Brilliant artist, part-time reality star, social media drama maker — Kanye West has people wondering what in the world has happened to him, and how his mental health is faring these days. From his diss tracks to his political tweets, Kanye never holds his thoughts back — but if often leads his fans to wonder: what is he really thinking?
In the past decade, the shine of Kanye has worn off. He has gone from lyrical genius always pushing the envelope of art to exclaiming how the MAGA hat makes him feel superhuman and ranting on Twitter. How could a man who wrote passionate lyrics about racism and the state of society end up crying in a bulletproof vest saying Harriet Tubman never freed slaves while he tries to run for president?
How could the take-no-prisoners rapper on the MTV VMA’s declaring that President Bush “didn’t care about black people” be the same man cozying up to one of the arguably most racist presidents in history?
Kanye has unfortunately come to be the example of black creative genius mixed with pop culture society — where artistic insight is confused for political expertise — and the murky, deep issue of mental illness in the spotlight.
What happened to “old” Kanye?
Marriage and Mental Illness
A few years after marrying Kardashian in 2014, Kanye was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2017. Kim has always been very protective of her children and Kanye’s situation, closely guarding their”right to privacy when it comes to his health — but has commented several times on Kanye’s mental health, posting on her Instagram that “anyone who has this or has a loved one in their life who does, knows how incredibly complicated and painful it is to understand.”
Bipolar disorder is often highly stigmatized and is often mocked in popular media and culture. Formerly called “manic depression”, it is characterized by shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, ability to concentrate, and struggling to carry out day to day life. Kardashian felt led to speak up “because of the stigma and misconception about mental health.”
“Those that understand mental illness or even compulsive behavior know that the family is powerless unless the member is a minor,” she posted to social media. “People who are unaware or far removed from this experience can be judgmental and not understand that the individuals themselves have to engage in the process of getting help no matter how hard family and friends try.”
There are currently three types of bipolar disorder with the diagnosis based mainly on the types of mood and their duration. Bipolar I is identified with shorter bursts of rotating manic/depressed episodes lasting at least seven days to two weeks, bi-polar II is identified with a pattern of the same revolving episodes but not featuring the ‘hypermania’ or bipolar I, and bipolar III (also known as cyclothymic disorder) is characterized by the longest-lasting cycles which can last years.
Kayne spoke candidly about his bipolar disorder in an appearance with David Letterman on the late-night show in 2019, likening it to a sprained ankle. “If someone has a sprained ankle, you’re not gonna push on him more,” he commented. “With us, once our brain gets to the point of spraining, people do everything to make it worse.” He also made mention of “enjoying the ramp-up” of his mania, that it made him feel “more connected with the universe”.
In Kardashian’s public address about Kanye’s mental state, she acknowledged a stinging bit of hypocrisy present in current culture: we often speak about giving grace and kindness in the face of mental illness and supporting those dealing with those issues but rarely do we practice what we preach and instead mock.
“We as a society talk about giving grace to the issue of mental health as a whole, however, we should also give it to the individuals who are living with it in times when they need it most. I kindly ask that the media and the public give us the compassion and empathy that is needed so that we can get through this. Thank you for those who have expressed concern for Kanye’s well being and for your understanding.”
Kardashian’s post was well-received, however, people continue to mock Kanye and call him out/respond to him on social media during his manic posting phases. While he does not often directly respond to those posters, it is clear from subsequent posts and videos that it does have an unfortunate effect on him.
In late 218, Kanye shut down his Instagram and Twitter accounts after a now-deleted meltdown only to reactivate them a week after. He went live on Periscope ranting about “mind control” and posting a recording session of a new album he was working on while in Uganda.
In July 2020, Kanye posted then deleted a series of tweets saying that Kardashian was trying to get a doctor to lock him up and alluded to if he was “locked up like Mandela” that [Twitter] “we would know why”
Twitter is initially where many of his friends and family figured out something was very, very wrong with Kanye’s mental health; with the speed of the screenshot button, even his penchant for deleting tweets after the mania subsides cannot wipe them from the memory of the internet.
Kanye and Politics
Many feel that Kanye is laying down his musical genius and throwing his hall of fame career into the trash by choosing to focus on politics instead of continuing on with the focus of his work being the recording industry. Kanye has won 21 Grammys on 68 nominations – and all for what at this point?
Even his political bid for president has been a manic, unorganized, incomplete scatter dream. According to The Post and Courier — Kayne did not even submit the paltry 10,000 signatures required to get on the South Carolina presidential ballot: By the time the deadline passed at noon, neither West nor any representative from his makeshift campaign had arrived to deliver the petition to the S.C. Election Commission, according to commission spokesman Chris Whitmire. No late registration will be allowed.
In every single state thus far that Kanye has attempted to register for a place on the ballot, he has not submitted the seemingly small signature requirements to be added, the processes started all across the nation in many states — but not completed.
There was hope when he initially announced his bid – hope for a Black man to stand up, be heard, be vocal, and be an advocate for the marginalized people in America. A chance for a man who was not a career politician to try to tackle the office — almost a reverse image of the current sitting president.
Instead of getting the Kanye that loudly and unapologetically stood up for the Black community through his platform, the world is getting a Kanye that says he shares “dragon energy” with President Trump, downplays the accomplishments of Harriet Tubman, and allying with the man who refuses to decry white supremacists a genius.
Without treatment for his illness and some self-reflection, Kanye’s musical legacy will unfortunately take a footnote to this.