It is impolite, unethical even, to armchair-diagnose anyone in the public eye with having a mental illness, mostly because of the stigma attached to being labeled “crazy.” (It has nothing to do with privacy laws, I’m sure.) But even if Kanye West does not have an official label he wants to share publicly, he is certainly acting like he’s riding the red dragon of mania. As such, covering his every action is exhausting, as is mania in real life for those who bear witness. Though so many have gleefully proclaimed Kanye “gone,” “traded” or “sunk,” because of my respect for psychiatric disability, Ye will continue to get a pass until he doesn’t (plus, he’s my favorite living artist). Regardless of his current mental state, the fact remains that Kanye West was hospitalized in November 2016 for a nervous breakdown. On Tuesday, coincidentally, the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month, Ye posted a link to a weeks-old video interview with nationally syndicated radio host Charlamagne tha God at this website.
In a very white, sparse Steve Job-esque space (much like the “not sunken place” Kanye recently showed on Twitter), the 40-year-old artist proved he is indeed the same wild, say-anything, “ESP—especially sensitive person” he ever was; as profound, as dumb, as forward thinking, as ignant. Although the most controversial line in an almost two-hour interview was Kanye saying he didn’t want Harriet Tubman on money because of slavery, West covered beef—from his issues with Nike (which didn’t want to give him a royalty on his shoes, but did give them to those stores that carried Yeezys); to his being “hurt” by both Barack Obama and Jay-Z (Obama, for calling him a jackass and a few other things; Jay, for not coming to his wedding and a few other things), how he lost his confidence, and fashion. But most profound for me was the way Ye and Charlamagne opened up a real space to talk about the triggers for mental illness and the ways in which black men, in particular, are navigating it. Kanye spoke openly of how the combination of touring four days a week, his wife being robbed at gunpoint after he left Paris, being “LeBroned” by the fashion industry for starting his 45 minutes late (if they didn’t know he was black before, they knew then) and his fears of getting old contributed to his breakdown. From the gate, Charlamagne delved right into Ye’s mental issues, what Kanye prefers to call “a breakthrough.” Charlamagne asked, “Mentally, how are you?” to which “the rapper” (a term Ye thinks white media uses pejoratively) replied: Ye: I think I’m in a stronger place than I ever was … after the breakdown, or I like to say the breakthrough. CTG:
What do you think caused the mental breakdown? Ye: Fear. Stress. Being in control. Manipulation …. Stressing things that create validation, that I didn’t need to worry about as much. You know, just this concept of competition. And being in competition with so many elements at one time. On a race against time, your age, ‘Oh, yo, you getting old,’ a race against popularity on the radio. Khalid got this song, Drake got this song on the radio, playing to death, “Saint Pablo” ain’t playing. Charlamagne pushed him, saying he has always created the flow, not gone with it. To which Ye replied: It was weird, I was looking at, you know, we’re doing St. Pablo [The Life of Pablo] and the cultural impact is incredible, but I’m looking for other forms of validation, when there’s other frequencies and other currencies. … But to put that same amount, if not more work into it … and being used to it being like Graduation, which was everywhere, it was frustrating. Charlamagne, who said that he went to therapy every Friday at 3, asked Kanye what he did for therapy, to which the rapper replied that he talks to his “friends for 45 minutes at a time” (he might wanna rethink that one). He also said he wanted to change the stigma around the word “crazy”.