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Let’s talk about Kanye, Sacramento. Because I think we’re missing something.

This is a story about empathy.

Let’s start with the requisite backstory. Here’s what went down last Saturday night at the Golden One Center:

The stadium fills with long tees and skinny jeans.

Kanye’s an hour and a half late.

Kanye takes stage with Kid Cudi. All is forgiven. Crowd erupts.

Kanye drops off Cudi, takes stage alone, performs three songs half-heartedly.

Kanye stops mid-song and rants for 15 minutes. Calls out radio, Google, Facebook, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Hillary Clinton, and pseudo-supports Donald Trump.

Kanye drops mic, calls off show. Crowd goes from confused to stunned to sad to angry in a span of 4 minutes.

The house lights come up. Some cry, most boo, others chant “F*ck, Kanye!” while wearing Kanye shirts.

Everyone leaves, not sure of anything in life.

Kanye took considerable backlash online. It became a global story. The next day, Kanye cancels his 21 remaining tour dates, leaving $10 million dollars on the table. Later that same day, he was checked into a hospital for psychiatric evaluation. And at the time of writing this, that’s all we know.

• • •

The full implications of Saturday night’s Kanye experience have yet to be revealed. But it’s already embedded in pop culture infamy. Everyone who attended will say, “I was there when…”

Just about everyone I know has asked me about the show. I’ve kept my responses brief. But what I’d really like to say is this:

We need more empathy.

I know, that’s a big leap. Hear me out.

Our public figures now play an intimate role in our everyday lives. Their selfies exist alongside our own on Instagram. They talk directly to us on Snapchat. We can now develop very strong, very personal feelings and opinions toward celebrities. They receive more of our attention than ever, both when they succeed and more so when they fail.

This is what concerns me.

More than ever we revel in the failures and downfall of our public figures. Social media gives us all an opportunity to twist the knife. But beneath the designer clothes and photoshop are real people, often with troubled pasts. And more often than not, they’re people that have given us extraordinary gifts.

Kanye West is a difficult figure. I get that. What he did at the Golden One Center upset many of us. I get that, too. But let’s for a moment consider what he’s given us.

Mr. West has single-handedly influenced an entire generation. If you’ve paid any attention to popular music and fashion in the last 10 years, you know this to be fact.

As producer and musician, he’s elevated hip-hop — a genre I’d argue is the most relevant at this time in history — to heights previously unreached. He’s given us seven highly influential, critically acclaimed solo albums. He’s produced and written countless others. He’s the recipient of 21 Grammy awards. His live performances and innovative stage structures have set our contemporary expectations. His signature shoes are the stuff of legends in sneaker culture.

We’re just scratching the surface here. Kanye West is a cultural entity unto himself. The tides of contemporary urban culture sway with his every move. And even if you live outside the realm of his influence, know that he’s had a very large, positive effect on millions of people.

The many gifts Kanye has given the world far outweigh his social blunders. And here’s the thing: Kanye hasn’t hurt anybody. He’s just kind of annoying. He has an erratic, loud mouth that opens at traditionally inappropriate times. From “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” to “Taylor, I’ma let you finish,” Kanye is a self-described “blip in the Matrix” with a historic ego.

But there might be more to that loud mouth than meets the ear.

What if we were to set aside all personal feeling and view the Golden One Center tirade through an empathetic lens? There’s that saying, “the loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.”

What if Kanye’s outburst was a cry for help?

Most may not know that Kanye’s mother unexpectedly passed away in the month of November in 2007. Kanye largely blames himself for her passing. “If I had never moved to L.A. she’d be alive,” West told Q magazine. “I don’t want to go far into it because it will bring me to tears.” Since her death, Kanye has been prone to behavioral problems during this time of year.

Less than two months ago, Kanye’s wife Kim Kardashian was tied-up and robbed at gunpoint by five men while alone in a Paris hotel room. Could anyone avoid the inevitable psychological aftermath of an incident like that?

It’s also suspected that Kanye is on the anti-depressant, Lexapro. He’s referenced his struggles with the drug in his lyrics twice in the past six months, as well as revealing he’s seeing a psychiatrist.

Then there’s the telling, but little known song and music video “I Feel Like That” released late last year. The video features Kanye sitting with his back against a wall visibly exhausted, possibly medicated. Just yesterday, the video mysteriously disappeared from the internet. But let’s take a quick glance at its lyrics:

“While you’re fast asleep, do you experience nervousness or shakiness inside, weakness or dizziness? The idea that so much can control your thoughts. Lost in your thoughts. Trouble remembering things, feeling easily annoyed and irritated. Afraid of open spaces, going in public. Thoughts of ending your life. Feelings that most people could not be trusted before I had that type of heart, chest pains?

 I feel like this, I feel like that, I feel like that, I feel like that all the time

 Do you feel tempered outbursts, that you cannot control? Feeling lonely, even when you are with people, feeling locked. Feeling a little sad, feeling disinterested in things, feeling fearful. Are your feelings easily hurt? Remember that people are unfriendly, or do you feel like people dislike you?

 I feel like that, I feel like that, I feel like that, I feel like that all the time”

Combine his mother’s passing, the robbery, the Lexapro, and psychiatrist with being a new father, the suffocating relentlessness of paparazzi, millions in personal debt, and countless other unknown pressures a Kanye West must face on a daily basis, and you can’t help but wonder:

What if Kanye’s rant was a cry for help?

• • •

If there’s anything I’ve learned from my six-month study of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly for my podcast Dissect, it’s that we should root for our leaders and artists to succeed. After battling with fame, which led to severe depression and suicidal thoughts, Kendrick took a trip to South Africa in search of clarity. The trip inspired him to embrace his leadership role in spite of its potential consequences. In a prophetic speculation of his own future, the album’s conclusive song, “Mortal Man,” muses on the build-up/teardown mentality we have towards our leaders:

“As I lead this army make room for mistakes and depression,

And with that being said, let me ask this question:

When shit hit the fan, is you still a fan?”

Later, he asks:

“How many leaders you said you needed then left ‘em for dead?

Is it Moses, is it Huey Newton or Detroit Red?

Is it Martin Luther, JFK, shoot or you assassin?

Is it Jackie, is it Jesse, oh I know, it’s Michael Jackson.”

We take and take and take from our artists yet we often lack empathy for them. Their success can make them appear invincible but history is filled with humans that have struggled with fame and celebrity. It’s led many to depression, addiction, self-destructive behavior, nervous breakdowns, and suicide.

In 2004, comedian Dave Chappelle walked off stage mid-way through his set at the Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento after members of the audience continually shouted, “I’m Rick James, bitch,” a catchphrase from his massive hit TV show The Dave Chappelle Show.

After a few minutes, Dave returned to the stage, noting that the show was “ruining his life.” He was working “20-hour days” and expressed his issues with being famous, which resulted in the inability of fans to see him as a human being.

Frustrated, Dave turned on the crowd. “You know why my show is good?” he said to the audience. “Because the network officials say you’re not smart enough to get what I’m doing, and every day I fight for you. I tell them how smart you are. Turns out, I was wrong. You people are stupid.”

Shortly after his Sacramento appearance, Chappelle famously walked away from Season 3 of The Chappelle Show, leaving $50 million on the table. Rumors of drug addiction and mental breakdown quickly circulated. But the truth was, like Lamar, Chappelle fled to South Africa in search of clarity.

• • •

There was something metaphoric about watching Kanye alone on that strange, beautiful stage floating above the crowd at the Golden One Center. Two large straps made an “X” across his chest; restraints that were attached to a rope that helped him avoid falling off the stage and into the crowd. He circled around that small, floating island like something caged. He didn’t seem in control of himself.

I remember thinking, “I hope he’s okay.”

Because empathy is not concerned with how something is said, but why. It’s not concerned with specifics, but intent. It’s able to differentiate symptom from source.

Kanye West is a measuring stick for our empathetic capacity, a barometer on our willingness to understand. I chose to write about Kanye West and empathy because, for many, it’s an absurd concept.

But we are living in absurd times. We just concluded the worst, most divisive election cycle in recent history. The negative energy in this country is palpable. We’ve become so blinded by our own opinions that we forget we need each other to succeed.

We need more empathy for those we don’t understand.

We need more empathy on both sides of the aisle.

We all want a better future. There’s a lot of disagreement on how to do that, but empathy is only concerned with why. Intent over specifics. Common ground.

We need more empathy for those we don’t understand.

• • •

Dave Chappelle very recently returned to the limelight, performing a monologue on Saturday Night Live the first Saturday following the recent election results. After sharing a story about attending a majority black party at the White House, he concluded his monologue with these lines:

“It made me feel hopeful and it made me feel proud to be an American and it made me very happy about the prospects of our country. So, in that spirit, I’m wishing Donald Trump luck. And I’m going to give him a chance. And we, the historically disenfranchised, demand that he give us one too.”

Chappelle stood alone on a small stage and spoke to the world. He chose empathy over discord without sacrificing his message. It was beautiful and thoughtful and incredibly moving.

So, in that spirit, I’m wishing that Kanye and his beautiful, angelic stage float their way to his South Africa, wherever that may be.

Because I’m rooting for Kanye West.

Even when it’s challenging, I’m rooting for everyone.

You can hear more from Cole on his podcast Dissect – A Serialized Music Podcast, available on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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