It's public knowledge that Kanye West has bipolar disorder. And yet when someone with his talent and flair has an episode, it's easy for the general public to confuse his behavior with the typical grandiose rap persona. My goal is to help the reader understand the difference between the grandiosity that’s needed in the recording booth and the disruptive and damaging manic/psychotic grandiosity of bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is an ancient, genetic illness that affects a person's ability to regulate mood. It is physiological and not psychological and all people with bipolar disorder have the same, episodic mood swings. There are three main mood swings in bipolar disorder: depression, mania, and a mixed episode called dysphoric mania in which a person is depressed and manic at the same time. The majority of people with bipolar disorder also experience anxiety and many become psychotic during strong episodes.
Kanye is like anyone with bipolar disorder who is not getting effective treatment. He does well for a while and then the illness creeps up and a new manic episode begins. He then interacts more with the press because the ideas are flowing. As the mania increases and he becomes more psychotic, he starts to make manic/psychotic statements that lead to bizarre interviews and world headlines about his behavior.
For those who don’t understand bipolar disorder, his behavior appears similar to the bragging grandiosity cultivated in the rapping world. For those of us in the bipolar world, we can easily see the signs of mania and psychosis. How can the general public tell that this is bipolar disorder and not just his rap artist persona looking for publicity and attention? By understanding the typical patterns of bipolar disorder and how profoundly different manic/psychosis is from the much loved and cultivated bragging of the creative rapper.
What Is the Difference Between Grandiose Rap and Grandiose Mania and Psychosis?
I love and have followed rap since the 80s. Being grandiose in the rap world is absolutely normal, but it always makes sense in the context of the person’s life or in the nature of the rap. Here are a few examples from some of the best braggers in the rap world:
Don't call it a comeback
I've been here for years
I'm rocking my peers
Puttin' suckers in fear
—LL Cool J, "Mama Said Knock You Out"
Yeah, let me explain just how to make greatness
Straight out the gate, I'm 'bout to break you down
Ain't no mistakes allowed, but make no mistake I'm 'bout
To rape the alphabet, I may raise some brows
If I press the issue just to get the anger out (brrr)
Full magazine could take Staples out
—Eminem, "The Ringer"
Now she says she gon' do what to who?
Let's find out and see, Cardi B
You know where I'm at
You know where I be
You in the club just to party
I'm there, I get paid a fee
I be in and out them banks so much
I know they're tired of me
—Cardi B., "Bodak Yellow"
Kanye when he is well... and bragging with the best of them....
Cutie the bomb, met her at a beauty salon
With a baby Louis Vuitton under her underarm
She said, "I can tell you rock, I can tell by your charm
"Far as girls, you got a flock"
"I can tell by your charm and your arm”
We might call these lyrics grandiose, but it's a well thought out lyrical grandiosity that fits the topic and beat of the song. It's not ranting and it doesn't make the listener do a double-take and say, "What did s/he just say?”
Let's now look at Kanye's words that were caught on tape during a Saturday Night Live show when he was ill and eventually went into the hospital and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder:
“Are they f--king crazy? [Bro] by 50 percent [I am more influential than] Stanley Kubrick, Picasso, Apostle Paul, f--king Picasso and Escobar. By 50 percent, more influential than any other human being. Don’t f--k with me. Don’t f--k with me. Don’t f--k with me. By 50 percent dead or alive, by 50 percent for the next 1,000 years. Stanley Kubrick, ‘Ye.”
This is called a psychotic word salad. There is no connection to art. There is no beat or purpose. This is not the braggadocio that many of us love in rap. This is illness.
Afterward, SNL cast member Pete Davidson made a naive comment about Kanye: “Being mentally ill is not an excuse to act like a jackass.”
This comment is typical of how people feel: Come on, Kanye! It's not OK to get sick like this! Get a grip! You're a father and you run a company! What is wrong with you?
Unfortunately, no one with bipolar can just get a grip when mania and psychosis are raging. The frontal lobe functioning is long gone and the person is all illness. Bipolar doesn't care about anything and unless it's treated, people like Kanye can't get a grip or take care of themselves when the mania and psychosis are full-blown.
Can a Person Like Kanye Be Creative When Stable?
Yes! When well, Kanye is an influential, intelligent, creative, and often grandiose human being. That’s his personality. It might make people not like him, but it’s not dangerous. The problem: Kanye, like most of us with bipolar disorder, believes he is FAR, FAR more fabulous and creative when manic. He is not. We are NOT. We are out of control.
Can we create when manic? Yes, but only until an episode goes too far. The people around us hate the mania and are scared by the psychosis. It's essential that we teach anyone with this diagnosis that they can create when stable. I'm writing this piece while stable. It's not as fun as the mania, but it is the only way to have longevity in a career.
Kanye is ill. It's quite different to talk about your sexual prowess, how you're going to set the record straight and diss all your critics and create the next futuristic shoe than to say you're running for president under the Birthday Party, with an organizational model based on Wakanda, as Kanye recently told Forbes.
Right now, his grandiosity is manic and psychotic grandiosity and it’s dangerous. In my opinion, he will be in the hospital soon. It happened this way when Kim Kardashian was robbed in Paris. It's the same show, over and over again, until a person with bipolar disorder gets help.
Bipolar disorder is genetic. His family needs to get on board with a plan that not only helps Kanye, but also educates his children about bipolar disorder in the family tree. This is how we stop the hold bipolar disorder has through the generations. Let's also work together to end the media feeding frenzy around his comments and make it clear that Kayne is once again ill and needs help.
He is a human being with a partner and children who are also in a crisis. When he is stable, he can learn to be his grandiose rapper self without the mania and psychosis. That is my hope for him.
Julie A. Fast recently spoke to CBS News on the topic of Kanye West, mental health and the media attention on bipolar disorder. Click here to view the video Mental Health Expert Discusses Kanye West's Struggle with Bipolar Disorder.