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There’s a great deal about the notion of celebrity that exists outside of flashing cameras, millions of followers, and universal acclaim. Often times, news headlines about stars tell a deeper story about who they are and how their actions reflect the culture that they represent. “2018 Lessons” is a two-part series that looks at some of hip hop culture’s biggest names to understand more about their biggest headlines and the conflicts that exist beneath them. Hopefully, this will facilitate larger discussion about celebrity and hip hop culture, what we celebrate, and how to bring much needed change. Today’s installment looks at Mac Miller and Kanye West to see how disastrous public influence can be for an artist’s livelihood.
This year, Kanye West went from a moderately unlikeable paragon on the decline of his career to a universally ridiculed guy who seems more confused than he would ever let on. Known for his infrequent stream of consciousness outbursts on Twitter and Instagram, West’s ultimate decline began when he returned to Twitter in April for the first time in nine months by taking a jab at Nike. His fascination with the social platform, as with all of us who become enamored with the idea of increasing our relevancy, has become perhaps the biggest parasite to his career since he came through the wire.
West interacts with Twitter a little bit different than the average person. He speaks his mind and seldom engages with anyone else. He’s very selective of the people that he decides to follow, at one point choosing certain activists because they inspired him. His tweets often involve vast plans and declarations, and reveal new understanding about the way that he thinks. In the old days, West chose public events to speak candidly about matters pressing to him. In 2018, he made social media his preferred medium of choice.
In April, West revealed to The Hollywood Reporter that he was working on a philosophy book. He’s often claimed to be a misunderstood genius, so this much makes sense. Then, shortly after, he revealed that his book was being written in real time on Twitter. Aside from sharing unreleased Yeezy designs, West’s tweets were largely motivational. He tweeted, “Some people have to work within the existing consciousness, while some people can shift the consciousness.” His observations were often little more than rudimentary, taking the time to inspire creatives — like Diddy does for the working class — with motivational chants that amounted to “You can do it!” Then, on April 19, that’s when West’s true social media fixation became apparent. He was dropping an album – five, actually (he executive produced the other four).
West found a fascination with social media that he never showcased before. He became somewhat of a regular presence that annoyed some and inspired many. It wasn’t long before he sparked controversy by embracing Candace Owens, a conservative media personality who revealed she supported Donald Trump, and then, complained about the idea of free speech. It was only an inkling of what would soon come: His open embrace of Trump and being at odds with his fanbase about the early ideals supported in his music; which cast the artist as someone who did not quite understand who he once was. But, West soon double down on posting about his support of the president and those around him. He posted a picture in the Make America Great Again hat that served as the commander’s symbol.
Since then, West has become as much a part of Twitter as the blue bird that is the platform’s logo. On his most recent album, Ye, West explored the suicidal thoughts and depressive tendencies that he’s been experiencing. Through Twitter, and moments on Instagram, he has expounded upon these sentiments by offering further proof that his mental either is breaking — or has been broken – quite possibly for a long time. As social media has become more important in his life, the way that he used it throughout the year became more risqué. West posts Biblical quotes, thoughts about self-worth, and information dealing with his ideas. The once elusive understanding of his more eclectic beliefs has become easily obtainable. Now, many see him as a shade of the genius responsible for some of the most iconic songs of the 2000s and 2010s.
West’s fascination with social media at this stage of his career has been largely responsible for his waning interest. Not only has he made it clear that there are fundamental ideological differences that didn’t previously exist between him and his fanbase, West’s tweets often makes it sound like the genius associated with his often-whimsical acts is the product of luck and purposefully risqué actions, instead of genuine uniqueness. Aside from him using these platforms to announce updates about his musical career, West’s Twitter and Instagram usage do more harm than they do good. He reserves his more personal anecdotes about necessary mental health conversations for his music and leaves the meaningless shrivel for public consumption. But, it appears that West’s fragile mind is what’s behind the social media presence that’s more problematic than necessary.
Mac Miller was one of hip hop’s most beloved figures. He was one of few who remained free of any major disagreements with other rappers, as many called the Pittsburgh native a friend who would give the shirt off of his back to make another happy. Miller was responsible for the launch of Chance the Rapper’s career back in 2013 when he brought the Chicagoan on his “Watching Movies With the Sound Off Tour” along with Vince Staples. In the wake of his death, many artists have come forward with similar stories of friendship and support. One commonality with them all is that Miller was one of the happiest souls that they ever met and preferred to make lemonade out of lemons.
Miller’s music was always introspective. It explored his deepest thoughts and the troubles that came with the kind of iconic fame that many seldom attained. In 2012, during his tour for Macadelic, Miller became addicted to lean. But, Miller managed to kick it by that November. In 2014, he revealed his battle with depression on Faces and referenced codeine cough syrup, angel gust, and cocaine. By the next year, the rapper revealed to Billboard that he was sober. He appeared to be getting out of this manner of coping, which eased the minds of many around him. But, by the next year, in the release of his personal documentary, Stopped Making Excuses, Miller revealed that it was a ruse. He returned to the substances and made a terrifying announcement: He would never stop and he was in control of his life. Around this time, he began dating longtime friend Ariana Grande.
In April of 2018, Grande returned to music after recovering from the mental trauma of the Manchester terrorist attack that occurred the year prior. Everything appeared fine on the outside with Miller posting her music and professing his love for her. But, the pair was rapidly spiraling away from one another. In May, they split up with Grande later calling the relationship “toxic” and referencing her attempts to support his sobriety. Then, the singer got with comedian Pete Davidson and Miller took it in stride, commenting in an interview with Zane Lowe on Beats 1 that they both moved on. He didn’t appear upset, and he didn’t spill about it on social media. The rapper just went to work preparing the album. Davidson and Grande announced their engagement on June 15, Miller announced an upcoming album, Swimming, on July 12.
Swimming arrived in August. Instead of being a response to the breakup; it was an album about self-love, healing, and growth. He took the work shared on The Divine Feminine — an album that referenced the love for Ariana he once had — and took it inward, learning more about himself and how he could become better in the process. The album was smooth, jazzy, and occasionally sullen. But, it was mostly upbeat. Miller was growing on the outside, coming to terms with the negatives in his life and — as he always has — making the best of everything.
The star’s sudden death from a drug overdose in September took the world by shock. In the end, it appears as if his demons caught up to him. But, the difference in public and personal healing may have been one of the causes of his death. While the world was focused on the narrative being portrayed in the music — that of the understanding of one’s evolution — Miller utilized his frequent vices to heal personally. It’s something that he wouldn’t put on social media to see. If anything, Miller’s death showed the world that there’s a difference in an artist’s music and their real life outside of their level of toughness. The full extent of one’s problems and their coping mechanisms can never be understood through the art that they create. To get the full picture, the character must be analyzed, as well. For Miller, the world assumed that the music indicated the stability of his mind, which enabled him to push pass his problems. But, deep within that belief lies something that the now-late artist knew: The world would turn its back, leaving him to stew in his own troubles. Healing is different for artists in the personal and public areas. But, both need to be monitored equally to ensure safety when it comes to mental health traumas.
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