What does it mean to be a fan of an artist? On a base level, we become fans of artists mainly because we enjoy the art they create. Whether it’s music, film or literature, we find something pleasing to the ears or eyes and decide, “I like that.”
There are artists, however, that forge a much deeper connection with their fans. Not only is this where some of the best art comes from, it usually fuels the most sustainable artistic careers. Kanye West is undoubtedly one of these artists and has built the majority of his career off of a (among other things) to-a-fault honesty in his art.
Vulnerability and honesty are two of an artist’s greatest assets, but those qualities can backfire just as easily as they succeed. It's something we've seen countless times throughout Kanye’s career, most recently during a poorly-received rant during the Sacramento stop of his Saint Pablo Tour.
During the rant, Kanye lashed out at frequent and longtime collaborator Jay Z as well as Beyoncé, Drake, Facebook and Hillary Clinton. During another rant in San Jose, Ye drew a similarly negative reaction when he revealed that if he had voted in the 2016 presidential election, it would've been for Donald Trump.
Artists and fans alike have relentlessly criticized the controversial superstar as a new round of Kanye hate has kicked off, an almost bi-annual occurrence in the recent history of Yeezy’s career. While Twitter is having a field day and artists like Snoop Dogg and Talib Kweli have offered varying levels of criticism, TDE president Terrence “Punch” Henderson is offering a different take on the situation.
As the president of TDE, Punch has undoubtedly seen the inner turmoil of an artistic soul take its toll on the perception end of things. TDE artist Isaiah Rashad recently opened up about his problems with drugs and alcohol delaying his album, which nearly caused his removal from the label, so it’s safe to say Punch has a uniquely informed perspective when it comes to the fan/artist relationship.
Punch offers his support to Kanye and points out that Ye might be going through some internal struggles that we aren’t privy to. Given Kanye’s mentions of mental illness in his lyrics throughout the years, it’s very possible that he is, in fact, going through a tough time, a possibility bolstered by his recent hyperactivity on Instagram and the reported cancellation of the rest of his tour.
Granted, a kneejerk reaction of disdain to Kanye’s comments about voting for Trump was to be expected. Nearly every politically-inclined hip-hop artist has sided against the President-elect, and Kanye was well aware his opinion was an unpopular one, something he addresses in the rant prior to even making the comments.
However, when viewed within the larger context of Kanye’s recent behavior as well as his past admissions of mental illness, it seems hypocritical at this point to leave that variable out of the equation. We can’t celebrate and support Kid Cudi during his fight with mental illness, and then turn around and abandon Kanye West when he’s potentially going through something similar.
Punch caps off his tweet with a reference to “Mortal Man” from TDE’s own Kendrick Lamar, in which Kendrick ponders the precarious situation of being a potential leader. The song mentions the public’s relationship with Michael Jackson, Huey Newton, Nelson Mandela and more, hinging on the question: “When shit hits the fan, is you still a fan?”
When an artist like Kanye West has spent years amassing a fan base through uncompromising honesty and vulnerability, it’s especially hard to watch as those same fans—and even fellow artists—abandon ship as soon as that artist’s personality becomes less likable than the art they’ve created.
Kanye is a legend; an icon. But, he’s also a human being just like you and me. He says dumb shit, he has bad days, and he may very well be suffering from things we’ll never know about. Just like you and I.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.