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01st May 2018

“Wake up Mr. West!” An open letter to Kanye West, with love

Will Lavin

Dear Mr. West,

Let me start off by saying I love you, like so many do. 

Hopefully that sentiment resonates deep with you, especially being you’re currently preaching a lot about love – no doubt following in the footsteps of your good friend Diddy, who at this point I actually think has renamed himself for the millionth time, now simply going by ‘Love’. But I digress.

You don’t know me, but I know you. In fact we’ve been in a lot of the same spaces without ever actually talking. 

I was backstage for the Manchester leg of your Watch The Throne tour with JAY-Z in 2012 – I was a guest of Young Guru’s. You walked passed me in the hallway surrounded by minders so there was no opening for me to approach you and introduce myself.

In the years that followed I was also backstage for a couple of your solo London shows as a guest of Mike Dean, who I know is someone you hold in high regard. I met your boy Hip Hop as well as Mano, your DJ at the time. I think it was at one of these shows that I met Mos Def for the first time too.

But way before all of that, before I started working in the music industry, I was a fan. I was a fan of you, a fan of your music and a fan of your passion.

Remember your first UK headline show? I do because I was front row after queuing all day to get in, to get a glimpse of you in a live setting. It was at the Kentish Town Forum in May of 2003 – I still have my ticket stub from the gig. In fact, thinking about it it’ll be 15 years to the day in three weeks.

John Stephens was your backing pianist and wasn’t known to the world as John Legend yet. Miri Ben-Ari blessed the stage with her violin skills and Dame Dash was there brandishing the biggest bottle of vodka this 20-year-old had ever seen at that point. I can’t quite remember if Biggs was in the building but there were so many people on the stage that he could well have been.

Another thing I remember is how late you were to the stage, you kept us waiting until around 10:30pm, I think. But that didn’t deter me or the rest of the crowd. We knew you were worth waiting for.

I also remember having an advanced copy of The College Dropout – I’m pretty certain I still have it somewhere – it featured the original version of “All Falls Down” complete with Lauryn Hill’s sampled vocals. It also had “Keep the Receipt” on it with O.D.B. (R.I.P.).

I say all of that to say this: I’m more than just a fair-weather fan. I like to think I have a vested interest in you, your well being and your creative output. So what I’m about to say comes from a place of love and somewhere where your music has held a special place for a very long time. 

So here goes…

What have you done with the real Kanye West?

It’s like we’ve been duped. Remember when there were rumours that Michael Jackson was replaced with a clone? Yeah, it feels like that’s happened to you. Instead of Mr. Hyde we now have Dr. Jekyll.

It’s times like this that we need the “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” Kanye West, the outspoken Kanye West who isn’t afraid to speak up for his race, his community, the disenfranchised. Where has that guy gone? That big mouth that has gotten you in so much trouble in the past for supporting the causes that make the far right wing uncomfortable, we need it back to fight today’s battles.

Do you not see the hundreds of unarmed black men and women being gunned down in the streets by law enforcement and it being deemed legal and an act of self defence? Do you not see the marches? Do you not feel something for your own community? I know you posted a tweet bashing President Obama and the fact that you think Chicago didn’t change one bit for the good during his administration, but c’mon now, you don’t really mean that. Do you?

When was the last time you visited Chicago? Because while you’re living in your ivory tower somewhere in L.A. – in a house that has beautiful halls by the way if your tweet about not being in a sunken place is anything to go by – according to those with boots on the ground in Chicago, a lot has changed. Have you not seen the work your friend Chance The Rapper has been doing? I know you have because you made a surprise appearance at his Coloring Day festival in 2016.

Now don’t get wrong, it would be super hypocritical of me to sit here and tell you that you have no right to say what you’re currently saying, support who you’re currently supporting, or that you’re just plain wrong. I’m a huge advocate for freedom of speech, it’s one of the beautiful things about this world. We all think differently and we all act differently, which is actually what got you here in the first place.

And the vehicle in particular that got you here, Hip Hop, it’s one of the biggest champions of free speech on the planet. You only need to look at Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé, J. Cole, Logic and Rapsody from today’s crop of artists, as well as the likes of Public Enemy, Brand Nubian, A Tribe Called Quest, Talib Kweli, Ice Cube, Queen Latifah and more from the older generation, to see how important Hip Hop culture and its music is to the world.

Hell, N.W.A. even had a song called “Express Yourself”. So go ‘head Kanye and talk that talk.

But let me say this, the ideology you’re championing and the man you’re currently supporting is dangerous. What part of white supremacist sympathiser do you not understand? What part of sexist bigot doesn’t compute with you? What part of trigger-happy political tyrant are you not accustomed to?

Because these are all things that Donald Trump is. So when you wear a hat that reads: “Make America Great Again” this is what you’re endorsing. And we know you’re not a white supremacist sympathiser. We also know you’re not a sexist bigot, even if rap at times does endorse sexist behaviour. And a trigger-happy political tyrant? If you are one of those then I’ve definitely addressed this letter to the wrong person.

In “Jesus Walks” you spit the line, “God show me the way because the Devil try’na break me down.” Do you know who that Devil is? It’s Donald Trump, Agent Orange, Rocket Man, Adolf Twitler, whatever you want to call him. 

And while I’m not God, I certainly want to show you the way.

Now I’m all for artistic freedom and embracing where you are in life – that’s what makes an artist an artist – but did you know you’re a superhero to many? Forget Thor. Forget Ironman. Forget Batman. Forget Flash. Forget Black Panther. To many you’re the one that’s figuratively been wearing a cape for over 15 years. You’ve shown people with no hope that there is hope. You’ve inspired the uninspired. You’ve sparked that light in those whose brightness was buried so deep they didn’t even know it existed.

2Pac once said, “I’m not saying I’m gonna rule the world, or I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.”

You have that same potential. You want to “Make America Great Again”? You can help do that by using your art to inspire the next great mind, the next genius, and it might not even be in music. It might be in fashion, it might be in politics, it might be in science, it might even be in human behaviour, because you are an interesting study Mr. West.

They say that every genius has a bit of crazy in them. Just look at Einstein. Prince. Michael Jackson. So perhaps you fall into that category, I mean I look at you like a genius. Your tenacity and passion got you here. Bending the rules and not backing down got you here. Geniuses are those willing to go to places others don’t, and that’s you.

But I think it’s more that you’re lost than crazy. Like Dave Chappelle once said, calling someone crazy is dismissive. We need to look at what’s going on around you, your environment, the people you’re associating yourself with. What is going on with you Kanye?

Do you have too many ‘yes’ men around you? Is nobody checking you? Because at least someone like T.I. is willing to not give up on you and even go toe to toe with you on your recent song “Ye vs. the People”. It’s good to keep people like him in your corner because he’s experienced a lot. He’s made his mistakes and he’s learnt from them.

Over the years I’ve watched you gradually fall apart publicly and it’s affected your art. At first I understood, you lost your mother and I can’t even begin to imagine what that’s like. And I’m also not going to sit here and tell someone when they should be ready to stop grieving, but this is where people that care about you come in. Where’s the support? Where’s the people taking your phone out of your hand?

Your recent tweets sound like regretful booty call text messages. It’s at this point you should be swearing you won’t ever drink again and it’s at this point you start looking for an app that won’t let you send late night texts without taking a breathalyser first – I joke but I can’t help it if that’s what it feels like.

Now this could all be some elaborate plot to promote your upcoming albums. It could be a case of “to troll or not to troll.” But if that is what’s happening let me ask you this, is alienating yourself from a race, from a following, from a fan base, and from your friends really worth it? Really think about that, let it marinate.

If the articles online about you losing a chance of high-profile followers is in fact true – I’m talking Justin Bieber, The Weeknd, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande, Rihanna, 2 Chainz, Harry Styles and more – then is that not a wake up call that you’re losing your grip, your grounding?

Now I can accept losing a few friends along the way. We all outgrow people. It’s happened to me and it’s happened to many others. But this is a huge chunk all at once. Alarm bells should be ringing. These are not your ‘yes’ men, they’re your friends, listen to them. Them unfollowing you is a message.

You even had Questlove, probably one of the nicest and most genuine men in music, rocking a t-shirt that read: “Kanye doesn’t care about black people” in the same font style as one of your recent fashion collections. This is Questlove! QUESTLOVE! 

And again, if this is an attempt at formulating a buzz to promote your new music you don’t have to. Unlike many of today’s “artists” who need gimmicks and “2Pac was wack” comments to get people talking about them, you actually make great music, let that speak for you.

Kanye, let me reiterate that this message is coming from a place of love, because we do love you, but right now you need some tough love.

Do you think Donald Trump loves you? Up until you started showing support for him he didn’t a fuck about you, it’s all been an act. Anyone that disagrees with him he trolls, he bashes, he berates. And this is the same man with the power to push a button and start the next World War. Is this really who you want to align yourself with? You’re a puppet to him, he thinks you will help his approval ratings because he deems you ‘cool’.

I will leave you with this, what do you think Michael Jackson would say if he were here today? I know he’s your idol so hopefully it would prompt more than a quick dismissal. Did you not listen to “They Don’t Care About Us?” 

And while I don’t want to bring up your mother, I know you were very close with her so her opinion would have counted. We all think about what those closest to us would think, even if we claim that we don’t care what ANYONE thinks. So, what would your mother say? 

Like the late great Bernie Mac (or DeRay Davis in this case) said on the intro to your sophomore album, Late Registration

“Wake up Mr. West.”

Sincerely yours,

A fan who cares.