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Fame, Fortune, and Kanye

FAME, FORTUNE and KANYE: Does becoming a celebrity change people?

Vivid memories of the old West

Watching this video of a 19-year old Kanye West spitting some major bars at the grand opening of Fast Beats back in ’96 (some of y’all were literal infants) reminds me of the old Kanye.

I remember when I was first introduced to the “college dropout” aka the Louis Vuitton Don in 2004, dressed in your finest Ralph Lauren polo, not Maison Martin Margiela and Givenchy.

There was something raw and innocent about this Kanye. Not to say that the transformation of Kanye West over the years from said college dropout to full on narcissist and “rap god” hasn’t been entertaining; it’s just tired. That being said, K. West’s talent has been completely overshadowed by his life choices and self-absorption. For Example: Once Kanye posed this question during one of his infamous all caps rants, concerned as to why haters were blocking his way – “WHY WON’T YOU LET ME BE GREAT?!” Apparently, we are getting in his way…

The Pursuit of “Greatness”

Amidst the chaotic struggle for fame, Mr. West may one day come to the deep realization that if he wants people to take him seriously, that hunger for the game and passion from 1996 has to reemerge.
His career has become about accolades (and making it very clear when he’s been “duped”), leather jogging pants, Vogue covers, Kardashians and PR stunts (hello Yeezus merch laced in confederate flags).

Not to say that expanding your horizons is bad, nor is having interests outside of music wrong – but sometimes it feels like fame strips away the very soul of an artist, leaving them to crave attention and notoriety by any means necessary.

The reality of fame and disillusionment

Something happens to celebrities when they reach the pinnacle of mega stardom. They get really freaking weird and start naming their children immediately regrettable names like Jermajesty, Mephis Eve and Apple. Or they head down the path of literal demise, consumed by drugs, sex, alcohol and arrogance. We’ve seen this happen to too many of our favorite artists and a high percentage of teen stars (think Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus).

Fame does funny things to people. It can make some feel invincible and others trapped in a strangle bubble of self-absorption –simply out of touch with reality and struck by amnesia, struggling to remember why they got in the game in the first place.

Being a public figure isn’t easy. They are automatically labeled a role model, with every move mapped by paparazzi. And you’re only as good as your last body of work, constantly being picked apart and scrutinized – held to the highest standard of human perfection. Because people will love you one day and leave you alone the next. We’re fickle like that.

Stardom and wealth can make or break people. And it’s sad to see some of the most talented lost in a sea of applause and flashing lights.

Checking our reflection in the mirror

Yet those of us a level or two below stardom are often no different. A little notoriety and suddenly our step is different and our shoulder more cold. We’re screaming, “No new friends” and giving folks that don’t fall in line the side eye.

Still, celebrity and fame and wealth don’t have to be curses. They can be the very tool and platform to reach new generations and actually help people. But in order for artists to do so, they’ll have to regain the same hunger for the game as they did the very first time they held a mic, not forgetting the past or losing their passion to notoriety.

More specifically, the Kanye West before fame, ego, and dolla dolla bills y’all, has been overshadowed, maybe even forgotten. And I wonder if I’ll ever see the old Kanye from 1996 again. Do people actually come back down to earth once they’ve reach the pinnacle of “success?” Can they?

I guess we’ll see. As Kanye so eloquently said in “Heard ‘Em Say”, “nothing is ever promised tomorrow or today.”

  • JayTekh

    Very Insightful. ‘Checking our reflection in the mirror’.
    It’s gonna take a miracle for the old Kanye we know to come back. Once you get there, you’re hooked ‘forever’. #KeepPrayingForKanyeWest – I like that phrase on most of JGivens old songs.

  • Karli Mullane

    My husband and I were just having this same conversation — I had “All Falls Down” playing in my car and we both agreed we like College Dropout Kanye better than ALL CAPS KANYE. He is extremely talented, it’s too bad he’s less known now for his songs than he is his antics.

  • http://andreyb.com Andrey Bulanov

    Excellent observations. As I read this post Lecrae’s Power Trip was ringin in my head.

    I grew up readin’ hip-hop magazines
    Double-XL got me wantin’ to excel
    They tellin’ me it ain’t hard to tell, I rock well
    And now with every sale I’m feelin’ my head swell
    Well, I’m a genius in my dreams
    Even if I was, it was stitched inside my genes
    I’m self-inflated, self-infatuated
    And somehow I convinced myself I finally made it
    The truth is I was made like the mob
    Geppetto put me together; my strings lead to God
    Pride come befo’ the fall, I seen it in the script

  • Vinny Lane

    I would have agreed a month or two ago but recently I sat down and listened to what Kanye West was saying and sadly – I think this article largely misses the point of his rants and what he is actually saying. I don’t agree with how he does everything but if you listen to how others in the industry speak of him and how he wants to push the envelope then maybe this article would be different. Sadly, this article sounds like most of the people that actually haven’t sat down and listened to what he is saying. I was one of them.

    • Tenika Small

      Thanks for your feedback Vinny and I respect your opinion. I definitely think he pushes the envelope. And I actually think he’s a genius – just questionable at times and his “persona” has overshadowed his music was really the main point of this article and that fame changes people. If we look at Kanye in the beginning and Kanye now – he doesn’t seem to have the same fire. Just my opinion.

      • Joshua Nwator

        But the question is “fire for what?”. He’s always been about fashion from a very young age, went to an art school and has put in, in his own words, the 10,000 hours it takes to master a craft for fashion. I don’t think the fire has changed it’s just redirected. People misunderstand Kanye when they don’t place him in reference to what he’s done musically. He has produced greatness consistently. Even on the one album (808s and Heartbreaks) that people said he may have fallen off, he laid down the blueprint for THE sound of our age and for one of the biggest artists (Drake) of our age. Even on the other album Yeezus, that people say they hate, it was rated the top album of the year by many sites and I think he’s just stepped into the future again with it. He’s frustrated because he only wants to make product that makes people feel good like with his music and he is being marginalized in the fashion industry even though he’s done as much as everyone there and went to the same prestige art school as them all. tbh, I bought into the egotistic “Kanye is an A Hole” media narrative until I watched his made in america show and then I re-watched his interview on the BBC everything he said made complete sense. “The higher I go, the less people like me I see” think Jay Z said something like that. There are many doors that are closed to black people that the majority of black people will never get to knock on so when someone who is in the position that Kanye is has the drive and commitment to excellence that it takes to break down these barriers then I for one think he should be congratulated.