It’s been a strange 12 months for Hot Press Man of the Year, Kanye West. Ed Power looks back at 365 days of heartache, scandal and sublime art from a troubled superstar.
It was the mic drop heard around the world. “Get ready to have a field day, press…’cos the show’s over.” With those words, on November 19 last Kanye West exited the stage at Sacramento’s Golden 1 Centre, less than half-an-hour into a sell-out concert.
As boos and chants of “fuck Kanye” rang out, fans may have wondered if what they were seeing was real or some bizarre farce. The superstar rapper had arrived 90 minutes late and performed just three songs before embarking on one of the surreal rants that have become a Yeezy trademark. It was the worst sort of pinch yourself moment.
Several nights previously, 39-year-old West had similarly goaded a crowd in San Jose – declaring that, had he taken the time to vote in the recent Presidential election (which he obviously hadn’t), his preference would have gone to Donald Trump. As footage of the tirade circulated on social media, there seemed a very real danger of the internet spontaneously combusting.
However, that earlier scandal was quickly eclipsed by the Sacramento walkout and the follow-up announcement that West had been admitted to hospital having suffered “temporary psychosis” (the breakdown triggered, it was whispered, by unresolved grief over the 2007 death of his mother). West was discharged from UCLA Medical Centre on November 30. Yet, with his touring schedule on indefinite hold, his mental health remains a matter of conjecture. What an extraordinary conclusion to a year in which one of the most intriguing musicians of his generation has progressed from hero to villain, before finally becoming an object of sympathy and fascination.
Why is Kanye our “Man of 2016”? Because, for good or ill, this was a seismic 12 months for the rapper, whose rise and tumble earthwards serves as an almost-too perfect metaphor for the fall-out that can result when art and celebrity collide.
The irony, of course, is that, even as his world crumbled at the edges, Kanye was reaching new heights as an musician. The tour which ended so abruptly in Sacramento had been widely praised as ground-breaking and provocative. Kanye drifted above the audience on a suspended stage – a framing that allowed him to get closer to his fans even as it offered a commentary on the impossible distance between punter and celeb (who really do seem to float high above the rest of us).
The setlist, meanwhile, was dominated by material from his extraordinary seventh album, The Life of Pablo. The project needed all the love Kanye could lavish up it. In February he had almost derailed the release of the record with the inclusion of a provocative lyric about on/off frenemy Taylor Swift.
“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex,” rhymed the married father of two. “Why? I made that bitch famous.” Pouring fuel on a conflagration already threatening to burn to the ground any goodwill towards the LP, he would later insist Taylor had approved the incendiary rhyme. In the follow-up video, he even cast a naked body double of the singer and other celebs (including George Bush and Rihanna). Yeezus Christ – what was going through his head?
“I think Kanye West has been a bit dodgy lyrically for awhile,” says Steven Grainger, the DJ and clubbing impresario who welcomed Kanye to his Pavilion venue in Cork for an unscripted collaboration with NASA in 2009.
“It cast a shadow over both [2013’s] Yeezus, and Life Of Pablo, two sonically excellent collections which suffered from rushed, lazy and often puerile lyrics. He’s possibly not well and he’s always been misunderstood too, which has got to him. 808s and Heartbreak, his record from 2008, got panned on its release. However, it ended up influencing a lot of the best new wave and electronic music of the last few years.”
In parallel with art that jackknifed from sublime to the sorriest kind of surreal, Kanye was negotiating the sharp end of the celebrity industrial complex. In October he cancelled several concerts after his wife, Kim Kardashian, was robbed at gunpoint in Paris where she was attending fashion week (she may, in retrospect, have regretted flaunting her $4 million diamond ring on Instagram). There was further controversy as he hosted a “multiracial only” casting call in New York for his Yeezy fashion show, with some commentators arguing “multiracial” was merely a polite way of saying “no blacks allowed”.
“Kanye has a bit of a chip on his shoulder,” says Grainger. “Occasionally that is justified – for instance, though hip hop artists grab loads of Grammys, it’s generally only in niche areas and not the bigger categories. That said, rambling about Donald Trump etc seems a bit over the top. He’s a clever artist but since his mother died he appears to be going through some sort of personal turmoil.“
West is the highest profile rapper yet to publicly struggle with mental health and his hospitalisation has reopened the conversation about hip hop, machismo and the social deprivations that begat the genre.
“We have to look to the origins of hip-hop to really understand how much mental health has always been at its core,” write Cambridge academics Dr Akeem Sule, a consultant psychiatrist, and Dr Becky Inkster in Hip Hop Psych, their recent study of the relationship between rap music and depression.
“It developed in the mid ’70s in the South Bronx, where gangs were roaming the streets, there was a drug epidemic, there was extreme poverty, a housing crisis. You throw in absent fathers, losing family to crime, people with no support; all those are ingredients for mental health problems. There was this very masculine culture of hip hop where you had to be resilient and you couldn’t show any signs of weakness,” said Sule and Inkster in their fascinating study.
“While the lyrics spoke of mental health problems covertly, there was a stigma, particularly with the black mean living in these communities where rap and hip hop was emerging from, about saying outright ‘I have depression’ or addressing mental health issues.”
Kanye, it may be argued, has changed the dialogue about hip hop and mental health – another reason why this confounding, inspiring, deeply troubled individual is our man of 2016.
Bringing you some of the biggest "what ifs"...Read More
An investigation into West’s alleged drug use has been running for nearly a year.Read More
John Legend, Questlove, and Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson have spoken out against Kanye's friendship with Trump.Read More
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump met the rapper yesterday at Manhattan's Trump Tower and sparked rumors about the encounter.Read More
The visit has sparked rumours that Kanye will be performing at the inauguration.Read More
Fans and celebrities alike send their well-wishes to the hospitalized American rapper.Read More
Kanye West was forcibly taken to hospital for his own safety after suffering a "psychotic breakdown", according to US media reports.Read More
It seems Snoop Dogg doesn't know what Kanye's talking about either.Read More
The move follows the robbery of his his wife in ParisRead More
Ye gives in to join social media siteRead More
Unfortunately, things didn't go to plan for the wannabe spidermanRead More
The much-rumoured Yeezy/Drizzy looks to be a goRead More
West/Hova 2020?Read More
Mr. West hints at a collaborative project due for releaseRead More
"I am so glad my wife has Snapchat"Read More
Taylor nemeses unite?Read More
On what would have been her 67th birthdayRead More
Video now has at least one famous fanRead More
As well as rapper, you can now refer to Kanye West as the biggest non-athletic endorser of the sport clothing world.Read More
Ever since debuting this past weekend, Kanye West's 'Famous' video has been a constant source of controversy.Read More
For reference, that’s twenty minutes longer than Yeezus .Read More
The rapper added a new six minute track to The Life Of Pablo last night.Read More
It's an ever-expansive career that Kanye has moulded out for himself.Read More
"What's the point of thinking," says Yeezy during another surreal interviewRead More
The up-and-coming rapper teams up with Chi town's finestRead More
The rapper is back stealing the microphone from peopleRead More
The Life of Pablo is now available on several streaming sitesRead More
The concert took place at the Aratani Theatre in Los Angeles on SaturdayRead More
Yeezy tries to take on the Odd Future frontmanRead More
The Chicago-born rapper is planning to run for office in 2020Read More
The rapper's latest LP has widely been illegally downloadedRead More
Kanye-“I guess in a media world where you never hear the truth, the truth can come off as crazy”Read More
It seems the star always had high notions of himself rapping, "Nothing less could come from West"Read More
Last week Kanye West tweeted Mark Zuckerberg requesting him to call him and now it seems that he may have respondedRead More
Yeezy says publications like Pitchfork, The NY Times and Rolling Stone cannot understand where his music is coming from and so shouldn’t commentRead More
As if Wu-tang Clan’s record wasn’t enough for the CEO, he now wants to stop The Life of Pablo from ever being releasedRead More
The latest victim of the Yeezy Twitter machine was rapper Wiz Khalifa.Read More
Rapper pulls the switcheroo with release imminentRead More
With Cineworld as the partner, Dublin is in on the funRead More
Yezzy may be finito with his latest record, but he's keeping modest about it, humbly describing it as the "best album of all time".Read More
There's also Bowie love from The Boss, Robbie Williams & Rufus Wainwright!Read More
After three years of waiting, Yeezy's track finally sees the light of day.Read More
'No More Parties In LA' is a tune begging for repeat listensRead More
Bill Cosby, Nike and Kim Kardashian all get mentionsRead More
Kanye West received the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at last night’s MTV Video Music Awards, and that the award was presented by West’s infamous interruption victim Taylor Swift wasn’t the most surprising aspect of the segment. After a lengthy speech, West shocked the audience by announcing that he's running for president in 2020.Read More
Kim Kardashian got the selfie "she wanted"-almost!Read More
Kanye West has labelled Caitlyn Jenner's gender transition as "one of the strongest things that have happened in our existence"Read More
Following South Carolina church shooting, West speaks out against the terror of racism in the URead More
Things have certainly changed...Read More
The Chicagoan star's seventh album will be entitled So Help Me God.Read More
The last time the rapper met Lowe, it caused headlines around the world.Read More
The new song he performed, 'All Day', is set for Yeezy's next album.Read More
Kanye's solo turn on 'Only One' was followed by a group effort on 'FourFiveSeconds'.Read More
A (half) joking reference to his 2009 interruption of Taylor Swift's MTV VMAs speech last night.Read More
Rihanna has unveiled 'FourFiveSeconds' online.Read More
The Beatle sings and adds organ to West's tribute to his daughter North.Read More
Another set from a superstar in Time Square.Read More
'Yellow Flicker Beat' features on the new Hunger Games soundtrack.Read More
"Coinye" was the name taken by the crypto currency.Read More
Kanye discussing the relationship between brands and consumers on the internet...Read More
West explained how Samsung lead the way for Apple's monster Beats deal.Read More
The in-demand, distinctively bearded producer has confirmed his involvement on West's forthcoming seventh LP.Read More
The short film uses archived footage to give an image to West's recent interviews.Read More
The full version of 'God Level' will feature contributions by Hudson Mohawke, 88 Keys, Mike Dean and Noah G.Read More
Hip hop and nu soul fans are in for a treat on July 2 when not one but two superstars of the genre join forces for a Marlay Park gig.Read More
The Roots and Charlie Wilson also joined in on 'Bound 2'.Read More
We now have the final, official version.Read More
Earning his croissants...Read More
The Velvet Underground icon given his review of Kanye West's latest offering.Read More
Let us know your thoughts on Mr West's dark album...Read More
Get this man a croissant! The razor-tongued king of controversy has created one of the most fascinating hip hop LPs of the year...Read More
Mr. West has unveiled a promo clip for Yeezus.Read More
He played songs from Yeezus at the Governor's Ball.Read More
The star offered up two new tracks on the season finale of Saturday Night Live.Read More
Kanye rounds up posse for cameo-stuffed mix tapeRead More
'White Dress' is taken from the soundtrack of The Man With The Iron Fists.Read More
It's taken from his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy albumRead More
'H.A.M' is the first cut from Watch The ThroneRead More
High prince of bad taste delivers unexpected meisterworkRead More
George W. Bush in his upcoming memoir Decision Points said Kanye West's racist claim was his lowest moment as PresidentRead More
The rap superstar replaces the bottom row of his teeth with diamondsRead More
He has also confirmed the release dateRead More
After finishing up his own show in Cork, he made a special appearance at The Pavilion tooRead More
He's also set to cameo in a Family Guy spin-off.Read More
Messianic rapper Kanye West has survived grief and heartbreak to expands pop parameters on his new release.Read More
It's all glitz and glam on the intergalactic set of this lackluster performance, but the music manages to save the night.Read More
The famously egotistical Kanye West talks about storming the MTV awards and his synth-happy new album, 808s and Heartbreak.Read More
Outspoken US rapper Kanye West is to visit Ireland for two headline shows this November.Read More
West crosses genres with wilful and speedy abandon, taking the listener on an epic quest where the journey is just as enjoyable and unpredictable as the destination.Read More
Kanye West is the latest superstar to confirm a visit to the Phoenix Park Marquee.Read More
The night’s undoubted highlight is ‘Gold Digger’ which, combined with an apoplectic crowd and an eye-popping lighting display, reaches an apogee that maybe only Kanye can attain.Read More
He's the hottest thing in rap. Now Kanye West is coming to Cork.Read More
The hip-hop superstar has announced he will play a second date in Ireland this summer.Read More
Kanye West is the latest addition to the Cork Live At The Marquee bill.Read More
The current perceived wisdom on hip-hop is that (a) no-one makes decent albums anymore, (b) the gangster culture and it’s huge mainstream success has left it a joyless, soulless beast with no social conscience, and (c) it makes for a crap gigging experience. The word on Kanye West is that he is the one who could change all that.Read More
The man with the Midas touch of hip-hop, Kanye West, has announced a return to Ireland at the start of next year, as part of his European tour.Read More
The stage is well set for the entrance of Kanye West, who seems to have made the transition from producer to star performer with few growing pains. Having crafted beats for the likes of Jay Z and Alicia Keys, the Chicago native’s debut album College Dropout has lead to his new role behind the mic becoming a very successful one indeed.Read More
Stuff that aint true ...Read More
Kanye West enetrtains his newfound Irish fans at the Point Theatre this NovemberRead More