Even for popular culture’s most magniloquent bomb thrower, the message seemed both heartless and off brand: “BILL COSBY INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!” Kanye West tweeted earlier this month, sparking a predictable firestorm of controversy.
The erstwhile Louis Vuitton Don provided no supporting evidence as to how he had come to repudiate public testimony by 50 women who have accused the embattled comedian of sexual assault. And unlike so many of West’s most celebrated Twitter tirades, it provided no clear sense of Yeezy in his default positions—as messiah or victim—or as the David Copperfield-like hero of his own life. But even while that shit was decidedly cray, we shrugged. It was, after all, just Kanye being Kanye.
Now, however, taken in conjunction with his acrid string of recent social media dust-ups—against Taylor Swift, Wiz Khalifa and Amber Rose, white publications writing about black music, and the athletic company Puma—as well as the announcement that the multiplatinum-selling rapper-producer-Auto-Tune enthusiast has gone $53 million in debt (resulting in a bizarre venture capital courtship of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg), even close friends are beginning to wonder if West is losing his grip on reality.
“My brother needs help in the form of counseling. Spiritual & mental,” West’s longtime collaborator Rhymefest remarked on Twitter recently. “He should step away from the public & yesmen & heal.”
The Chicago MC, who co-wrote West’s “Jesus Walks” and “New Slaves” but announced he has discontinued their working relationship, added, “I love my brother. I pray for his health not our entertainment.”
In the weeks leading up to West’s oft-delayed, multiply-renamed new album The Life of Pablo, he has seemed either unable or unwilling to differentiate between good attention and horrible publicity. Famously outspoken, the superstar’s trademark unabashedness has lately boiled over into sputtering rage tinged with self-delusion. And between his Yeezy Season 3 fashion show at Madison Square Garden, self-proclaimed financial distress, and the mounting expectation for an LP West himself has hailed as not just the album of the year but “the album of a life,” the pressure of the global spotlight may be getting to him.
Which goes some ways toward explaining West’s backstage tirade at SNL last week, made public thanks to a surreptitious recording obtained by Page Six. In the audio clip recorded after the Yeezus performer’s musical appearance on the show, he can be heard repeatedly shouting, “Don’t fuck with me!” and brands Swift a “fake ass” before settling into the truly delusional part: “Are they fucking crazy?” West asks of production staff who apparently moved his set without permission. “Whoa, by 50 percent [I’m more influential than] Stanley Kubrick, Picasso, Apostle Paul. Fucking Picasso and Escobar. By 50 percent, more influential than any other human being… By 50 percent, dead or alive. By 50 percent for the next thousand years. Stanley Kubrick, ‘Ye.”
The “fake ass” dig at Swift arrives as West’s second onslaught against her in as many weeks. First blood was drawn during his fashion show which also provided the public unveiling of Pablo, that includes the song “Famous”—lyrics for which rampaged across Twitter and dominated the 24-hour celebrity news cycle thanks to this infamous couplet: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? / I made that bitch famous.”
On Feb. 12, a spokesperson for Swift issued a statement saying West, 38, requested she share “Famous” on her Twitter feed. “She declined and cautioned him about releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message,” the spokesperson said.
Then, as Swift collected her Grammy for Album of the Year on Feb. 15, she utilized that time in the spotlight to take a thinly veiled swipe at West. “I want to say to all the young women out there, there are going to be people along the way who are going to try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame,” Swift said. “But if you just focus on the work an you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday when you get where you’re going, you’ll look around and you will know that it was you, and the people who love you, who put you there. And that will be the greatest feeling in the world.”
Such public acrimony also has a way of putting strain on matrimonial bonds. And according to a spate of recent reports, West’s wife of less than two years, Kim Kardashian, is none too happy about the sheer volume of his e-beefs.
“What causes friction in the marriage, however, is Kanye’s compulsive tweeting,” a source close to the couple told People magazine. “Kim can’t stand it. She is all for self-promotion but doesn’t approve of Twitter drama.”
Of course, in spite of his persona as a hothead and drama queen, West has concurrently cultivated a certain credibility as a master media manipulator—one whose anger has a funny way of helping his bottom line.
Dating back to the 2007 release of his album Graduation, the rapper-producer showed finesse turning spats into showcases for his unique brand of triumphalism. That year, he pushed Graduation’s release date up to coincide with the rollout for 50 Cent’s LP Curtis. And their “feud” spilled onto the cover of Rolling Stone magazine with Fif promising to retire if West’s album outsold his during their first week in release (The Vuitton Don clobbered 50 Cent 960,000 to 690,000, but Fitty still has yet to hang up the mike).
In 2010, in the lead-up to the release of West’s fifth studio album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, he picked fights with Walmart and SNL. And before the public could behold the transgressive musical stylings of Yeezus, Kanye raged against such hard targets as commercial radio, SNL (again), and late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, who had the temerity to spoof West’s incredibly self-serious BBC Radio 1 interview by casting a pair of kids to reenact it.
“JIMMY KIMMEL PUT YOURSELF IN MY SHOES… OH NO THAT MEANS YOU WOULD HAVE GOTTEN TOO MUCH GOOD PUSSY IN YOUR LIFE…” West tweeted at the host.
On Friday, Ye seemed to have quieted the raging id that can often dominate his social media feed. Setting his beefs aside for the moment, he tweeted a moody picture of a bird and a cute photograph of his daughter Nori with the caption: “My Heart.” Question is, for a guy who habitually uses mansplaining, ad hominem attacks, and Twitter tirades as cherished components of his album promotion cycle, when will West strike again?