Be honest. In the past year, how many “Yelawolf meltdown” articles have you clicked on? How many “Lupe is losing it” tweets did you favorite after the lyrical legend refused to release any more music amidst that head-scratching anti-semitic controversy? How many Kanye West memes have you chuckled at and DM’d to your homies?
If you can answer with a clear conscience that you’ve resisted all of the timeline clickbait, TMZ-style celebrity “journalism” and mean-spirited internet tomfoolery that has swirled around the hip-hop meme-o-sphere in the past few months, congratulations. Kendrick Lamar is smiling to himself somewhere in a studio in L.A.
"When shit hit the fan, is you still a fan?" —Kendrick Lamar, 'Mortal Man'
For the rest of us, it’s time we take a deeper look at how we've treated our culture’s stars and heroes when they’ve faced public adversity. It’s time to be honest about what part we play, as hip-hop fans and music lovers, in the media crucifixion of veteran recording artists like Yela and Lupe.
For starters, it isn’t all TMZ’s fault.
Just look at Kanye. Everything Yeezus does is larger than life, and his increasingly erratic public behavior and resulting total meltdown in late 2016 was no exception. Pretty quickly, Ye’s flair for the dramatic and his emotional reputation turned from a Twitter punchline to a genuine concern over a mental health crisis that landed the superstar in psychiatric care. And predictably—disgustingly—rap media at large added plenty of fuel to the fire as Ye suffered, laughing all the way to the bank while a revolutionary artist who has given so much to hip-hop struggled in real pain.
But that media frenzy doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We ate up every headline. Ad revenue feeds off of tabloid-style journalism; those sites only thrive, and continue to post sensationalist slop when we click the links and buy into the hype. It’s only when we abandon artists and throw them under the bus amongst a tirade of memes and internet chatter that the cycle of clickbait and media vulturism perpetuates itself.
For artists in our era of social media connectivity, that lack of loyalty has real and meaningful implications. I’m sure Ye and others aren't ignorant to all of the web’s savagery, and I’m sure that getting ridiculed and downright bullied by the very people who call themselves “fans” didn’t do much to raise Ye’s spirits or remind him that he has real friends in his corner. If you’re depressed and looking for a reason to keep going, getting perpetually roasted by the culture you’ve given everything to can’t be easy.
When the artists we love have needed us the most, too many of us bought into the spectacle. You can see it on Twitter and Facebook and Reddit every time Kanye “flipped out,” which, in retrospect, looks more like symptoms of tragedy than fuel for comedy. You can see it in the videos of Yela’s on-stage collapse when “fans” in Santa Cruz tried to fight Catfish Billy instead of giving the dude space to breathe and figure himself out.
It’s all around us: the abandonment of the artists that we revere when they show signs of their humanity and buckle under the pressures of stardom.
So what’s the answer? As usual, Kendrick has some insight. Two years ago, when he released “Mortal Man,” Compton’s sweetheart posed this question: “when shit hit the fan, is you still a fan?” The media clusterfuck surrounding Kanye’s struggles and our part in feeding that frenzy reads like the public collectively answering, “sorry, nah, not really” to Kendrick’s provocation. But it’s not too late for us to heed his call and turn over a new leaf.
Real, unadulterated loyalty for an artist like Kanye, no matter what he says on Twitter or in an interview, means remembering what every artist that we idolize has given us. It means seeing these artists as people, and understanding that creating from the heart while living in the limelight can be a heavy cross to bear for the fragile hearts and minds where true genius often blossoms. And it means extending our empathy in a meaningful way when artists struggle with that pressure.
Maybe next time that one of our favorite recording artists shows signs of suffering from a mental breakdown, don’t give the clickbait monsters your attention. You can show your empathy for greats like Ye by sharing some positivity to balance out all of the mudslinging. Or don’t engage at all, remembering that your favorite rapper is also a human being who might just need some space to battle their demons.
Next time the shit hits the fan, make Kendrick proud, and “make room for mistakes and depression.”
As fans, it’s the least we can do. As decent human beings, it’s a chance to do the right thing for another human who has done a whole lot for us.
By Cassidy Kakin. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Tumblr