Kanye West vs. Chrisette Michele
Back when physical media was still prevalent, I used to read album credits and liner notes for every single album I purchased multiple times over, staring at just about any albums credits I liked for hours while the music played. I could tell you the real names of damn near every rapper and singer, the names of their publishing companies, where songs were recorded and, of course, who produced every song I listened to. This is where I was introduced to Kanye West back in the late 90”s. Being a fan of Mase I purchased the Harlem World group album and the first actual song after the intro was a dope song called “You Made Me” featuring Carl Thomas and Nas produced by some guy named Kanye West (which I thought for a while was pronounced “Kane.”) From there I got the Jermaine Dupri album Life in 1472 and the first song on there as well as “Turn It Out” featuring Nas. At that point I was looking for him as somebody who had quality material in 1998 and I wasn’t disappointed when I bought The Madd Rapper’s album “Tell ‘Em Why You Mad” in ‘99 and the song “Stir Crazy” featuring Eminem came blaring through my speakers as well spots on albums from Foxy Brown and Lil’ Kim. I even bought the Infamous Syndicate album and first heard him produce and rap on “What You Do To Me.”
From there I caught a lot of his underground material on mixtapes in the early 2000s and download eras. Some of my favorite songs from him were never properly placed on albums like “Eyes Closed” and “Is That Your Car.” One of my favorite beats is a song called “Philly Niggas” which he produced for Freeway and Beanie Sigel that was strictly for mixtapes. Jeanius Level Musik 1 and 2 are some of my favorite mixtapes in general and I made sure to purchase the first 3 Kanye West albums on the Tuesday they dropped as well as My Beautiful Dark Twisted fantasy. It’s fair to say I was a die-hard Kanye fan for a good decade or so and knew his material inside and out and don’t even get me started on his production for other artists that blew my mind on a regular basis. We could be here a while.
And yet, I couldn’t get down with 808’s and Heartbreak, which, to me, was his first big misstep musically. I still cannot listen to that album as I was never a fan of auto-tune by any artist and didn’t really like any T-Pain songs either. I personally edited the song “Swagger Like Us” to remove the verses from Kanye and Lil’ Wayne for that very reason and if anyone plays it in front of me they wonder why I know Jay and T.I.’s verses word for word and stare blankly while the other two play. I’ve literally only heard them once before I removed them. MBDTF brought me back into the fold, especially with the G.O.O.D. Friday rollout which I’ve compiled into its own compilation. After that came Watch The Throne which is still a fantastic listen and from there is where my fandom for Kanye took a turn.
I reluctantly purchased Yeezus and listened to it in my car on the way to work the same way I did College Dropout on my first listen. For the second time I heard Kanye overstep his musical boundaries and regretted listening to one of his projects. And while I was never the type to take his words as gospel or thought he was infallible, that album gave me pause on everything that was going on with his mindset and being more critical of his decisions. You could tell that people were refusing to tell him ‘no’ and even the ones who might be able to reach him were failing. It’s no secret that Kanye has publicly discussed his issues with mental health (this is important for later) but just because you deal with a very serious issue doesn’t mean you should be able to run around untethered and beyond reproach.
Enter: Chrisette Michele.
Chrisette Michele Payne is a talented, Black, soul singer who caught our attention in 2007 with her song “If I Have My Way” and her debut album on Def Jam, I Am. Production and writing included Babyface, Will.I.Am, Salaam Remi and John Legend on top of co-writing every single song herself. The same year she collaborated with Nas on his song “Can’t Forget About You” and the year before sang the hook for the Jay-Z song “Lost One.” Her second album Epiphany dropped in 2009 and in its first week hit number 1 on the Billboard 200 with production and writing from Darkchild and Ne-Yo. And I don’t mean to bring up so many of these people to discredit her own talent. On the contrary, I believe that so many heavy hitters worked with her due to the fact that she is so immensely talented. All of the aforementioned names don’t just show up out of nowhere, they work with quality. I don’t think Babyface has ever shown up on a debut album of someone we don’t consider a legend now.
While never hitting the superstardom heights of Kanye West, Chrisette had a very respectable career. No one would ever doubt her talent for writing or her voice and every album included a standout that we would consider a standard. “If I Have My Way,” “Be OK,” “Epiphany (I’m Leaving),” “Blame It On Me," and “A Couple of Forevers” have been endlessly quoted and played but never really played out. Each song and many more are a testament to what she’s brought to not only soul music but Black culture. Even without the sales, the Grammy-winning singer was always known to deliver quality in her work. Something that has always been consistent to this day. Well...at least until we collectively stopped talking about her due to the Trump inauguration ceremony.
When Trump was elected, nobody in their right mind (and for good reason) wanted any part of performing at his inauguration. The country was divided and the fact that he was elected with 3 million less votes broke a lot of people’s faith in the electoral college and voting in general. Countless artists were invited to perform and just about all of them turned the offer down. Chrisette Michele, however, not only accepted the invitation but also justified her reasoning in the face of adversity leading up to the actual performance. But she wasn’t going in as a Trump supporter, she was going in as a “bridge,” she stated, between the two sides of the aisle. She hadn’t voted for him but she was willing to sing a song wearing African adorned pieces and...she wasn’t alone.
Here’s where this story starts to get messy. While people have criticized Chrisette for performing, most don’t even realize that, a) it wasn’t a solo performance and, b) she didn’t even perform her own song. She performed a song called “Intentional” with gospel singer Travis Greene and his choir. Yet when this faux pas is brought up it’s made to seem as though she went on solo with no purpose in mind. Was it misguided? Absolutely. But she wasn’t alone to blame for this. In the aftermath, Chrisette’s career was just about over, and her fan base, while not always massive, just about abandoned her entirely. Concerts she’s held in over 2 years since have had dismal attendance and her 2018 album Out Of Control was pretty much ignored by everyone.
And Travis Greene? The same year of the performance he released an album that shot to number 1 on the gospel charts, won 7 of the 9 Stellar awards he was nominated for and 1 of 3 Billboard awards he was nominated for. He has a new project due out soon and when write-upsdie-hard are done promoting his new music, Trump never comes up. Contrast that with Chrisette who, whenever anything is released, Trump is always referenced. Her last album, released in 2018, explored themes about things that she had learned in the time since the performance including a moving track called “Black Lives Matter” where she directly addresses detractors of the movement. Instead of this becoming a new anthem, people don’t even know it exists and won’t give her the chance, even though she’s acknowledged the mistake that was made and is trying to create more career-defining music. Even the critics agree that the quality of her work hasn’t slipped a bit, only her exposure has.
So with all of this said, why are people still giving Kanye West a pass? Kanye was mostly silent through the election and its aftermath but when he popped up, he never truly stopped, praising Trump at almost every turn, stating that he loves his “dragon energy” and meeting Trump face-to-face (something Chrisette never did.) He’s met with Trump at least twice publicly and his wife worked with Trump to release Alice Johnson from prison. Kanye regularly wears and references his Make America Great Again hat in song and, honestly, isn’t making great music anymore. The rollout to The Life of Pablo was a mess, to say the least and the music was hit-or-miss on an overly long album. The weekly release of 7 song albums from himself, Pusha T, Teyanna Taylor, Nas, and Kids See Ghosts produced a spotty-at-best list of tracks that only proved that he was running on E trying to force out material instead of sitting with it. Meanwhile, his rhetoric got worse regarding Trump and spilled the infamous “slavery was a choice” line while also being confronted by Van Lathan at the TMZ offices. He’s been espousing his non-researched and dangerous views with reckless abandon and in the face of all of this Trump support he’s…...still getting mainstream interviews, press and high anticipation for the album that just dropped with everyone talking about his new direction. Huh?
I keep hearing this argument about his mental issues causing these outbursts and that he’s still reeling from his mothers’ death years ago. I’m sorry to say, I think that this argument is complete bullshit. I’ve told friends in the past that this isn’t some version of him that never existed or manifested because of his mother. Remember, I’ve been a Kanye fan since before people knew you could be a fan of the guy from the Infamous Syndicate album. I’ve watched his rise in painstaking detail and while it’s disappointing to see this turn, it’s not a complete surprise. In 2004 on College Dropout, the song “Get ‘Em High” includes the line, “Why you think me and Dame [Dash] cool?/We ASS-holes.” Kanye has never been humble and has always been attracted to people with that same “dragon energy.” Kanye’s love of Trump isn’t his mental health getting the best of him, it’s Kanye getting the best of Kanye. And people have mothers that die that affect them greatly and it’s a pain I don’t think ever goes away, especially since I know that he feels partially responsible under the circumstances. But it’s been about 12 years since that happened and I don’t think that it has anything to do with his views now regarding slavery and Trump. I think the world likes to give him a pass because...he’s a man.
Cancel culture hasn’t worked on any man but it definitely worked on a Black woman named Chrisette Michele.
Cancel culture (which I don’t fully feel is an actual movement, despite people getting mad about it) is, in theory, supposed to hold people accountable for their actions and misdeeds. It’s supposed to say, “Hey, we can’t give you money or press again until you fix what’s wrong with you.” Yet this never seems to be the case. Travis Greene, as we can see, is thriving after his Trump performance. Kanye West is getting nothing but press, interviews, and streams for his new album. Steve Harvey, who met with Trump after the election, has TV and radio shows currently in rotation. Louis C.K. is about to start touring again and has appeared at quite a few appearances. R. Kelly still (somehow) has supporters that think he’s been framed. People still think Bill Cosby was either set up or didn’t warrant getting locked up at his advanced age. No one really wants to cancel their male figures. Hell, even Harvey Weinstein was recently invited out to an event and when the women complained, they were kicked out for speaking up about an alleged serial rapist being in their presence while several men took up for him because...Good Will Hunting?
I’m not going to be listening to the new Kanye West album or probably any album of his going forward. He’s done marvelous things for modern culture and influenced at least 2 different generations with his music, fashion, and outspoken opinions. For better or worse, Kanye has left an indelible mark on our world. But past goodwill doesn’t merit ongoing admiration and I don’t think he’ll ever learn to do better. I will, however, have the Chrisette Michele discography on rotation to get familiar with her work again including that new album. Maybe I’ll be one of the few to give her another chance and that’s fine, but I feel that if the monsters are able to avoid cancellation the least we could do is renew Chrisette for another season.