Love. At once the source of rapture when it is found and the root of the untold agony when it is lost. Love can refine us or confine us, no one can escape the gravity of love and no one has yet to concoct a potion that can control its ebbs and flows. I am writing this article inspired by Kanye for there was a time when I used to listen to his song “Heartless”—a time love abandoned me into the abyss of regret and loneliness. But really, this article is a story of all of us; an anecdote of humanity and our need to be loved and to love. As I talk about Kanye, in reality I’m also talking about the totality of life and how love can be the true light that edifies or the distressing torch that incinerates any one of us.
A long time—when I was a young man in love—a thunderbolt of emotion overcame me while watching Sandra Bullock’s movie “Hope Floats” with my first girlfriend. There was a scene in the movie where Sandra started to cry about her grandmother and all the sudden my tear ducts opened up like a fire hydrant in Harlem during the middle of a hot August weekend. Ironic, I was not digging the movie too much at first and was watching it out of deference to my once girlfriend—funny how we can let fear of losing love can hobble us. Yet something about the scene where Bullock lost her grandmother cajoled a salted stream from my eyes. I did not really know why at the time but after years of reflecting and trying to understand the roots of my blues would in time lead to revelations about my struggles.
What I found out through the wisdom earned from tae bo kicks befitting of Billy Blanks is a universal truth about love and the reasons we empathize. When we cry for others, whether its movies, funerals or any one of the endless tear jerking moments of life, we are really crying for ourselves. There is an inner child in all of us that hurts, a child that once experienced pains which were never addressed and wounds that we learned to bury through either diversions or alter egos. What hit me later in life is that I cried when Sandra Bullock lost her grandmother in “Hope Floats” because I missed my own grandmother who I lost in Ethiopia as my passport to America became a goodbye to grandmother Emaye.
So as I am writing this about Kanye, know that I am really talking about my own growing pains. Moreover, through this story that I am writing of Kanye and love, I hope you will see in the process that we are all truly intertwined for the pains that we feel and the love that we yearn for is a connective tissue that binds up the whole of humanity. We might be on different pontoons going through the brooks of life in divergent directions, but we all share the same ocean of inspiration and emotions on this water called life.
What I have in common with Kanye is what we all have in common; I have yet to find one person who has not been scorched by love. It’s funny when I think about it, we pay little regard when we torch others with absence yet the minute a love leaves us we are reduced to sadness and unending woes. I hope you don’t take this article as a judgement or condemnation of Kanye, if anything I write this to the inner Kanye that is masked by his boasts and arrogance for there was once a Kanye who was deeply in love with his former girlfriend Sumeke Rainey. This was Kanye before Kanye, when he was a struggling artist trying to make it in the biz who had a woman by his side he planned to spend the rest of his life with. But the best laid plans are always turned to compost by the process of living it.
I’m not claiming to know some inside information about Kanye nor am I in any way asserting that I knew of Kanye and Sumeke’s relationship personally. I did not know them beyond what I read and listen to in the media echo chamber of half-truths and cacophonous disinformation. So instead of gossiping through innuendos, I am writing about Kanye based on opinions that were formed by listening to his music and interpreting his message through my own prisms and experiences. I chose to listen to Kanye’s music instead of listening to cackling “journalists” and TMZ buffoons for art is an expression of our joys and demons. No matter what you think of Kanye, at his core he is in fact a brilliant artist who is able to manipulate words to tell stories. You don’t have to listen to the nattering of nitwits to find out about artists, all you have to do is pay attention to their work. For in their work you will find the essence of who they are. Let me share another truth I have learned along this thorn strewn path called life—the source of art is pain.
It was pain that launched Kanye’s stardom; when he brilliantly remixed Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire”, he did so to tell of the crucible he went through. He was using music to bleed his spleen of not only the near death experience he had through broken windshields and gnarled steel frames, but if you listen closely he was also talking about other pains. Pains of his struggle to make it, pains of life and being misunderstood, pains of seeking acceptance and validation in an industry that rejects originality and values above all conformity.
But in that same song, he was talking about his love for Sumeke and his struggles growing up as a child. When Kanye talks about “the wire”, the wire he was alluding was not just the wires that forced his teeth shut but the wire of life that seemingly entraps any one of us at certain moments of life into the chasm of darkness and despair. For some of us, the wire is a life changing car accident, for others it’s losing a job and being lost without direction—the wire is different for everyone but the sorrow it induces is the same for all of us. From prince to pauper and all class and stations in between, hopelessness and distress will come for all and Kanye was using music to express his dance with misfortune and tribulations.
But distress gives way to abundance and soon enough Kanye’s crucible became the locus of his success. This really is a parable for all who go through turmoils, the same way hopelessness envelops us into darkness, the same darkness can become an affidavit of resilience. Every burden is a blessing waiting to be discovered and every painful moment is a testimony waiting to be told. Kanye went from being confined to a hospital bed to stardom. Blessed with a gift to gab and tell stories through music, he took off like a rocket and in a flash found himself in the midst of the cosmos.
Alas the duality of life haunts us like the specter of Christmas past; the same way blessings are found in the midst of distress, misfortune can likewise spring in the very soils of fortunes. I’m listening to the “Graduation”, Kanye’s first album, as I am typing this at the moment; I find myself lost in his word and the poetry he was expressing. Maybe you should go back and listen to that album and really listen to the words Kanye uses in his music. You will see the truth of Kanye behind the pretension and pride and find the inner child that is rebelling against the pains we all experience throughout life.
I could go into the details of these songs and cite rhyme after rhyme that Kanye was kicking to tell of his struggles with love and life. But this article is not so much about his music as it is about this thing called love and how love can redouble our luck or reduce us to rubble. So I will let you interpret Kanye from your perspective if you choose to listen to his songs again after reading this, but what I hope you get out of this more than anything is that love can be a powerful drug. Kanye went from promising Mr. Rainey (Sumeke’s father) that he will marry his daughter to all the sudden abandoned by love and stuck on an island called seclusion. He croons about this feeling of loneliness and bitterness on “Heartless”—how a once love became the source of his unhappiness.
This I know to be true as well, in life we can either invert the pain or revert to pain. Meaning that we have a choice when painful things happen to us; we can either become the pain and let pains consume us or we can invert the pains and give back kindness where love abused us. Yet life is not linear, we make progress and we fall back—for every success there is a setback. Without knowing Kanye personally yet understanding human frailties because I know self, I saw in Kanye a man who, just like me, reverted to pains upon love’s exit. The arrogance that Kanye chose to embrace, I know of that crutch for I too once chose chutzpah to hide my broken heart.
This is why I became a fan of Kanye back then, he was singing my story as if he recorded the album for me personally. This is essence of art isn’t it, poets, writers, painters—artists from all walks and stripes of life—are able to distill our emotions into words and pictures that give credence to our distress and lets us know that we are not alone in this struggle after all. That is the brilliance of Kanye that I hold on to, a gift to transcend barriers and express our hurts when he chooses to be an artist and less a media hound. This Kanye though is endlessly being erased by the Kanye that emerged from the shadows of hurt and love’s wounds. Kanye chose to put on a mask in order to hide his injury. Maybe he learned a long time ago not to let others know his weakness, maybe a heartbreak taught him to be more guarded. This picture I am painting of Kanye’s experiences most likely started a long time ago; love and injury were hand in hand even during childhood. How do I know this? Because I listen to his words as he raps about his mom and the love she gave him and the pains he experienced growing up with his mom. Do you think it’s an accident that Kanye became radically different when his mother passed away? Instead of throwing tomatoes at him we should actually be more compassionate for all of us know how it feels to lose a loved one and the agony that void can stir into our spirits.
This is the melody of life, artists know the human emotions of love and despair because they have been through it. I am talking about myself here as I am about Kanye. If I speak about love and hurt it’s because I have experienced both in abundance. If I am able to write about the binary existence of our lives and understand the struggles of others, it’s also because I have been through it. It is easy to caricature Kanye and to paint him as a misfit. But maybe we should take a pause and understand that people act out and lash out only to hide the inner agonies from the world and instead choose to be someone else. Kanye is not the first nor the last person to do this, when I broke up with my ex, I put on a bravado of being a player even though every inch of my being is a romantic at heart. It’s all about perspective this way, the minute we feel betrayed by love, we can become players and let love game us or we can pause and think twice about paying back what was once paid to us.
So this is to Kanye and really to all of us. May we rise above past pains and aches and let it hurt us no more. Let us not become re-versions of our old selves and allow the loss of anyone or the antipathy of others to change our true lights. It is easy to lose our innocence in this world—distress can give birth to bitterness and happiness. But these moments are fleeting for in time roses grow in the very shit that life throws at us. The truth is that none of us know Kanye, it is easy to sling pebbles from a distance for when we throw stones we are really projecting outward the inner rocks that are calcifying in our hearts.
The first step towards healing is not to lash out but to lean-in and to understand self. Here is to Kanye and renewed love, blessings are found in the midst of burdens for whatever the world has to say about Kanye, he and Kim have a baby and that is the true blessing of life. From West to North, life and love are birthed through heartbreaks and turbulence—if we only stick it out all of us will graduate from loneliness to love once again. Old love belongs in the past and in time new love shines a true light where the past one fades into irrelevance. The melodies and blues of life is what binds humanity into one big orchestra; I hope we appreciate our uniqueness and our commonalities concurrently. In the end, as Kanye found North, I hope we too travel away from divisiveness and instead find the true north called love. #TrueWest
Pain is a universal blues, love is a connective melody.