A few days ago, Kanye’s disclosure of his liposuction, addiction to opioids, and his views on black on black crime and slavery being a choice led to one of the most eloquent reads from a TMZ staffer, a former Kanye West fan. It was an affirming moment for Van Lathan, that he’d lost a role model: a recurrent feeling often experienced when a celebrity many have idolized “goes astray (said or performed actions that rival our moral values and beliefs).”
During the TMZ visit, Van accepted Ye’s invitation to a dialogue and used it as an opportunity to not only school him on his views on slavery, but to express his disappointment and disinterest with the person Kanye has morphed into.
“For a lot of years, the dude that inspired me to be more than what I was in Baton Rouge ..that was you,” he said. That “dude” he referred to was the Kanye that called George Bush out for not liking black people. He was the one responsible for classic albums like College Dropout, Graduation and Late Registration, and interestingly enough the man who was behind lyrics like
We shine because they hate us, floss ’cause they degrade us/We tryna buy back our 40 acres/And for that paper, look how low we’ll stoop/Even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a coupe
‘Cause they made us hate ourself and love they wealth.
But that Kanye, many believe, has long gone. He is now seen with Candace Owens, sports MAGA hats and denounces Obama’s contributions to the country. Most recently, he claimed despite a multitude of contradicting historical facts, that slaves chose mental enslavement over their freedom.
Today’s Kanye is far from the man many, including Van, have once called their hero, but what hasn’t changed is the content and quality of his music, a category of work, which has undeniably gotten us through hardships, relationships and school. Is it possible to separate music from the artist? Can we jam to an artist’s music and enjoy the message of a song without liking the person and their ways themselves?
This debate has been played out on several occasions. Years before allegations against R. Kelly became a hashtag (#MuteRKelly), he was cancelled out the list of favorite artists for some, yet his music played on radio stations and he was still capable of selling out arenas. Chris Brown has managed to sell records after the domestic incident with Rihanna, although the matter still taints his image. After Fabolous was accused of domestic violence against his longtime girlfriend Emily B, I observed the struggle that some had in determining whether they should believe the news and cut out some of their favorite records from their summer playlist. When racist statements of a young Sabrina Claudio resurfaced, the heat she experienced resulted in a public apology via social media, most likely a result of the fear of losing fans. And as of late, I personally grapple with Kelis’s accounts of someone I consider a New York legend, Nas, and if that affects whether I continue to listen to his music.
Back when records had to actually be purchased to gain gold or platinum certification, illegal downloads on platforms like Limewire might have been the perfect way to enjoy the music without financially supporting the artist. However, in today’s world of streaming services, where 1500 streams is the same as an album sale, just one listen to a song is beneficial to the artist.
A loud yet unspoken rule in society is that silence implies consent. The failure to act against an artist’s wrongdoing insinuates an agreement with that action. It’s the reason companies are quick to pull endorsements with celebrities who make headlines for negative things, the logic behind celebrities expressing their dissatisfaction with a friend’s behavior on social media despite being a call or text away from that person. In an exclusive interview with Complex, Van stated that he refuses to listen to any more of Kanye’s music for this reason. “Right now, I feel like listening or supporting his music would make me complicit in some of the things that are going on right now,” he said. “I can’t do it.”
Then there’s the group of people who continue to support for the reason that the music speaks to them in a profound way. And to many, the public outcry is nothing more than that: a public outcry. What sense does it make to stop backing the artist when the majority of people’s continuous support of the music will outweigh the few that may no longer listen?
Is there some sort of protocol? Does it depend on the artist? Do allegations hold less weight than actual convictions or statements from the artists themselves? Do pronouncements matter when its a roll out for a record album? Are apologies strong enough to account for changes in how we view the artists? There are so many unanswered questions in regards to whether an artist can be separated from their music, but one thing’s for sure, actions would be a lot more effective if we were all on the same page.