Kanye Had a Plan
By Jenzia Burgos
I think of a younger Ye — hands in his pockets, fidgeting in front of a teleprompter. I think of the way his voice wavered, anxious breaths filling his words; his gaping eyes blinking at the camera. A nervous Ye, afraid to say what he was about to say on live television in 2005, but he’d say it anyway: “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.”
I think of the way he knew what he was doing, then. He had a plan. He always did.
* * *
Respectability was not a part of the plan. Kanye had no room for it, as those gentle sensibilities of the acculturated body — politeness, correctness, care, tact — are of relative uselessness to the Black body. Respectability: like giving up your seat on the bus for a white man; like Martin Luther King Jr., shot dead after leading with peace; like Philando Castile reaching for his driver’s license, shot dead, again. Just as the world refused to respect these men, Kanye would refuse to respect the world. He would grow to respect only himself.
“I’ma let you finish,” began his infamous upstaging of Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. “But Beyoncé has one of the best videos of all time. One of the best videos of all time!” he shrugged. Swift stood mortified in his wake, mouth agape, her brilliance publicly challenged for the first time. Yet America’s darling still won; not Ye, not Bey. And what she won then was not only some strange silver astronaut trophy — she especially won our empathy.
Kanye wanted this, too. Public empathy for himself, for Beyoncé, for scorned Black folks across his own Chicago, across the country. But this empathy, like respectability, is a myth. He would never see it offered to him.
* * *
Kanye, instead, saw hate. An endless, stinging barrage of it — Katy Perry levied a “FUCK U KANYE,” on Twitter; Amy Winehouse paused a concert to say, “At least I’m not opening for a cunt like Kanye;” South Park released a handful of episodes casting Kanye as the clueless butt of a national joke, eventually dragging his wife and dead mother into the mix. His own President called him a “jackass.” Kanye understood his place: “Lost in Translation with a whole fuckin’ nation / They say I was the abomination of Obama’s nation,” he rapped on 2010’s ‘Power.’ Three years later, he explained to Jon Caramanica for The New York Times that he still identified as an “anti-celebrity.”
I think of a younger Ye in Chicago, stumbling through academia under the pressures of his mother, an English professor at Chicago State. I think of his in-between-ness — not ‘hood, not a scholar, but something else entirely; always anti-something. How lonely this must have been; how lonely he still is, unable to ever escape this state. “I had a cousin that stole my laptop that I was fuckin' bitches on,” he admitted on 2016’s The Life of Pablo, “Paid that nigga 250 thousand just to get it from him.” I think of this betrayal, especially — how he saw it from his friends, his own family. How he saw it from all of us, too, with our vicious celebrity news cycle and cancel culture, to our continued profits off of Black suffering. This world betrayed Kanye long before he betrayed us.
* * *
He had a plan. The son of a Black Panther, born into activism, Ye was bred to save us. Yes, there is his Genius complex; some self-prophesized Messiah, our very own Yeezus to bring us salvation. He felt it to be his duty: “I think that’s a responsibility that I have, to push possibilities, to show people: ‘This is the level that things could be at,’” he said in 2013 profile for The New York Times. But that “level” — a kind of false posture of exceptionalism, of faith — is the stuff of fantasy. See, Kanye believed in a utopia that did not exist, that will never exist — one in which his Black body, and Black bodies like his, could transcend the bleak realities of their world. Some kind of solar plane beyond truth, a place where Kanye could be a God like Yeezus’ “I Am a God,” a place like the glorious “Ultralight Beam,” somewhere he “can feel safe” without racism, without hate. His plan was to bring us all there. “I’m trying to keep my faith,” goes the chorus, as though faith alone could get the job done.
It never does. Ye’s godlike conviction did not save him from mental anguish, from his wife’s robbery at gunpoint, from his Saint Pablo tour cancellation, from hospitalization, or from opioid addiction all within a three-week span in 2016. It did not save him from “fear, stress, control, being controlled, manipulation,” from feeling like “a pawn in a chess piece of life,” he said in an interview with Charlamagne tha God last May. It did not protect him from Donald Trump. Because faith — that benevolent trust in things — can grow twisted. It can be placed in the wrong hands.
* * *
It is faith nonetheless. Faith to guide a man who is grasping around for sense in a world that makes none. Faith to hold a head that is very publically ill — one who has admitted to having had a mental breakdown, to being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and to abusing his prescribed medication (“I took one pill in the last seven days,” he told Jon Caramanica last June.) Faith to blind him from the very reality he wants to forget: “You so famously, and so powerfully, said ‘George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.’ It makes me wonder, what makes you think that Donald Trump does?” Jimmy Kimmel asked Kanye last August. Ye gazed off, as if searching for his Ultralight Beam to save him.
Kanye had a plan, and then he didn’t. “This reality has been forced upon us,” he shouted during his TMZ fiasco last May. “It is a choice! Just like I said slavery is a choice. We can make our own reality,” he begged. He must have known, then: Trump does not care about Black people. But Kanye believed in the power of his unraveling mind to fix that. “I know I disappointed you today, brother,” he turned to Van Lathan in the TMZ newsroom, “I know I disappointed the Black community when I wore the hat.” But he promised: “It’s a bigger plan. I’m just doing what the universe told me.” If he imagined hard enough, if his faith was stronger than truth, could Kanye actualize a new world altogether?
I almost believed in the man. I almost believed his plan — a quasi friendship, a false support of Trump’s ideals, a public parade of the MAGA hat, all in an effort to build a relationship close enough to dismantle him in the first place. He was onto something, I thought, when he finessed Trump into supporting prison reform; when his wife pushed Trump to grant clemency to Alice Marie Johnson. For a brief moment, I felt myself holding Kanye’s faith — a wild faith that only another person of color could be so desperate, so tired, to trust. But Kanye’s plan — what he thought was a plan, what I foolishly wanted to be a plan, too — was never real: “My eyes are now wide open and now realize I’ve been used to spread messages I don’t believe in,” he wrote on Twitter at the end of October. ‘I am distancing myself from politics and completely focusing on being creative!!!”
It is for the best. Kanye is no Messiah, no God. He is only a man — one who needs to help himself before he can help the world.