How did Kanye West get here? Chronicle of the first misstep of the world’s most questioned rapper

It takes a certain courage to be Kanye West (Atlanta, 44 years old). Put yourself in their shoes: the rapper wakes up every morning with the certainty that he is still one of the most questioned celebrities in the world. And the story comes from afar. Business Insider already included him in 2013 in a list of loathsome VIPs (which also included, by the way, his future wife and mother-in-law) and hundreds of publications from around the world have followed suit since then.

He, with the stainless arrogance that is a substantial part of his character, prefers to attribute it to “resentment and envy of the mediocre”, but the truth is that knowing himself the target of an almost universal animosity would destroy the self-esteem of anyone who did not have it armored and bomb proof. On the social networks Quora and Reddit there are threads with hundreds of interventions in which West is mercilessly lashed out and the reasons why, in the opinion of at least his hordes of detractors, he is so vilified.

Among the most picturesque are that he has had the audacity to compare himself to Michael Jackson, Leonardo da Vinci and even Willy Wonka, the eccentric billionaire from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl’s junior novel. Among the very recurring (in addition to continuous references to his ostentatious nouveau riche, his narcissism and his egotism), that he married a Kardashian (Kim), he baptized his children with bizarre names (North West, Saint West, Chicago West and Psalm West), sympathizes with Donald Trump and sabotaged (in 2009) the consecration of Taylor Swift at the Grammy ceremony. Kanye doesn’t like him, that’s a fact. And it does not seem that the reasons why it has been coming to the fore in recent months are going to contribute to it falling better.

Pyrrhic victories

What is happening with Donda, his 10th album, shows the extent to which West is capable of turning even the positive news related to his career into meat of controversy. After multiple delays attributed to the perfectionism of its author, the album was released on August 28. There are 27 songs, it lasts an overwhelming 108 minutes, it has collaborators of such level as The Weeknd, Pusha T or Marilyn Manson and since its launch it has led the charts of a score of countries, starting with the United States, Great Britain and France. However, coinciding with the triumphant release, West created an entirely unexpected controversy by claiming that his record company, Universal, had released the album without his permission and censored one of the tracks, Jail pt 2.

Kanye West surrounded by fans following his Yeezy brand show during Paris Fashion Week 2020, held in March 2020 just before the world came to a standstill.Arnold Jerocki (Getty)

Why this act of sabotage, this counterproductive display of friendly fire? West has a theory: on the subject of the controversy, a couple of artists participate – in West’s words on his Twitter account – “Canceled” by the “moralistic inquisition”: Marilyn Manson, accused of sexual abuse, and Cleveland rapper DaBaby, notorious for the homophobic comments he made during a concert last July. The label, according to West, would have thus yielded to the dictates of prevailing morality, sabotaging, incidentally, an album that was destined “to make history.” Universal has not even responded to the allegations. It has limited itself to recovering the supposedly censored song, which now appears both in the physical edition of the album and in the digital versions. But the damage is already done.

The thing is, Kanye doesn’t seem to have quite fitted in that, almost for the first time in his career, Donda received lukewarm or at least not enthusiastic reviews. And he prefers to attribute it to alleged conspiracies. To date, despite the antipathy that his public image aroused, the one from Atlanta had preserved unscathed his reputation as a genius of contemporary music, author of masterpieces of such profound impact as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010), Graduation (2007) the Jesus (2013). Music was, until now, the stronghold that he had managed to preserve from the hostility and discredit of others. In the opinion of Erik Skelton, Magazine Editor Complex“No matter how ridiculous, grotesque and edgy his character is, Kanye always relies on his talent to stay afloat, his music is almost the only thing related to him that demands attention and respect.”

The somewhat scrawny 53% of positive reviews that it has accumulated, so far, Donda it has been experienced by West as a personal affront. It also coincides with what he himself considers the most intimate and ambitious of his albums (the title, to begin with, is the name of his mother, who died at 58 in 2007), not to mention one of the record releases Most anticipated and hyped in a long time, the subject of up to three lavish launch parties, two in Atlanta and one in Chicago. The artist has even suffered the not entirely innocent jokes of the creators of Peppa Pig, the anthropomorphic cartoon pig. West bragged on Twitter at 6 out of 10 (actually quite a low-key note) that the magazine Pitchfork had conceded to his album when the show’s official account reminded him that Peppa’s Adventures: The Album he received a 6.5 in his day: “Peppa has not needed to have presentation parties at the Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta to overcome Kanye by half a point,” they stated in a tweet (deleted a few hours later) which added another blade of salt to the wound.

The man who could reign

It is more than likely that Donda do not be a false step and will not be remembered as a commercial or artistic failure. What it may end up being is the beginning of the end of the myth of Kanye West’s infallibility. Until now, King Midas of the music industry had a tale to offer the world, one that lives up to his ambition, which is superlative: You can hate me, but you can’t deny that I’m still the best. Today, its place in the sun as the undisputed summit of the hip hop massive no longer seems so out of the question.

Kim Kardashian and Kanye Weste on March 1, 2020 in Paris, France.
Kim Kardashian and Kanye Weste on March 1, 2020 in Paris, France.Mehdi Taamallah (Cordon)

This defeat (or Pyrrhic victory, however you want to see it) comes to West at a bad personal moment, after a few months in which the bad news has accumulated. On February 19, his wife, Kim Kardashian, asked for a divorce claiming “irreconcilable differences”. Thus ended a strange conjugal soap opera broadcast strictly directly on the social networks of both. In July 2020, while her husband announced his surprising candidacy for the presidency of the United States, Kim began to tell him that his bipolar disorder was getting worse and that would be the explanation for his incoherent and erratic behavior.

After a rather delusional campaign, lavish in statements and public events that verged on grotesque, on Election Day, West’s candidacy and his improvised Birthday Party garnered a meager harvest of 66,365 votes. Kanye reacted by congratulating another of the day’s losers, his “friend” Donald Trump, and announcing that he plans to run again in 2024, but this time to win. In a later interview with CNN, the singer declared that he had been disappointed not to have the support of his wife, that he would not have taken his presidential ambitions seriously, and announced that he was considering divorcing her. Shortly before, he had stated that he believed that Kim had been unfaithful to him (with Meek Mill, rapper from Philadelphia) and that her family questioned his mental health with the intention of locking him up to keep his money.

Donda has brought new chapters to this story of heartbreak and misunderstandings. Kim attended the introduction events organized by Kanye to make clear the lack of acrimony with which they are approaching the separation. Even accepted wear a Balenciaga wedding dress at the Chicago meeting. He already cried for the break in the corresponding chapter of the reality show who stars together with his family, The Kardashians (now in its twentieth and final season), and it seems more than willing to gracefully turn the page.

But the lyrics on her ex-husband’s album tell a very different story. West, also notorious for his tendency to write songs that feed off his private life, states in the album that as soon as his wife asked for a divorce, he changed his phone number so that she could never call him again. Or that he has a new girlfriend “with whom to pose and show off”, apparently the model Irina Shayk, with whom he was photographed last July in France, during the celebration of his 44th birthday. On Believe What I SayHe even exhorts Kim to leave at once “and find a good lawyer” and summarizes their seven years of coexistence in a lapidary phrase: “I gave you absolutely everything you asked for, I don’t know how anyone could want even more.”

For Eleanor Lees, from the magazine Newsweek, “Kanye has once again given in to the temptation to display his intimacy in a shameless and somewhat ridiculous way. Tal could have saved it, but it is the sign of the times, what this culture of false transparency in which we live immersed demands of successful artists today ”. You must always show yourself as you are, with your virtues and, above all, your defects. Even if they hate you for it. That’s the only way for them to love you or, at least, to keep buying your records. Kanye knows it. But it takes a certain courage to be in their shoes.

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How did Kanye West get here? Chronicle of the first misstep of the world’s most questioned rapper