Kanye West Explains His Mental Breakdown For The First Time (Video)
UPDATE: In a live video interview this afternoon (May 1) with TMZ, Kanye West admitted to an opioid addiction ahead of his 2016 hospitalization. “Two days before [I met with Donald Trump] I was in the hospital, I was on opioids. I was addicted to opioids. I had plastic surgery because I was trying to look good for y’all. I got liposuction because I didn’t want y’all to call me fat like y’all called Rob [Kardashian] at [my] wedding, and [public ridicule] made him fly home before me and Kim got married. I didn’t want y’all to call me fat, so I got liposuction.”
The artist continued to detail his addiction. “I was taking two pills a day at that time. When I left the hospital, how many pills do you think I was given? Seven. I went from taking two pills to taking seven. So the reason why I denounced, why I dropped those tweets and everything, because I was drugged the f*ck out, bro. And I am not drugged out. These pills that they want me to take three of a day, I take one a week maybe, two a week,” he says of his current medication, as described in the Charlamagne Tha God interview (below). “Y’all had me scared of myself, of my vision. So I took some pills so I wouldn’t go to the hospital and prove everyone right. We are drugged out. We are following other people’s opinions. We are controlled by the media. And today it all changes.”
ORIGINAL STORY: In 2016, Kanye West was atop the entertainment industry’s tower of power. The founder of G.O.O.D. Music challenged the music industry model with The Life Of Pablo, a #1 album that was not for sale. Meanwhile, he added and touched up the LP in real-time after its release. ‘Ye, who had admitted being in significant debt that February, would take his seventh platinum solo album on the road with the corresponding Saint Pablo Tour.
Planned to run from late August until the final day of 2016, West performed his album from a floating stage in a one-of-a-kind set for an artist known for big production concerts. On October 2, things changed abruptly. News broke that Kanye’s wife, Kim Kardashian, had been robbed at gunpoint in a Paris, France hotel room. Learning of the incident while performing, the entertainer prematurely ended his Citi Field show in New York City and took two additional dates off. In the following six weeks, The Saint Pablo Tour was marred by tardy performances and fans aghast with ‘Ye’s endorsement of (and meeting with) then-President elect Donald Trump during a November 17 show in San Jose, California. Two days later, while in Sacramento, West exited the stage abruptly after a monologue and three song performances. Afterward, the Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam Records artist canceled all remaining tour dates. He refunded ticket-holders and cited his plans changing due to stress and exhaustion. Within a day of canceling the 21 shows, West was admitted to UCLA Medical Center, where he remained hospitalized for days.
Since returning home in late November of 2016, Kanye West has remained largely detached from the celebrity he embraced earlier in his career. The revered producer and MC has been recording a seven-song EP he plans to release next month (June 1) and a collaborative Kid Cudi project (June 8), during extended stays in Wyoming. In returning to Twitter, typical of his pre-album press tradition, West has gained further controversy with tweets and photos that endorse now-President Trump.
Kanye has started to break the wall. In the last week, he released two songs (“Lift Yourself” and “Ye vs. The People,” featuring T.I.). Par for West’s course in music, the songs are self-referential, and byproducts of the statements he has shared on social media.
Fans get a much deeper, more cogent glimpse into Kanye’s head-space thanks to a new interview with Charlamagne Tha God. Conducted on April 18, the in-person interview opens the curtain on how Kanye West’s “breakthrough” (he says he prefers not to call it a “breakdown”) shaped him. Later, the superstar admits that he is on medication (“oh, most definitely”), but opts not to specify what he is taking. He also answers a question many of West’s fans may wonder: what would College Dropout-era West think of 2018 Kanye? For a creative who currently compares himself to recluses like Howard Hughes, this is a rare glimpse into the current mind-state, mood, and spirit of a man who proclaims that he cannot be managed and reveres himself as “the greatest artist of all time, up to this point.”
The interview opens with Charlamagne asking West how he is doing, mentally. “I think I’m at a stronger place than I ever was, after the breakdown—or [as] I like to say, the breakthrough,” Kanye replies. Here, Charlamagne opts to maintain referring to the late 2016 event as “a breakdown,” and asks West what he believes caused it. “Fear, stress, control—being controlled, manipulation, being a pawn in the chess [game] of life. Stressing things that create validation that I didn’t need to worry about as much. The concept of competition, and being in competition with so many elements at one time on a race against time—your age. ‘Ayo, you gettin’ old.’ A race against popularity on the radio,” he continues, noting that Pablo was received by radio differently than earlier bodies of work, as well as music by Drake and DJ Khaled.
West goes on to describe feeling “helpless” after the attack on his wife. He believes the assailants strategized the robbery based on West’s return to the States, after being in France to assist Kim Kardashian with her fashion choices. The armed robbery coupled with a surprising crowd reaction West experienced days prior. “Just one week before that or two weeks before that, I had done a fashion show, and I was 45 minutes late. They Lebron’d me, bro,” he says, likening the audience booing outcry to Lebron James’ departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat. “As soon as I was 45 minutes late, I felt it was the fashion community getting the right to say ‘ni**er,’ without sayin’ it. To be like, ‘Yo, we know you come through steppin’ on necks and all of that [in the past], but if you get out of line, boy, we gon’ roast you.’ It affected me because I’m an artist. It affected me emotionally. It’s like all of these things were almost set up to put me on meds, to break me down. The robbery, I don’t know where that came from. Was that a bigger plan, a bigger set-up? Also, just being on stage four times a week, you get exhausted up there,” West declares.
At 42:00, Kanye opens up about what he witnessed inside UCLA Medical Center. “When I was in the hospital, especially the Black people that worked in the hospital [while] I was in that hospital bed, I felt like they were my family members. I looked at them in their eyes, and I don’t know…it was like the tribe or something. As much as I want to say we’re one race, one humanity, one living organism, there is an element of the ‘the Black celebrity in America.’ When I was laid out in that hospital bed, looking through the window at a Black UCLA employee, I felt like I had let them down. I felt like they was looking at me, just shakin’ their head—not [angry]. Just sad. ‘Oh, that’s ‘Ye. That’s ‘Ye in that hospital bed. That’s our ‘Ye, bro. The ‘Ye juice. Like, they can’t break him.'” There, Charlamagne mentions Kanye West’s endorsement and meeting with Donald Trump, presumably implying that it made people feel detached from Kanye. West laughs and calls it “a Clayton Bixby moment,” referring to Dave Chappelle’s famed show skit about a Black, blind Ku Klux Klan member. “Like, ‘My ‘Ye [who said] “George Bush don’t care about Black people,” cannot, in any way…this dude has to diss Trump [on] all points and at all costs.'” West continues that against the advice of those around him, he wanted to express himself in 2016, just as he is doing now on Twitter.
The notion of “family” and “tribe” are recurring themes to the interview in multiple locations. At 1:25:30, Charlamagne says he does not believe that present-day Kanye West would take a position at a fashion-house, after coveting those positions for years. “I am in too good of a position to take a job where I have to be away from my wife, and my son, and my daughters. That just don’t make no sense. For what? Family is your most important currency. I got a cousin that lived in Florida; I [flew them] out here—I’m trying to get as much family as close to me as possible. That’s one of the reasons that Kim won’t end up in a hospital: she got her family close.”
In another setting, West’s design lab, he comes back to the notion of family just moments later in the video. “My mom made me to never be manipulated, and pimped, and gangstered, and all that sh*t. But somehow, stepping into the music industry, it happened. The music industry is set up for you to have just enough money to afford a car, pay for your kids, a house, and be on tour for the rest of your life–’til you die,” he charges. Dr. Donda West died November 10, 2008—just days before 808s & Heartbreak released. On Twitter, Kanye announced plans to use a photo of the surgeon tending to his mother at the time of his death as the artwork. He since tweeted a cease-and-desist letter he received from Dr. Jan Adams, offering to begin the “healing” with the doctor.
In looking at his return to the world he knew in late 2016, Kanye West says “One of the things that was incredible when I got out of the hospital was, I had lost my confidence. And you could see it, that’s why they kept saying ‘sunken place’ and all this stuff. And wow. I never had the empathy for people who lacked confidence. I had so much of it; I didn’t know what it was like to be without it.”
West compares that lack of confidence to the bravado he is known for. “It just wasn’t Black Panther/Superman level confidence. I didn’t have my confidence. So that superpower—if I was homeless, any situation—you could take everything. You could Black Mirror me. You could put sh*t on the media and say ‘Ye f*cked a goat,’… and you would not take my confidence away.” Later in the interview, Charlamagne notes how West’s confidence (especially when he crowns himself the greatest artist) seems to have returned. In reviewing the lack of confidence, West replies, “Nah,” when asked if his admitted debts were the cause.
In the closing 10 minutes of the interview, West returns to his late 2016. “You know, I hit the glass ceiling,” he says as he and Charlamagne Tha God hike on a 300-acre plot of land West purchased to develop. “You ever see a bird fly into a window? They don’t know it’s glass. That was me. When I hit the hospital, I was a bird flying into the window. I could’ve not made it out of that. But I survived and sh*t.”
Charlamagne asks if West is scared of that happening again. “Nah…nah. I’m happy it happened. I’m happy to have gone to the other side and back.” West adds that he felt isolated in the hospital when staff separated him from his friends. “That was the scariest moment of my life.” Of the time alone with staff in the elevator, West continues, “I thought I was gonna get killed. My wife wasn’t in town, so I told my boy Don and my boy Sky, ‘don’t leave my side until my wife gets here.’ They have this moment where they’re forced to leave your side. That’s something that has to change…I can’t express to you how traumatizing that moment is! Then, you wake up drugged the f*ck out.”
Charlamagne asks Kanye if his admitted ongoing prescribed medication helps him. After a pause, West says, “It’s an imperfect solution. It just calm’ me down, but there’s a lot of ways to calm down.” After C.T.G. says that a calmed down Kanye is not what he wants, the artist says he is learning to harness his powers. “[‘Superman’] really understood how to use his power. That’s me. This is like, once the kryptonite is gone, I got the confidence, everything is possible: building, acres, raps, stadium tours, designs, companies, ideas to ignite the next generations, everything is possible. I’m just a vessel. That’s my job in the universe—as a servant to the world, I have to be me. I’m not as good of a servant if I’m not ‘Ye.” Later, of his upcoming album, West says, “I want to play music that’s therapeutic. I feel that ‘Real Friends’ was in the territory of what we’re creating.”
Charlamagne then asks if the Kardashian and Jenner family and their celebrity played a role in how he felt that led to the hospitalization. “Paparazzi can stress you out, but it’s all in the inner-peace that you can find,” he says of the spotlight that comes with his marriage and famous in-laws. Charlamagne continues, “You said you don’t trust people. Do you trust your in-laws? Everywhere you look, there’s a story-line. Do you trust that they won’t turn your life and what you’re going through to a story-line?” West takes several steps on the hike before responding. “Uh…of course you know I’m gonna give you a slick answer on that, ’cause—” Charlamagne interrupts, “—you gotta go home.” Kanye laughs as he replies, “I gotta go home. What’chu expect? But…right now, we’re writin’ part of the story, just by even doing this and speaking. I like the way my wife communicates it and documents things. As an artist, I think it’s good to document ourselves, document our now, see if we can recognize ourselves again in a different light.”
There, Charlamagne asks one of his final questions. “What would College Dropout Kanye, if he was looking at pictures of Kanye now, what would he say?” As the sun sets, West thinks, then speaks. “I think he’d be happy, satisfied, and he would believe it. People always say ‘I don’t believe it.’ I always believed it. I always know what it is. This is just the documentation, the age-40—this is the College Dropout ‘Ye,” he says, before discussing his real estate and urban development plans.
While Kanye says he does not use therapy (“I use the world as my therapist,” he proclaims), he uses this interview to address his problems with JAY-Z. At 15:00, West describes their falling out one year ago, as well as his hurt feelings from Jay and Beyoncé not attending Kanye and Kim’s wedding (20:00). West says that while he and his Roc-A-Fella Records mentor text, they have not seen one another. Elsewhere, he explains how President Barack Obama upset him between 2008 and today.