George Bush doesn’t care about black people. Those seven words, delivered by an agitated Kanye West, not only impelled the best holy shit I can’t believe he just did that look from Mike Myers, but were, as The Nation’s Mychal Denzel Smith noted, the “first relatable expression of black rage on a national stage.”
They came on Sept. 2, 2005, during the NBC special A Concert for Hurricane Relief—a live televised event raising money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Amid the cacophony of celebrity camera-mugging, media delinquency, and governmental neglect, West’s words cut through like a chainsaw; and, with YouTube less than four months old, became one of the first videos to go viral. Taken together with his pro-gay rights MTV interview one month prior, it also established West as one of the most exciting political voices of his generation.
But, as the celebrated poet and novelist Margaret Atwood once wrote, “Potential has a shelf life,” and if West’s pronouncements over the past calendar year are any indication, his cachet as firebrand has all but run out.
Over the course of the past two weeks, members of the musician-cum-fashion designer’s inner circle have become alarmed by West’s increasingly erratic behavior, from unprovoked emotional outbursts to signing merchandise with the signature “Trump.”
During one recent show, West announced to a shocked crowd that he “would have voted for Trump—if I voted,” before unleashing a patronizing mini-lecture directed towards the Black Lives Matter movement: “Specifically to black people, stop focusing on racism,” he said. “This world is racist, OK? Let’s stop being distracted to focus on that as much. It’s a fucking fact. We are in a racist country.” With anti-Trump protests underway mere blocks from the San Jose, California, concert venue, the crowd did not take kindly to West’s remarks, which were met with a chorus of boos, bottles, and merch set ablaze. If that weren’t enough, he doubled down on Saturday during a performance in Sacramento, California, airing out everyone from Beyoncé to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. “I’m on my Trump shit tonight,” he bellowed, before storming out after a grand total of three songs.
Following the twin outbursts—and subsequent backlash—West canceled the remaining 21 dates on his Saint Pablo Tour. Then, according to TMZ, West attempted to assault a staff member at his trainer Harley Pasternak’s home gym. He was carted off to UCLA Medical Center at the advice of his personal physician, reportedly suffering from “temporary psychosis due to sleep deprivation and dehydration.”
Who knows exactly why West canceled his tour, or why he visited the hospital. Perhaps he wishes to spend more time with his wife, Kim Kardashian, who suffered a traumatic robbery at gunpoint months earlier. Perhaps he’s been affected by the ninth anniversary of his mother’s passing on Nov. 10. Perhaps he is exhausted. Perhaps it’s none of these things.
In an interesting twist, however, the medical diagnosis may allow West to collect tens of millions in insurance money, reported TMZ. “Kanye had an insurance policy that covered him in the event illness prevented him from performing. The policy provides the insurance carrier will pay Kanye for not only the money he’d make but the money he was obligated to pay others if ‘accident or illness... prevents any Insured Person from appearing or continuing to appear in any or all of the Insured Performance(s) or Event(s),’” wrote the gossip site.
Earlier this year, West claimed to be $53 million in debt.
Does “sleep deprivation and dehydration” excuse an attempted assault, as reports have suggested occurred? Does it excuse him telling black people to “stop focusing on racism?” Does it excuse his support of Donald Trump, who has a four-decade career of discrimination against the African-American community, from his housing discrimination suits in the ’70s to his racist birther crusade meant to delegitimize the first black president?
What it certainly does not excuse is West’s bizarre behavior prior to the Saint Pablo Tour, such as back in February, when he took to Twitter to defend Bill Cosby, a man who’s been accused of sexual assault by over 50 women:
Or his continued support of Ian Connor, a stylist employed by West who’s been accused of rape by as many as seven women, and regularly harasses women on Twitter. West’s silence regarding the Connor allegations has been deafening.
West is a supremely gifted artist—one of the most important artists of his generation. And with much of the nation discouraged by the budding kakistocracy, West’s army of devoted fans needs their leader to be the courageous, powerful, righteous voice they know he can be.