I Used Kanye’s ‘Late Registration’ to Tell My Mama I’m Bipolar

By | Posted August 31, 2017
"The first time I told my mother, I didn’t use any words."
2017-08-31-kanye-west-late-registration-hey-mama
Photo Credit: John Wallace

Long before that “Lexapro” line on The Life of Pablo, which thrust his name into a tabloid cycle that perpetually dominated 2016, I saw hints of familiar lurking shadows in Kanye's life. During his infamous rant at A Concert for Hurricane Relief, the signs were there. It was like looking in the mirror.

I could see Ye’s mind moving just as clearly in that moment of anxious honesty as I could on any of his greatest works; eccentric and genius obviously, but troubled and strained and sometimes spread too thin.

The first time I told my mother, I didn’t use any words. My mom has struggled with depression her whole life and quips to my brother that it’s a family tradition. On the drive home following my last day of college, I could see she was concerned. She’d heard from my dad that my grades had slipped and that I couldn’t be troubled to give a fuck about much outside of California Grown and new guitar chords. To ease her anxiety, I put my hand on her shoulder and hit play on Kanye’s “Hey Mama” to fill the pregnant, stuffy San Jose air.  

My dear ma couldn’t tell you the difference between Kanye West and Machine Gun Kelly, but when you’re a mother, it’s impossible not to connect with "Hey Mama." When Ye raps, “Mommy Ima love you 'till you don't hurt no more,” I squeezed her hand, hugging her with my eyes. That wasn't the first time I turned to an artist that I admire to find a way to properly frame my emotions and it won’t be the last.

Neither of us knew then what I know now: I’m bipolar. Hypomanic with prolonged bouts of major depression, to be specific. At different points in my life, I’ve struggled to varying degrees to stay above water, and at times that’s required different forms of medication. One of those forms is music and no self-prescribed album has been more beneficial than Kanye’s most complete and powerful work, Late Registration. On my best days, I’ve replaced eating too many pills and drinking too many beers with an under-headphones Late Registration listening session.

Front to back, I consider Late Registration to be a perfect body of work. While the album houses countless hit singles (“Gold Digger” was the “Hotline Bling” of its time), all of which left their mark without requiring Ye to compromise his unique and masterful artistry, the heartfelt, soul dripping cuts, like “Roses” and “Late,” are what best showcase Kanye’s esoteric brilliance.

The balance that Kanye struck on Late Registration is the crux of my therapeutic relationship with Yeezy. Being hypomanic means that, sometimes, my brain is able to work incredibly efficiently and do shit that makes high school teachers suspect superpowers. However, it also means that if I’m not careful, I’ll stay awake for days, begin to hallucinate, and eventually black out while dead sober simply from an oversaturation of adrenaline. It’s a wild fucking ride.

When I get insomnia shakes and it’s two in the morning and I’m anxious and choking on my tongue and can’t focus on anything further away than the nearest pack of cigarettes in my jacket pocket and can’t think of how to a finish writing a story much like this one—which was turned in a day late—I run “Addiction” on repeat. Even with its deceptively quick tempo, the gorgeously layered classic is usually beating slower than my heart in those moments, and something about Ye’s construction of that powerfully rippling chord progression that forces my eyes to close and my body to be overcome by hot flashes.

I worship Late Registration for its balance because my brain chemistry means I inherently have none; I’m either Klay Thompson hot or colder than your favorite line from “Ether.” Being prone to major depression means that sometimes, my brain decides it needs to completely shut down. Quite often, I’ll sleep 15 straight hours or work the minimum required hours per day to pay my bills. In those moments, the lowest of the lows, I’m lucky to have people in my life that know it’s more helpful to bring me water and clean my bathroom than offer me advice.  

When I feel like I can’t feel anything, I stare at pictures of my family while “Roses” plays on a loop. Sometimes I still crush empty cans when the self-pity well runs dry and I don’t feel like snapping out of it, but these days, that defeatist liver poisoning ritual often includes me singing the chorus to “Bring Me Down.” When I’m ready to get moving again, it’s “Diamonds”—the Jay version, of course—and the irresistibly triumphant “Touch The Sky.”  

In Kanye, I see parts of myself; I can’t diagnose him as bipolar because I’m no psychiatrist, but I see the tendrils of a recognizable madness in many of my favorite pieces of his art. That and Kanye’s propensity for creating well-rounded albums are two of the biggest reasons why he’s so often my first choice when I reach for music that will center me.

Like so much of his incredible catalog, Kanye's Late Registration gives me hope. When I first watched the flat-out amazing and sadly slept on Late Orchestration, I spotted shades of my imbalance but only the best ends of my Grand Canyon wide mental health spectrum. His frantic speaking here doesn’t get in the way like it did post-Katrina, instead highlighting his authenticity in each of his glorious arrangements the serve as evidence of super powers.

If Kanye can do it, I tell myself every day that I can do it too. Until I get there, though, I’ll leave Late Registration on repeat.

As long as I’m listening to Ye, don’t worry about me.

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