Can Kanye save Chicago? Nope, but he can help
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.