by Marlos Costa Santos
I don’t know how to feel about Kanye West. He supports Bill Cosby’s “innocence”, denying the claims of dozens of victims. He continually objectifies women in new and exciting ways, slut-shaming his exes while calling himself conscious. He even refers to himself as a genius in the third person. In short, he can be an asshole. Despite that, while sitting through yet another mediocre episode of SNL, I was deeply moved by his performance. So moved in fact that I had to stop watching the show and start writing about the experience I had just had.
During the 5-minutes “Ultra Light Beam” was on, I was utterly transfixed. On a dark stage dyed in the glow of an 8-bit vanilla sky the performance was a god dream, complete with the spiritual power of the choir beneath it. Kelly Price assuaged our fears of darkness and persecution through her prayers for the light. Chance the Rapper, was so intense in-verse that he didn’t just spit fire, he seemed to walk through it. All of this under the continual hymn of The-Dream: “I’m trying to keep my faith, but I’m looking for more.” All at once I had felt the beauty and tragedy of blackness in America.
Contrasting the booming pretentiousness of “Highlights,” in which Kanye references putting a GoPro on his dick and responds to some useless feud with Ray J or something, I was given a glimpse at who Kanye is. Lost in the labyrinth of celebrity life and desperately seeking to redeem his own humanity, he too misses the old Kanye. The conscious Kanye. The black star college dropout Kanye who used to rap about the psychological slavery attached to blind consumerism. He wants to be saved, and tragically the only way he can find the will to do it is through a mock baptism of LED lights and an audience of millions. There can be no quiet in his spirituality, and no peace in his prayer. But like the Christ he sacrilegiously fashions himself after in movement and speech, he has to sacrifice his own soul so that we can feel in some way transcendent.
Looking at Kanye you can’t help but imagine that he might be manic. He’s prone to wild outbursts, and not just at the Grammys. Even in tamer interviews, you often can see him fluctuate between states of excitement and general melancholy. Being manic and having access to money and fame must be extremely difficult. After all, this world is rife with examples of talented people whose personalities appear to fracture and crumble under the weight of celebrity. They appear lose touch with the peace that comes with anonymity and the beauty of human struggle. And as much as it may make his life more difficult, being black might be the thing that saves Kanye.
As rich and famous as he might be, his connection to a people who have been systematically oppressed in America will always be an inescapable part of his identity. He’ll never be post-black. His own past experiences with racism, and the way he is treated in the media will always remind him of that. But maybe it this connection to the struggle that will ground him to the rest of humanity. Maybe it will pull back the old Kanye from the clutches of celebreality. Maybe we may yet witness the beginning of that with “The Life of Pablo” and ultimately the redemption of Kanye West.