Donda West: Mother Knows Best

  Having a son reach the plateau of Kanye West has been an invigorating experience for Dr. Donda West. An English Professor for 31 years, one can only imagine what it’s been like to witness Kanye drop out of college and become one of Hip-Hop’s biggest superstars. As a single mom, she instilled in her […]

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Having a son reach the plateau of Kanye West has been an invigorating experience for Dr. Donda West. An English Professor for 31 years, one can only imagine what it’s been like to witness Kanye drop out of college and become one of Hip-Hop’s biggest superstars. As a single mom, she instilled in her only child the courage and creativity that many have come to respect. In shielding Kanye from the possibility of getting into trouble growing up on the Southside of Chicago, there was one thing she couldn’t keep him from, and that was Hip-Hop. Dr. West has profiled her journey of rearing Kanye from a boy into a man in her new book Raising Kanye. Not only does Dr. West break down why her son is who is today, she also speaks on the misconceptions about him and teaches a few life lessons along the way. In the spirit of Mother’s Day, Dr. West took some time out from her duties as a part of Kanye’s management team to elaborate on how she feels about some of the decisions Kanye has made throughout his career, her opinion on Hip-Hop and why sometimes some things are better left unsaid. Alternatives: What motivated you to write Raising Kanye? Dr. Donda West: I wrote the book because a lot of people had urged me to write something single mothers would want to read. There are sides of Kanye that not too many people know about. Kanye has a persona and a person. In the book, I talk a lot about the person Kanye West. His story is bigger than mine. I came to believe that maybe there is something that I did as a parent that might be interesting enough for another parent to consider. AHHA: How has Kanye’s career impacted your life? What’s different for you now as a result of his success? Dr. West: Where I live, the job that I have, the concerns that I have, and my love for Hip-Hop. Those are just a few things. AHHA: You’ve been able to stay in tune with Kanye’s life by being knowledgeable of Hip-Hop and its culture. How did you achieve that and how were you able to create such a personal relationship with Kanye? Dr. West: I came into Hip-Hop with someone pulling me into it because I didn’t understand it. Therefore, I didn’t appreciate it the way that I do now. My relationship with Kanye has always been a very close one. So naturally, when he showed interest in Hip-Hop I wanted to see what he was interested in. As his mother, I wanted to see if there were areas that I needed to monitor and I also wanted to connect with my child so I could understand what he was thinking. I wanted to challenge him to see if he was thinking in an analytical and critical way. AHHA: As the mother of a Hip-Hop superstar, you’ve watched Hip-Hop grow. What do you think about its current state? Dr. West: There is a lot going on at the moment in terms of language, and it being politically and socially conscious and whether or not it reflects an understanding of what it means to be Black. Then there is another level of it that shows a generation that is highly involved by creating metaphors to question the system to change and calling for change. It definitely has two sides in my opinion. One side is being questioned right now and another side is going to take us to another level. AHHA: In chapter five of your book, you address respect and how Kanye’s respect for you is so infectious that it spreads to his peers. How do you feel when you listen to his music and hear [b***h] or [hoe]? Dr. West: I feel very different now as opposed to when I first heard it. I don’t think I’ve become insensitive, but I’m not offended by it. I don’t think that Kanye uses words like that irresponsibly. I’m a person who taught rhetoric for 31 years. Sometimes, there happens to only be one word to describe what you’re feeling. With having said that, there was once a time that I went to Kanye and said, “Can you just not use the B and H words?” I have even heard girlfriends refer to each other like that in certain settings, and I wasn’t offended. In general, it causes me some concern. You’ll never know if someone just has issues with their self-esteem, and therefore that word is just on their list to negatively reflect themselves. Or when someone is just using it rhetorically then it’s not negatively impacting them either way. There are two sides to every quarter. Hip-Hop is constantly evolving. It’s still provoking thought to what you feel about it. AHHA: With the recent Don Imus situation, do you think rappers should refrain from using the B and H word – or is too late? Dr. West: I have mixed emotions about it. Don Imus is not Snoop Dogg. You can’t compare them. Whether rappers should take the word out, I’m unsure. If you would have asked me a year or two or ago, I would have said definitely, but I am not sure what I think now. AHHA: Reflecting on when Kanye was in car accident a few years back, how did you feel when you saw your son in that state? Dr. West: There was an energy that I had to submit to make sure that everything was going to be alright. I had to keep going. There was no time to break down and feel hopeless. That couldn’t have fit him. Of course, when I first got the news I was thrown for a loop, but I didn’t give any other thought to it except that fact that he would be ok. AHHA: What’s been your proudest moment as Kanye’s mom? Dr. West: Before College Dropout even dropped, Kanye looked at me and said, “Mom, when are we going to give back?” That’s when the foundation was born, the Kanye West Foundation, and the program we have now Loop Dreams that we’re putting in the boys and girls club. That made me feel good, because I instilled in him a person that wanted to give back and was concerned with how he could help someone else. That was one of my very proudest moments. Sometimes, there have been very personal moments with the gifts that he has been able to shower me with to represent his love. AHHA: You’ve transformed from being in the classroom to being his manager. Do you miss being in the classroom? Dr. West: No actually I don’t, because I look at life as being the opportunity to educate. I was in the classroom 31 years. Now, with the foundation and the opportunity that comes along with it, I am still in the arena of education. Eventually, I will miss it because it was something near and dear to my heart. AHHA: In the book, you talked about not having a maternal instinct until you were 27. Have you ever thought about what the world would be like without Kanye? Dr. West: It’s something to think about the world not having a Kanye West, it would be like the world not having a Quincy Jones. For me, I cannot imagine my life without Kanye. I don’t say it because he became a Hip-Hop superstar, but within the same vein that most mothers would say it. AHHA: When you see Kanye in the news when it’s positive, you smile, but when it’s negative how do you feel? Dr. West: I can’t think of much that I’ve saw that is negative that I’ve regarded very highly. I understand how the media works sometimes and what its purpose is when they over sensationalize, and how people feed off of negative things. I sometimes wish it concentrated on the positive things that he does, but then again that’s how the media is and how it works. I don’t have time to be upset by the media. I can’t think of anything I can do to change it. AHHA: Let’s talk about Kanye’s arrogance versus confidence? Dr. West: I think that Kanye is a very confident young man, and as an entertainer he is very self-assured. I remember his kindergarten teachers telling me, “He doesn’t have a problem with self-esteem does he?” I know him as a person and the persona. I often called Kanye the Muhammad Ali of Hip-Hop. You had some fighters that were humble and meek. Then you have some who could fly like a butterfly and sting like a bee. I’ve always liked that about Muhammad Ali and I like that of Kanye West as well. AHHA: What’s your opinion of Kanye making the statement he did about President Bush during the Hurricane Katrina telethon back in 2005? Where you scared for him? Dr. West: No, I wasn’t scared from him. I had some friends who were afraid for a brief moment. I don’t see an upside to fear. Whenever I feel afraid for a split second, I try to use that energy somewhere else. I don’t have time to be afraid because that prevents me to not being there for him and represent him effectively. AHHA: In the book you spoke about how you missed the telethon and ended up finding out what Kanye had said from a friend. How did you end up missing the telethon? Dr. West: I was in New York in and out of a series of meetings, and went to get some rest. I didn’t know what time his segment was going to be aired. If I did, I would have been glued to the TV, but I missed it because I was resting and mediating. But certainly, I was able to hear what he had said over and over again. AHHA: What’s it been like to learning things from Kanye, and how has it made you a better person? Dr. West: Looking at Kanye has made me a more courageous individual, and I already saw myself as being courageous. I believe that Kanye has broken through and gone to levels and done things that I haven’t been able to reach yet. I have 28 years to his senior so I have a lot of experience. I’ve learned to speak my mind regardless of the consequences. I’ve learned a lot having raised Kanye and being his mother. AHHA: How do you think Kanye deals with rejection? We’ve seen him at award shows speak out when he feels that he was slighted several times. Dr. West: I don’t think that Kanye has any problem with not winning an award. If he feels as though he was tight, someone else might have been better or equally good, and they’ve gotten the award. It’s been times when people have voted for the same person over and over again. It’s not a matter of him always having to win but of course, he always wants to win. He recognizes that other people are great, and he recognizes that by collaborating with them. I do think that he has trouble trying to decide what he thinks is political and what’s unjust. At times many of our friends thought that he should have won an award when someone else has gotten it. He hasn’t always responded well to that. I’ve always figured I don’t think that I am the right person to ask that question. I really feel that there is a gracious way to lose. It’s not a bad thing to be gracious about it, and I encourage it. But I also feel quite frankly that if you show me a good loser, I’ll show you a loser. AHHA: Where there any aspects of Kanye’s life that you decided to keep out of the book? Dr. West: No. There were things that I hesitated about putting in the book he encouraged me to put them in the book. A book can only be so long, so detailed, and there will be other books, so I won’t say that every little thing is in this book. Someone called it a tell-all book, but I couldn’t mention everything – but there is nothing that was left out because it was some big secret. AHHA: What were some of the things that you hesitated on leaving out the book? Dr. West: I hesitated on talking about my no-no’s. For example, letting him ride the [the subway] in Chicago; I wondered how he might have felt about that now. I didn’t want to put anything in the book that he might have had a problem with. As it turns out, he didn’t have a problem with some of the things I mentioned, he just wanted me to flesh it out and explain why I had a problem with it. I wanted the book to be real. Do I put in the book that he sucked his t########## until he was eight? I wanted to tell the complete story, but not in an unhealthy negative way. There were some stories I could have gone into more detail, but it’s 228 pages and I didn’t want it to be longer. AHHA: I commend you for admitting some of the things that you did in the book, for example, giving up smoking weed when you found out that you were pregnant and then finding Kanye with a nude magazine – and then later on an X-rated p#### tape. Not all parents like to admit things like that and typically keep those types of stories private. Dr. West: One thing about Hip-Hop is you have to keep it real. AHHA: Overall, why do you think that people should read the book? Dr. West: People should read the book because it references what can happen when you do everything you can to raise a young man – in directly there are a lot of ‘how-to’s’ for a lot of individuals. Most mothers I know really love and care for their sons. I was fortunate to have both parents who were really experienced when they got to me. I want people to learn about how Hip-Hop has evolved. It’s about Kanye the person rather than Kanye the superstar. You can get a different perspective on the N-word. There are also controversial topics that the media didn’t talk about. My ending statement would be, “It’s a good book.” You have to say that. If you feel that way, you’ll see that. It’s a true story. It’s about how it’s impacted society, and I’m 58 and I love [Hip-Hop] music. We can close some of the generational gap to advance our society if people would only understand it.