The first Kanye West song that meant something to me was “Jesus Walks.” It was the middle of the night, and my mother had just packed up our things and drove us away from her toxic second marriage. As we sped along the dark highway, “Jesus Walks” came onto the radio, bringing her to tears. She kept repeating the hook over and over: “God show me the way because the Devil’s tryna break me down / Jesus walks with me / The only thing I pray is that my feet don’t fail me now.”
My mom had always been proud, so taking us to live in a women’s shelter until she could get back on her feet was incredibly difficult for her. Hearing Kanye say that God was watching over us may have offered only the smallest bit of reassurance, but it happened at just the right time to help her keep moving forward. I was only nine back then, but the song struck an emotional chord with me, too. I knew it had meant something to her, so it meant something to me—even if I wasn’t entirely sure what that was until later on in life.
I’m half Black, but for a long time, I believed Black men were not to be trusted. My mother is white and my father was Black, but I spent most of my time with my mom’s side of the family, especially after my dad passed away when I was five. I didn’t spend a lot of time with Black men, except for my mother’s second husband—and we never got along. My mom had sponsored him to move from Jamaica to Canada, but he had no interest in being part of our family or helping raise me and my older brother. He was spiteful and greedy, so I assumed all Black men were just like that, too.
My brother understood my anger, but always reminded me that my hate came from a place of hurt. His suggestion, and the way he dealt with angst about our stepfather, was hip-hop. By the time I reached high school, it became mine as well—and before I knew it, Kanye really was a God to me. He became the first Black man, other than my dad, who I idolized.
Suddenly being Black was that shit. It felt like Kanye understood every moment in my adolescence, and always had some sort of reassuring lyric about it. The songs on Late Registration and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy were the soundtrack to my high school days. When Kanye rapped, “Before you ask me to go get a job today, can I at least get a raise of the minimum wage?” and “Make it out of this grind, ’fore I’m out of my mind” I felt it deeply. Despite working two part-time jobs, I couldn’t keep up with my classmates, who drove new cars and wore head-to-toe Abercrombie & Fitch. “Gorgeous” was the first song I made out to in a subway station at 6 a.m., and I overplayed “Blame Game” three months later, when we broke up before a Tyler the Creator meet and greet. (#YOUTH.)
But it was Kanye’s political stance that I admired the most. When he said George Bush “doesn’t care” about Black people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it made me want to know more about how he advocated for Black rights and how his politics aligned with my own. When he spoke candidly about racial profiling at a concert, started a non-profit to help underprivileged Chicago youth (named Donda House after his late mother) and addressed the prison-industrial complex in “New Slaves,” I felt like he was genuinely concerned about the lives of Black people. Kanye has also always been adamant about proving you can be Black and successful. His confidence made me believe that I could also use my creativity to make millions. So, I supported him, praised him and brushed off any doubt that the untouchable Kanye West could ever be a shitty human being. In my mind he was here for Black people, on a mission to prove our greatness and fight against social injustices. That was all that mattered.
But let’s be real: Kanye has never been a saint. For one thing, his lyrics are full of misogynistic lines—just listen to “Gold Digger” and you’ll get a general idea on how much Kanye values women (spoiler alert, it ain’t much). But as a teenager, I never recognized the implications of his words or actions. I didn’t learn about intersectionality and feminism until university, so it wasn’t until Kanye tried to reclaim the Confederate flag in my freshman year that I started to realize that maybe he wasn’t such a genius. Later, his claims that Bill Cosby was innocent, validation of Tyga—who Kanye said was only “getting in early” when he started dating an underage Kylie Jenner—and constant slut-shaming of ex Amber Rose were all highly offensive and upsetting.
Then, when Kanye announced he didn’t vote, but if he had, he would’ve “voted for Trump,” I realized the truth: Kanye wasn’t as concerned about his marginalized fanbase as he was about making bank. His silence on the Ferguson riots and death of Trayvon Martin left me unsettled. I couldn’t sleep at night without worrying about my Black relatives in America being at risk, so why could he? Well, it was because Kanye believed racism was “dated and silly.” And let’s not forget that he thinks slavery,“sounds like a choice.”
Deep down, I hoped Kanye’s interest in Donald Trump was retaliation for Obama calling him a “jackass,” and that eventually, he’d forgive and forget. (No luck there; he’s clearly still mad about it.) More importantly, though, I wanted him to go back to his conscious ways for the sake of his fans, especially those of us who are Black. And I wanted him to admit what the rest of us know: that Trump is a bigot and his presidency incites a maliciousness towards Black Americans that is so threatening, we’re seeing white supremacists become more confident and determined than ever to torment, and in some cases, boldly murder us.
we’ve invested in 3 companies since last week
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 30, 2018
But I don’t think he ever will. Kanye’s always been about Kanye. His ego has never been a surprise. But his greed, which is blatantly obvious in his tweets? That’s terrifying. I honestly believe that he’s looking at Trump’s trajectory as a road map—he’s not trying to make art for his loyal fans, or his own principles, or even to change the world, as his tweets may claim. Instead, I think he’s just lusting after money and power and wants to further his own interests. Because if Kanye really wanted to make a difference and create a brand that’s more accessible to the people, the profits from Yeezy’s $430 hoodies would’ve gone to ‘food shelter communication education’ and building homes in Chicago with Chance the Rapper forever ago. We all know he could’ve afforded those charitable actions without sucking up to the Republican party.
That’s why I feel so betrayed. Because whatever Kanye might say about Trump’s presidency, as a father of three Black children and a public figure who impacts the social consciousness of his fanbase, he knows what kind of message he’s sending. It’s not “free thinking” when you align yourself with a man who embodies everything you once stood against, and who benefits from belittling the Black communities you once stood up for every. single. day.
Once, hearing Kanye rap about his future child felt like funny, sharp social commentary. I mean: “I mean I might even make him be Republican, so everybody know he love white people”? So good. But that line isn’t funny anymore. It’s just reality.
So I’m done. But maybe that’s okay, because now I know that for a long time, Kanye’s been done with me, too.