The “old Kanye” is now so deep in our collective pasts that he feels like an apparition. The slightly awkward, daringly confident, supremely talented beat maker and the kind-of okay, emotionally-charged emcee was put on blast on Friday, May 25 for his failure to keep up with the Chicago charity bearing his mother’s name. Donda’s House Inc. was the collective vision of himself, his friend and co-writer (mostly just writer, some say) on The College Dropout‘s “Jesus Walks,” Rhymefest (real name Che Smith), and the organization’s Executive Director Donnie Smith.
According to the statement that got us into this mess: “In December of 2011, Rhymefest, Donnie Smith, and Kanye West came up with the idea to create Donda’s House Inc., a foundation to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Donda West by supporting Chicago’s young creatives.”
Everything was all good, we’d like to think, before then. But storms don’t just come barrelling out of the blue. They have a trajectory. Their mitigating factors are a palimpsest, written over and over on conditions that allowed them to spring forth before. Such was the weather this time, as it seemed an issue warmed in a kettle had finally come to a boil, leaping into the spring air as a statement on Kanye’s recent proclamations. “Over the last few months due to Kanye’s statements and tweets, we have fielded requests for interviews and statements,” the letter said, snarling. “While we cannot and do not speak for Kanye West and his views, we can and will speak up for the youth that we serve. We ask that those who feel hurt, angered by or frustrated with Kanye West not penalize or throw away their support, respect and advocacy for us.” Hmph.
Maybe this is how it slows down for Ye, his friends slowly feeling betrayed and worn down by both what he does and doesn’t do.
Some have called West’s recent jaunt with conservatism performance art. Which has to lead me to ask what exactly “performance art” is really, because it doesn’t feel like the kind of slap-dash thing you can simply attach to a set of ideas or behaviors happening in front of you. But this is where we are in the world, where we must ask ourselves what is true and what is not constantly, since our artists, politicians, athletes, social media influencers, and whomever the hell else want to parade themselves in front of their audiences as meta symbols of some grander, neo-idealistic notion. Of which they certainly are not, usually. And of which Kanye West is not, in particular. Since his rise was a monolith jutting suddenly out of the ground to engulf us with an eerie authenticity; an emotional honesty that was all but impossible to get from “gangsta rap,” though we love it so. This sincerity carried West, braced him on the shoulders of the people who watched him, rapt, carry on about issues in Blackness and the wider world that were all but ignored by the sprezzatura of the gangsta era. As OutKast exited the stage and Andre 3000 dimmed into an airy malaise, West filled a void that exploded into an outpouring of similarly tinged emotionality.
His celestial effect on music has given him an outsized effect on everything else. But it’s home, it seems, that he has not been in a while. And then Kim Kardashian-West, his wife and princess of the Kardashian empire, joined the fray. First, this haymaker about Rhymefest getting kicked out of the studio in Hawaii while wearing fake Yeezy’s.
She continued on at a dizzying, downhill pace, her two ski poles at 90-degree angles at her back, typing furiously about Smith’s inability to keep the foundation going by his lonesome. She alluded to the idea that West hadn’t made a financial commitment to the organization he and his mother created, she said, called “Loop.” That it was Smith, who was misrepresenting himself in all this, and dubiously timed at that, to start a fuss. Rhymefest, of course, responded in kind.
In a separate memo, he let loose. Said they were dropping West’s mother’s name from the awning. That he’d let us all know what his next steps were.
But there were separate allusions made as well. Namely, that West asked Smith to meet him at the studio in Wyoming and that West asked him to be there to help work on the upcoming album. On Drake’s diss record to Pusha T, “Duppy freestyle,” he tells us he’s done things for West that he thought he’d never need. He tells us he’d just left from West’s studio where he was penning for him. All this pulp in the middle of our glass like so much raw juice.
So Drake’s revelation would be the second time, now, that West has been admonished for his usual music-as-group style, where everyone meets at the studio like the Breakfast Club but rap. And it gives you the impression that everything may actually just be scaling downward. Even though Daytona received the highest critical praise of Pusha T’s career, and even though West claims to be at the zenith of his ability. Like maybe this is how it slows down for Ye, his friends slowly feeling betrayed and worn down by both what he does and doesn’t do.
As Drake spits, “Y’all are the spitting image of whatever jealousy breeds” to team G.O.O.D Music, and a close friend all but shuts the door on what was a fruitful partnership, it feels like the “old Kanye” won’t be coming out to play anytime soon. Even with this, the most damning line of the letter. “Dr. Donda West’s motto and our motto at Donda’s House is “share your truth,” so today, we are electing to do just that,” the letter says. But who even knows what’s true anymore?