For a Kanye West apologist -- like me -- it's getting harder and harder to defend Ye. Defending Kanye from haters has always been ... different. His genius is so incandescent, his blackness is so unapologetic. And then he met with Trump.
More and more, pop culture bemoans Kanye, issuing verdicts like supreme court judges -- lock him up! I know how he should act! But I'll always defend uncle Ye. And for my fellow weary and noble Kanye defenders, here are some suggested ways for rebutting the go-to complaints against him.
Ah, the good ol' days. Not when Kanye was the old Kanye, but when Kanye’s biggest PR problem was his ego. That brazen self-assuredness went prime time during a 2005 disaster-relief broadcast with that searing-hot, fresh-from-the-furnace throwing star -- “George Bush doesn't care about black people.” A shiver of pride and disbelief still accompanies that clip; it's pure disregard for anything but delivering a message on behalf of black people.
And the bravery to deliver such a message comes from a place of hubris. This is a good thing. It is a necessary and healthy aspect of wielding immense intellect and intention, essential to grabbing worldwide imagination and influence. This scene from The West Wing comes to mind when hearing moans about a bona fide game-changer’s overzealous ego.
That's my definition of what a generational music talent should be like. So Kanye has a bit of a zany personality ... so? People have personalities. He doesn't steal babies. And, the thing is, he has, honest to Yeezus, shifted and redefined American culture.
Walking quietly and carrying a big stick is low-key jealousy. It's the essence of Midwestern, down-home vanity. To say "look at me" by saying "look at that guy, he's a buffoon … what? Me? Oh, well..." The idea that ego or vanity don't exist in some places, wholesome places, is not right -- it exists in the same proportion in all places, it just manifests in different ways. When people constantly take aim at Kanye -- someone in the stratosphere, the last place you'd expect to see black guys in black ties -- it reeks of insecurity.
Kanye is not aw-shucks Joe Mauer. When he says he's Steve Jobs, that's a healthy ego at work. It's a reaction to people who refuse to acknowledge that he is, in fact, Jobs' cultural peer.
Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States on January 20. Commander in chief, the singular embodiment of an entire branch of the U.S. government. He may be a bad dude, but let's not ignore the powerful words at the top of this paragraph. Who is to deny visiting with this man? With the goddamn president? The leader of your home and country?
One of the most American acts is to meet with an elected official, but within the confines of one’s personal moral core. To say, I am here, in your presence, because you summoned me, Mr./Mrs. President, Governor, Mayor. I disagree with you, and even dislike your very existence, but because you are in office, let us sit and consensually grope for common ground. Ye should not be faulted for engaging in that fundamental aspect of democratic discourse.
Beyond that, can't you imagine Kanye and Trump running into each other in New York City's rich people haunts? Trump is essentially a famous heir and reality TV personality like Paris Hilton. He's predisposed, even when in the seat of ultimate power, to hobnob with fellow celebrities. He's the future leader of America. Kanye came when he called.
Kanye did praise Trump’s "genius" communication skills and said he would have voted for him. Kanye isn't going to live in denial. Black people are suffering, he won't hold his tongue. Trump is the president-elect, so Kanye began wrapping his mind around this new, unprecedented vision of America, the same way we all are.
Except Ye did it on stage, in pretty much the immediate aftermath, in the thick of emotional confusion, and just spoke. He had his floating stage. And all the time in the world. And the extremely fraught and new phenomena that is Trump. We need Kanye and the nation's few Kanye-level artistic talents to wrestle with these things. This seems like quite the rationalization, but who isn't doing some rambling, cyclical soul-searching after this last election?
Not to mention, the man's got political ambitions himself, ones that seem increasingly plausible given the election of this man.
There is no way to defend a man who's defending an alleged serial rapist. This is the one area where it's impossible to defend Kanye.
Here's the truth: Taylor Swift was not all that famous in 2009, the year Kanye interrupted her VMA acceptance speech and exploded her profile. That makes this infamous (and apparently Swift-endorsed) line, however, crude, sorta true.
Think his mic-grabbing act in '09 was indefensible? Well, Kanye is just a person. A prodigiously talented person, but a person. Sure, he flies off the handle, but then he brings himself back in after a misstep or mistake. You know, like a human.
Catch-all defense: Ye a goof
The thing is, as for Kanye's personality, dude is just not that cool. He's smart and insightful. This Dave Chappelle clip about first meeting Kanye is illuminating.
How could you not, in the moment, think this is just a harmlessly awkward goof?
The reason I defend him always and forever is because of his talent and output, but also because, that's all I really see when it comes to Ye: a goofy super-genius. To demonize him, to try to silence his passion and quell his influence because he interrupted an awards show or gets super real with the Grammys?
That's when I hear the dog whistle of jealousy and race whine. That's why I will defend him till the end.