It was 2013 at the Madison Square Garden date of the Yeezus Tour. I sat in my seat awaiting the spectacle that I heard about throughout the social medial channels of the shows before. Kanye West brings Jesus out? There’s a huge pyramid-like structure? There was a second where I thought I was watching West’s own interpretation of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. You had the usual glitz and glamour, but there was one moment in particular that caught my attention.
West began to sing the last song off his 2008 808s & Heartbreak album, “Coldest Winter”, while sitting on the corner of the pyramid, his face covered by one of the Louboutin masks he wore while snow came down above him. Alone. A single spotlight came down as if was emulating his mom from heaven as he sang his “goodbye” song to her. The song itself, while sampling from the 1983 song “The Hurting” by Tears for Fears, is one of the most honest narratives of his career.
Grief tends to amplify every attribute, whether good or bad. That’s why with every outburst or rant, we tend to wistfully listen to the “old” Kanye material and hang our hopes that he goes back to that: the back pack wearing, starry-eyed, college dropout from Chicago. Songs like “All Falls Down” and “Flashing Lights” served as warnings, although written about perspectives from women, and are really West telling himself to not fall into the pitfalls of materialism. It’s almost like the hero who allows himself to turn into a villain after a tragedy.
The short “I Love Kanye” from The Life of Pablo is telling because while he’s speaking to those of us in the first stanza, the “new Kanye, the bad mood Kanye” really might be the Kanye that has been here all along. Every time someone calls for the old Kanye, he does something or records an album that is the complete antithesis of what he used to do. Could it be ego? Perhaps. Could it be that the old person is rooted in the person who he found council in? Could be. The bad moods are just amplified because the one person who served as his anchor is no longer here.
What many people love about the “new”, often volatile Kanye is repelling some of those people away from him. Every time MTV gives West five minutes to do whatever he wants, it’s not helping his cause. For example, Jay-Z, who West deems his big brother. Noticeably, their relationship has soured over the years and some people would point to the Graduation track “Big Brother” as a good reference point to see how shaky their relationship is. When I heard the last almost 10-minute diatribe that West engaged in on the Sacremento date of The St. Pablo Tour, it reminded me of the last song on Watch the Throne, “Why I Love You”. The paradox here is that they are both on the song, but the third verse is eerie when you listen to it now in retrospect.
“What do you do when the love turns to hate?
(Gotta separate from these f*ckin’ fakes)
Caesar didn’t see it so he ceased to exist
So the n*gga that killed him had keys to his shit.
Am I my brother’s keeper? (Only if that n*gga don’t creep up)
Got a pistol under my pillow (I’ve never been a deep sleeper)
(Cause the n*gga that said he’ll)
Blast for ya (is now) blastin for ya”
Taking a look at his catalog, this narrative has been apparent in West’s music for a little bit: a constant theme of running away from the lights and being adrift. “Lost In The World” off of 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy explains his search for some type of fulfillment. The Life of Pablo continues that journey of trying to find some sort of peace. While he may have obtained a sliver of this with his family, his mother is not physically here to see it and acknowledge it. “Hey Mama” gives an interesting perspective in retrospect, as he says, “And when I’m older, you ain’t gotta work no more / And I’mma get you that mansion that we couldn’t afford.”
When you think about it, it’s about every child’s dream. Kanye West obtained the goal of giving back to a loving parent. He obtained success and was able to share that with the woman that he endeared the most. In an interview with Q Magazine, West is quoted saying “If I had never moved to L.A. she’d be alive. I don’t want to go far into it because it will bring me to tears.”
The same fame that brought him joy — the driven nature of it has a duality of being destructive as every ounce of success he gets (clothing, music) — doubles as a reminder. A perfect metaphor of a double-edged sword.
There’s absolutely no timetable for the manifestation of grief. It’s like that old girlfriend that you just can’t get rid of. Once you think you’ve moved on, there will be a memory or semblance of something that can be a trigger. You never really get over the lost of a loved one. You just learn to live with it, like a boulder you have to carry or a scar that does not really heal.
This is just mere speculation within the recent outbursts and hospitalization that West has under gone. I recall seeing videos of the tour after 808s & Heartbreak was released and West breaking down after performing “Hey Mama”. Couple that with the almost unreal schedule that West has put himself through in recent years and you have a situation where things can combust.
Grief was something that I had to confront once my grandmother passed around this time last year. Experiencing grief does not make you weak. In fact, exercising it exhibits strength, but you have to stop running at some point. No matter how you may feel about Kanye West, we can all agree that we have lost someone. Here’s hoping West gets the rest and clarity he needs.
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