Everything he’s not is everything I am: resisting Trump while bumping Kanye

Yinon Raviv
9 min readMay 3, 2018

I wake up every day underneath a five by three foot poster of Kanye West smoking a cigar underneath mirrored aviators.

I’ve had this poster since college. Kanye didn’t let dream killers kill his self-esteem, but rather, he used his arrogance as the steam to power his dreams. That attitude looked directly in my eyes and spoke to the chip on my shoulder.

(It helps that we’re the same height and build.)

Kanye transcended what most artists gave me — his music nourished me, reminded me what I’m capable of, connected me closer to myself as I pushed to achieve my goals.

My favorite Kanye albums tend to be everybody else’s least favorite albums.

I save Yeezus for when I need to shut off my constant rapid-fire internal monologue. When I’m walking to a job interview, or before I give a speech to a big crowd, or before I play any competitive sports, I’m hearing those grating primal scream beats in my head. Yeezus, for whatever reason, has the special power of converting my nerves into adrenaline, anxiety into excitement, dialing the thinking back and bringing the instincts all the way to the front.

I save 808s and Heartbreaks for when I need to turn that internal monologue up. I wrote some of the rawest 800 words in my life while listening to 808s. I hit play on the first track and just started typing. By Street Lights, my fingers were moving faster than my neurons, my thoughts appearing on the screen as fully formed sentences a half-second before they reached my brain. By Coldest Winter, I was staring at a near-final draft of my college newspaper column distilling my thoughts and feelings I had watching my mom battle breast cancer, discovering those emotions that I’ve had in post-production, giving my inner world some much-needed oxygen.

As my life rapidly changed — graduating college, entering the workforce, moving from Davis to Sunnyvale to San Francisco — Yeezus was always ready to snap me out of any funk and shake me out of my head to take on any barbell, basketball game, or business meeting. 808s was always ready to put me in touch with myself, to push through the funk and really access my feelings so I can process them creatively.

And even today, I pick up on new details every time I re-listen to 808s — an album that came out when Bush was president.

Kanye went full MAGA while I was getting my appendix removed.

As his tweets have gone further and further to the right, I initally decided to treat myself by staying off the internet in my first few days of recovery. But I couldn’t look away from the car wreck, and as he kept saying wilder and wilder things, I realized that I wasn’t on the highway passing the scene of the accident — I was right there on the side of the road, as the poster in my room exposed some explosive collisions in my conceptual foundation of the world.

The compassion and self-belief that Kanye’s music helped me find in myself stood in complete contrast to the authoritarian promises of simple answers and strong facades and big, beautiful walls. One of my heroes was falling to the grips of populism and fascism. It didn’t make sense.

I was trying to distract myself from this craziness by turning to my mental comfort food: really long sports articles. I found Mina Kimes’s incredible interview with Aaron Rodgers, where Rodgers talks about what he was feeling when he was sitting on the bus after Super Bowl 45. He just threw for three hundred yards and three touchdowns, winning the Most Valuable Player award.

You just reached the pinnacle of your profession and realized your wildest dreams — what’s going through your head, what are you feeling? “Like a space had opened inside of him,” Kimes writes. He later said this:

“I’ve been to the bottom and been to the top… Peace will come from somewhere else.”

Aaron Rodgers is an outlier man that lives out the fantasy of every mean and median and modal straight man in this country. He has the accomplishments, the admiration, the success, the beautiful girlfriends — and yet he’s talking about an inner void after winning the literal Super Bowl.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have millions of lonely, depressed, and not fully socially equipped men who never leave the internet. The same America that spends nearly 10 billion dollars on self-help books and seminars is the same America that serves as a fertile breeding ground for financially upward yet emotionally insecure dudes who try to fill their emptiness by punching down.

The fascist forces in this country owe a lot to those insecurities, as they appeal to this collective lack of self esteem by positioning themselves as the void-filler.

One common theme repeated in this bizarro MAGA West episode is this free-thinker motif.

And this tweet struck the contradictory vein in the truth here: he’s violently expressing this “free thinker” vibe because he’s, as always, an incredibly self-conscious person.

Kanye West is as much the dude covering his face at the VMAs as he is the swaggering ego-maniac in funny pants. He’s the swaggering egomaniac because he’s the dude covering his face.

And I’ll wager that the same pain that made 808s and the same reaction to that pain that made Yeezus is the same pain that leaves him vulnerable to taking the quarter-bar of blaming and scapegoating the world’s ills away.

But I don’t know Kanye outside of the poster in my room, the music on my phone, or the place I airbnb out to him in my head. I only know the conditions that make him vulnerable to falling into the sunken place.

I make my living based on my creative ability. As the youngest person in my office, I’m acutely aware that I’m in the rooms I’m in because of what I can do with my words. That provides me with society’s notion of success: a cushy corporate job with a salary that can afford rent in San Francisco. I have money. I have a stable job. I have my own place.

It’s fantastic on Friday afternoon and fucking terrifying on Sunday evening.

I’ve reached this high place in society, but my ladder feels wobbly every time I stare at a blank page with writers block. Anybody’s that done any creative project at any point in their lives knows that this process is 80/20. That every now and then, a celestial transmission blasts down from space and passes through your brain, and for a blurry hour or so, you produce. You make. You write. You create.

And when that otherworldly visitor leaves your head and continues on its galactic journey, you sit there with your puny, pathetic little human hands and flail on your keyboard. All you can do is edit, or email, or go to meetings, or do busywork, or diddle on social media, or anything but deal with how hard it fucking is to write good words and if anyone at your office finds out that you jump between clouds, chasing rather than creating, you’ll get fired and sent straight back to your parents’ basement.

Niles Rumfoord and Kazak are more consistent than the creative process

Of course it’s irrational. Of course it’s stupid. Of course it’s just part of the necessary internal tension needed for creative work, the tectonic plates deep inside you that grind and grind and grind until they burst out for a textual earthquake.

But when the part of you brought you here feels like it’s fading in the horizon, another part part of you looks at these cushy techie walls and instead of feeling financially protected, they feel trapped, so yet another part of you plugs in your headphones and puts on your shoes and plays some Blood On The Leaves and runs to the gym so you can be the physical you, the adrenalized you, the surviving instinctual you.

You feel fucking crazy no matter how much money you make, yet that craziness writes your way into another job, another promotion, another opportunity. Meanwhile the rest of the planet doesn’t have enough to eat or a place to sleep or frankly, any fucks to give about your dudely first-world anxieties.

So I can imagine Kanye living his dreams of having a family, of having a ton of money, of having the means to enable his creative pursuits. He reached it. He’s there. He got what he wanted.

And I can imagine the space opening inside of him — I can imagine him staring out the window of the bus, Lombardi trophy in hand, championship ring on his finger, and a sinking void in his head. And while he realizes how little peace there is at the top, he feels the bottom falling out. What’s harder than putting out seven chart-topping albums? Putting out eight chart-topping albums. And that personal jet flying over his personal debt?

None of this makes Kanye’s descent into the alt-right’s soothing boa constrictive grip relatable or justifiable or rational. I can empathize, but I can’t excuse.

I do, however, seek to learn. Maybe there’s something to glean here.

Highly recommend this piece: https://verysmartbrothas.theroot.com/kanyes-politics-are-what-happens-when-you-dont-read-boo-1825475113

Engaging deeply in creative work reminds me of my own multitudes, because when I’m in my flow state, I find parts of me that I never knew were there.

And that creative fulfillment, counterintuitively, gives me something very stable: not happiness itself, but a framework for my emotional life, a compass that calibrates me throughout the healthy emotions of fear, euphoria, anger, and pain. Balance. Perspective.

And I hope to make money and do cool shit and fall in love and save the world and all that jazz, but I won’t pretend to myself that those are the mountaintops. I’ll reach mountaintops but I won’t pretend to myself that it’ll be what I’m looking for. I’ll find elements of myself along the way but I won’t pretend to myself that it’s possible to be found.

By acknowledging these uncomfortable and contradictory realities, I feel grounded enough to not slip into the toxic pit of YouTube videos and conspiracy theories that Kanye opened. And I hope Kanye catches on to his own bullshit and removes his blinders, but I won’t wait.

For the time being, my poster stays up, to remind me that even my heroes are fallible, that if I don’t continue my creative journey and try to give to the world, that if I keep waiting for creative bolts of inspiration instead of doing the hard, scary, lonely work and push through those blocks, that if I think I found a shortcut or a cheat code or an easy way out… then I’ll be staring at the void for a long, long time.

I’ll still listen to his music. I won’t “cancel” him, just yet. I’ll separate art from artist, for now. I’m rooting for John Legend’s blue wave of green texts to flip Kanye back, because this dissonance is getting pretty heavy.

It used to be that everything Kanye was gave me juice to pursue my own truth.

Today, it’s everything he’s not that’s reminding me why I can’t give up.