Can Kanye save Chicago? Nope, but he can help

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - A+E - Wil­liam Lee

No, Vir­ginia, there is no Santa Claus and Kanye is not Chicago’s sav­ior.

But it’s fun to think about, isn’t it? “I’ve got to let you all know, that I’m mov­ing back to Chicago and I’m never leav­ing again,” he told a group of ec­static high school kids in a re­cent video that went vi­ral.

I’ll ad­mit a small part of me smiled at the thought of West, like some nou­veau-Amadeus, ran­domly pop­ping up about town with an un­com­fort­able Kar­dashian-Jen­ner in tow. Pop cul­tur­ally speak­ing, Kanye com­ing home is “Den­nis Rod­man sign­ing with the Bulls” big.

I in­stantly imag­ined West stag­ing im­pro­vised se­cret con­certs with fa­mous friends with the lo­ca­tion avail­able by Twit­ter scav­enger hunt di­rec­tions. I imag­ined him join­ing the col­lec­tive of lo­cal rap artists like Chance the Rap­per, Che “Rhymefest” Smith, Vic Mensa and Com­mon who are sup­port­ing arts and char­ity ini­tia­tives for young chil­dren in strug­gling com­mu­ni­ties.

By the morn­ing af­ter his an­nounce­ment, so­cial me­dia were alive with “Kanye for mayor” talk, only half-se­ri­ous but preva­lent. Amer­ica’s wild-card rap­per parachut­ing into his home­town dur­ing a time of ma­jor tran­si­tion — what could pos­si­bly go wrong?

But like a slap in the face, it hits me.

Oh, right. This is Kanye. “Slav­ery sounds like a choice” Kanye. “I sup­port Don­ald Trump” Kanye. “I’m more in­flu­en­tial than the Apos­tle Paul” Kanye.

By Wed­nes­day, gos­sip web­sites were al­ready pour­ing cold wa­ter on West’s prom­ises, claim­ing nei­ther he nor his wife Kim would ac­tu­ally be­come full-time Chicago res­i­dents. As Tri­bune re­porter Mor­gan Greene wrote a day af­ter his an­nounce­ment, West has been mak­ing a lot of lo­cal prom­ises lately that haven’t panned out de­spite his seem­ing good in­ten­tions.

One does won­der what sparked West, who left Chicago in the 2000s to be­come a wun­derkind pro­ducer at Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records, to re­turn to his home­town, which has be­come a na­tional punch­ing bag as an ex­am­ple of ur­ban vi­o­lence. While Chance and oth­ers have con­trib­uted time and money to as­sist school­child­ren, West has con­sumed him­self with mak­ing new mu­sic and over­see­ing his own fash­ion line. Did rap’s mis­un­der­stood mis­fit see the heap­ing of praise that Chance and oth­ers re­ceived for their char­i­ta­ble works for lo­cal schoolkids and want some of that Chicago love for him­self?

While the mer­cu­rial West ap­pears to be at his most ap­proach­able in years, he re­mains an agent of chaos who caused deep soul-search­ing among his fans this year. Just last month, West apol­o­gized for his con­tro­ver­sial com­ments that Amer­i­can slav­ery sounded like “a choice.” Th­ese com­ments, cou­pled with his un­wa­ver­ing sup­port for Pres­i­dent

Trump, roiled black Amer­ica for months, with many fans on so­cial me­dia pledg­ing that they were done with the award-win­ning rap­per.

Also, this is Chicago. With our high taxes, gun vi­o­lence prob­lem and mount­ing, un­avoid­able pen­sion debt, the city is in need of so­lu­tions to its prob­lems, and a dreamy rap­per with impulse con­trol is­sues may not have the an­swers to the city’s prob­lems.

I worry that some may want West — one of the world’s big­gest stars and most in­flu­en­tial artists — to step into a void atop the city’s black lead­er­ship that some had hoped would be filled when the Oba­mas left from the White House.

But West tends to lead more by rid­dle and rant, whether it’s an ugly so­cial me­dia ex­change with Rhymefest over the di­rec­tion of a char­ity, or his wild TMZ Live in­ter­view where he blamed li­po­suc­tion surgery and his use of opi­oids for a pre­vi­ous men­tal break­down.

I worry that some earnest neigh­bor­hood ac­tivist des­per­ate to get pub­lic at­ten­tion for their cause will mis­tak­enly seek out West for real so­lu­tions, when his head is with his new fall line for New York Fash­ion Week.

But here’s the thing: West does pos­sess gifts and re­sources that could sin­gle-hand­edly spark a lo­cal art and mu­sic boom that would be felt all over the Mid­west.

West, 41, a cut­ting-edge artist whose tweets alone can spark head­lines, has the magic touch to put any artist he deems wor­thy on the main­stream radar. Rap­pers Travis Scott, 2 Chainz, Valee, and Mensa ex­ploded to ma­jor fame af­ter work­ing on West projects. En­gle­wood bad-boy drill rap pi­o­neer Keith “Chief Keef ” Cozart owes his in­ter­na­tional plat­inum-sell­ing suc­cess to West’s re­work­ing of his 2012 track “I Don’t Like.”

But more im­por­tant, even a caus­tic and slightly un­hinged West re­mains an imag­i­na­tive and clever sto­ry­teller who has the im­mense power to reach this city’s young peo­ple, en­cour­ag­ing them to voice their own pain and grief through art.

If West in­deed re­turns, even in a part-time ca­pac­ity, I hope it’s a good omen of things to come. Maybe more of our most tal­ented de­par­tures who left to seek suc­cess else­where will re­turn home to share what they’ve learned and hope­fully help us fix this mess.

And Kanye can cer­tainly help, even if he can’t save us.


Kanye West holds his son, Saint, af­ter throw­ing the first pitch Sept. 23 at the Cubs-White Sox game at Guar­an­teed Rate Field.

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