your mental health, especially a death of a mother you were close with. A family member of Kanye’s said the rapper is “broken, lost and hurt” and is “highly sensitive” during the anniversary of his mother’s death, which is around the time he was hospitalised.
But not only has he had to deal with the upcoming anniversary of his mother’s death but also the frightening and traumatic event of an armed robbery his wife, Kim Kardashian experienced in October. Armed gunmen entered her private suite at the exclusive Hotel de Pourtales apartment block in the centre of Paris. It was reported Kim was begging for her life as armed robbers stole $5.2m worth of jewellery. When the news broke of the incident, Kanye was on tour and decided to cancel the rest of the show to be with his wife.
On Monday’s gig, Kanye used that time to call out his old pal and longtime collaborator, Jay-Z, who he accused of planning to send hit men to kill him: “Jay-Z, I know you got killers, please don’t send them my head.” This follows Kanye’s rant about Jay-Z and Beyoncé allegedly not reaching out after the Paris robbery and the fact that their kids don’t play together. After 16 years of close friendship, Jay-Z and Kanye seem to have become the biggest of enemies, with Kanye pleading for Jay-Z to ‘return his calls’ at his recent gig.
In the lead up to these tragic incidents, Kanye has repeatedly stated that he feels “he is misunderstood” and that he’s “mentally 10 years ahead of everyone else”. Pop-culture has labeled Kanye as being a narcissist, an egomaniac, suffering a god-complex, and/or delusional/out of his mind but despite the criticism, it should be recognized that Kanye has made significant contributions to music and pop-culture.
Hailing from a Christian family, his father was politically active within the Black Panther movement during the 1970s. He later pursued a career as a photo-journalist and a Cleric counselor. Kanye’s late mother was a professor of English, and though his parents divorced, his background is one clearly grounded within a professional middle class environment, strictly at odds with the “gangsta image” that was marketable when he started out. He was reportedly denied record deals due to his non- stereotype status within the genre. He raps blatantly of his Christian faith, cites Psalm 82 from the Bible – which says “You are gods/And all of you are children of the Most High”, in his track, ‘I Am a God’.
Part of his success is down to the fact that he stands apart from everyone else and aims to re-invent/re-market himself but this also suggests a relatively unstable sense of self and identity. His tactic? Celebrity-bash and cause controversy.
He’s sensitive and known for his honest and artistic lyrics that come from a place of passion and although he explodes with questionable comments like, “My greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live,” as a fan, friend, label or wife, we all need to consider life in Kanye’s shoes after the year he’s had.
Reports might brush it off as ‘extreme exhaustion’ but it’s more than that. Kanye’s behaviour over the years has been a cry for help, a cry to be understood and a cry for fear of failure. The old celebrity-rehab narrative suggests that when you screw up bad, you should hide and heal before you come back stronger. Kanye has been doing the opposite and thrown himself into various projects, fashion shows, tours, weddings and the like.
We should all admire Kanye for his bravery – he is hyperaware of his faults and blunders boldly through the mess he’s created then revels in the wreckage. He takes ownership of his actions and gets on with it.
Kanye might love the attention and he might love causing trouble but deep down he’s a man who needs to be loved, cared for and be appreciated. Considering his public breakdown, it’s important to understand the sensitivity and severity of mental health conditions. We hope Kanye can receive the treatment he needs to come back harder, better, faster, stronger to continue his hugely successful career.