On Sunday, August 29, Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, dropped his tenth studio album, Donda, after months of push backs and three extravagant listening parties.
Ahead of Donda, West held his third listening party in Chicago on August 26, where he stood on the porch of a replica of his childhood home with Marilyn Manson and DaBaby - Manson, who is currently facing multiple lawsuits accusing him of sexual assault and violent abuse from five women, and DaBaby, who went on an ignorant homophobic rant at one of his concerts last month.
It seems to have taken place - alongside the fact that both artists feature on the Donda album - like a blip in the newsfeed. Amid fashion publications reporting on Kim Kardashian's frankly complicit appearance at the listening party, veiled in a Balenciaga Haute Couture wedding dress, and the actual release of the long-anticipated album, West's mocking attempt at making a subversive comment on cancel culture and being outlawed was diluted by the noise of Donda itself. And with it, the brave battle cries of sexual assault survivors are traded in once again for shock value and money.
Co-signing abusers in the music industry isn't edgy
The obvious irony is that within West's insistence to be seen as edgy and subversive, he has missed the entire point of what women have been talking about for decades: co-signing abusers in the music industry and Hollywood is hardly revolutionary. The only thing featuring someone like Manson does, is show that his regard for sexual assault survivors is low. So low, that he'll easily trade the hurt his actions cause, to convince even one person that he is as prolific as he has decided he is.
And while the listening party was one piece of a very disturbing puzzle, the real damage is the specific involvement of the artists on the album. It is necessary to acknowledge that West has been previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and that when mental illness is at play, moderating their actions becomes a nuanced conversation to tackle. Unfortunately, West's actions do not solely affect him.
It is where Manson sickeningly chimes in for the refrain in Jail pt 2 singing “Guess I’m going to jail tonight”, a stomach churning indicator of the way men respond to the seriousness of sexual assault allegations - and the #metoo movement at large. And DaBaby, victimising himself after making false and offensive comments about people living with HIV in the verse “I say one thing they ain’t like… Threw me out like I’m garbage/ And that food that y’all took off my table?/ You know that feed my daughters?”
If DaBaby and West really wanted us to sympathise with daughters - as so many men rudimentarily ask us, and each other to do as a weaponised token of their virtue - perhaps they would have afforded the same grace and duty of care to the women Manson allegedly assaulted instead of using his alleged crimes as a marketing pawn.
Where does one draw the line between art and artist?
So often we are asked to separate art from the artist. We are also so often asked to separate the actions of famous men from their work to create unending space for their “genius”. The same space they are willing to take without consent. The same space that leaves no room for women’s genius when the world is too busy defending the creative vision of problematic men to listen to our voices. Kanye's blatant, self-indulgent plight to become the most shocking of all has made it impossible to receive Donda the same way, even if it were a legitimately good album. As Roisin O’Connor in The Independent writes: “West has aligned himself with a man whom at least 15 women have accused of rape, sexual assault, grooming, assault, torture, physical and psychological abuse,”
“He stood on his late mother’s porch with Manson, sang with him, openly mocking those women who were brave enough to come forward. Critics often have to remind themselves to review the music, not to get caught up in the hyperbole or controversy surrounding the artist. But by involving Manson, West has made this impossible.”
West is not featuring Manson on Donda because he is a musical genius - which he isn't - despite the horrific allegations made against him, West is, at its core, doing it because of the allegations. In doing so, he is signalling to men everywhere that if you are an alleged abuser, you are simply a misunderstood outlaw, and that you'll always have a place at his front door.
Which begs the question: where do we draw the line in the sand with artists when Kanye "just being Kanye" repeatedly takes things too far? There were moments in history where the things West said and did were era-defining - this we know to be true. And the commentary on cancel culture he wishes to spark? He has acted as the key example of why cancel culture cannot be real when the 'cancellable' exist in an industry that will always protect money over morality.