‘DEAD’ appeared for the first time, along with its companion piece, ‘DIVORCE,’ on Kanye West’s Instagram in March 2022. Both poems were posted in the midst of the fallout from the end of his marriage to Kim Kardashian.
In the caption that accompanied this piece, West wrote that he feels “compromised” having to justify his expression over the last twenty years of his art-making. He adds that he feels the need to make sure that “we as a species are allowed to still feel anything Men [are] not allowed to cry celebrities [are] not allowed to cry.” He adds, “I will not explain this new piece for the explanation destroys the mystery and magic of true love and puts it in a box that can be counted.”
He goes on, adding that “Art is subjective” and “Art only works when it is the artist[‘s] absolute truth.” The statement concludes with West saying that:
We don’t all have to feel the same because we are not the same without further ado I present to you my latest creation it is called DEAD.
‘DEAD’ by Kanye West is a contemporary poem that expresses the writer’s emotions post-divorce from Kim Kardashian.
In the first part of this poem, the speaker begins by saying that he wishes someone would’ve told him that he was “dead.” This is the driving motivation behind pinning this short lyric. The speaker can see his life clearly now, but when looking back on the previous years, he wishes that one of his loved ones would’ve confronted him and forced him to see the truth sooner. He was not living in the clear, more insightful way he is now.
As the lines progress, he alludes to feelings of isolation, solitude, and alienation. He feels as though he was not listened to, the media interpreted his actions and emotions incorrectly, and that if only someone had told him he was “dead,” he would’ve been able to save himself a lot of trouble. The poem ends with a description of seeing a “newsstand” and information about his “murderer.” The final line is addressed to the reader, providing them with the courtesy he feels as though he never received – telling them that “you’re DEAD.”
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Form
‘DEAD’ by Kanye West is a two-part poem that is divided into one set of fourteen lines and one set of fifteen lines. The poem appeared within a striking image, with a grey background and a bold, red title, on West’s Instagram. The poem is written in a black font that stands apart from the title and its surroundings.
The text utilizes the following rhyme scheme AAAAAAABAAAAAA in the first part and a pattern of AABAACAAAAADAEA in the second part. The “A” rhyme utilizes the “-ed” end sound, punctuated by the repetition of the word “DEAD” (which appears in all-caps throughout the poem.
Some lines are quite long; for example, the fourth to last line of the second part is twice as long as those proceeding it and following it, reaching twenty words. Other lines are far shorter, between four and seven words.
Throughout this piece, West makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Epistrophe: can be seen when the poet repeats the same word or phrase at the end of multiple lines. For example, “DEAD” which ends a total of eleven lines.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines four and five of the first part and lines three and four of the second part.
- Imagery: can be seen with the poet uses especially effective examples and descriptions. For example, “They would come to my grave and sprinkle some bread / So on my tombstone the birds would be fed.”
No one wanted to tell me I was DEAD
I would give new requests but nothing was said
In the first part of the poem, the speaker, who is more than likely Kanye West himself, begins by asserting the fact that he feels that no one would tell him that he was “ DEAD.” This is a theme that is conveyed throughout the two parts of this contemporary piece. As the lines progress, West suggests that the only people who would talk to him were “in my head” and that only people who “loved me would visit in their dreams instead.”
Through these lines, readers can interpret a feeling of solitude, isolation, and abandonment. The speaker feels as though they have been alienated from those they love and, in a sense, abandoned to endure the struggles of their own mental health. Contemporary contexts suggest that this piece was inspired by struggles in Kanye West’s personal life, such as the end of his marriage to Kim Kardashian.
The idea that the speaker was “DEAD” and that no one would tell him is an interesting one. West asserts the statement as a metaphor rather than a reality. His speaker, whether he sees himself in this role or not, feels as though they have been separated from reality for too long. They have not been truly living due to their personal struggles and feel as though no one was there to help them realize that fact.
In the fifth and sixth lines of the first part of this poem, the speaker provides readers with an interesting metaphor depicting the people who loved him coming to his grave and sprinkling bread so the “birds would be fed.” Rather than visiting the speaker and helping him through his struggles, the visitors who love him ignore his varied issues and instead worry about feeding the birds. This kind gesture is acknowledged but is suggested as one that does not get to the heart of the problem.
In line eight, the speaker repeats the phrase that began this section of the poem. He asserts once again that no one wanted to tell him that he was dead. By repeating this line, the speaker is emphasizing how important it is to his understanding of what his life is now. It’s also quite clear, through his choice to repeat the line, that he is not willing to let go of his feelings of abandonment and isolation.
They took advantage of him, he suggests, but it did not help him in the one way he really needed.
The speaker also references his “kids” who dance for him “in a home” that he “once lead” towards the end of the section. His kids saw him, but they didn’t know he was dead. Here, the description of his “death” is different. Now, he asserts that he felt dead, but his kids didn’t realize how he was suffering. This presents readers with an image of a man suffering in silence, enduring his personal struggles without assistance or recognition.
The final line of the section describes the “press,” or the media. The speaker is describing how everything he read about himself in the news, of which there was quite a bit, was “wrong.” He did not see himself reflected adequately or accurately in the articles he was reading. There was a great deal more going on in his personal life than anyone realized or that anyone was willing to help him with.
Cause nobody would tell me that I was DEAD
Funny its been a long long time since I bled
The second part of the poem reflects the first on the opposite side of the image, underneath the right side of the title. Here, West begins with the same statement he repeats several times in the first part of the poem. He asserts that no one would tell him that he was “DEAD.”
The speaker uses casual language in these lines (for example, the word “bro”), which is used to suggest that his friends and colleagues should’ve addressed him in a clear way he could understand. He wishes that at some point, someone would’ve just come up to him and told him that he’s been “DEAD.”
In these lines, there is a conflict between what the speaker believes that other people should’ve recognized in his life and his willingness to share what was actually going on. At the same time, the speaker describes again how no one was listening to him. He emphasizes how he was suffering in silence, self-imposed or otherwise.
The speaker adds that someone “being smart as me” should’ve known that he was not living life in the way he should’ve. But, since he was in the midst of personal struggles, he couldn’t. Now, he feels as though he’s been confined to his own life experiences, isolated and separated from those who might’ve helped him at one point.
You think someone who prides being smart as me would have known that he’s dead
And surprise…You’re DEAD
He alludes to the disregard he feels as though he has been treated with towards the end of the poem. He compares himself to a dead person, saying that he was treated in the same way as someone who has no emotions and no senses. He feels like someone who cannot hear, speak, or think so should be passed over and ignored.
Towards the end of the poem, the longest line describes a newsstand, purgatory, and the speaker’s “murderer.” The poem takes a slight turn at this point, suggesting that there is one person in particular who is responsible for the speaker’s state of mind. It is impossible to ignore the very strong possibility that West is alluding to his marriage with Kim Kardashian in his final lines. He feels as though his personal, romantic relationship is responsible for his declining mental health, and perhaps, he sees Kardashian as the primary driver of this decline.
Readers may have to speculate in regard to which news article he read at this particular moment in a poem. Whichever one it was, it appears to have some bearing on his understanding of his relationship. Or perhaps his interpretation of how the world sees him. He notes that he was “surprised at what it said.”
It concludes with two lines that seem to address the reader specifically. The speaker tells the reader that “this info is for you” and that “surprise…You’re DEAD.” Here, the speaker appears to be attempting to relate his situation and his loss of identity, control, and feelings of isolation to any of those that readers may have felt in the past.
Additionally, he is directing these strong words at the listener/reader in order to do for their audience what no one would do for them. They are telling those reading that they are “dead,” the one thing that the speaker wishes he had been told.
It is not entirely clear why West wrote this poem. But, readers can speculate that he used this poem in order to air some of his emotions surrounding his recent divorce from Kim Kardashian. Within it, he expresses feelings of isolation and abandonment while suggesting that his actions have been misinterpreted by the media.
The purpose of the poem is likely to share some of West recurring emotions and his interpretation of how he acted over the last months of his relationship with Kim Kardashian. He feels now as though he was not himself and that he wishes someone had been able to give him a wake-up call.
It is likely that Kanye West wrote the poem in early 2022. However, there is little information about its composition. Readers generally interpret the piece alongside ‘DIVORCE,’ posted at the same time on West’s Instagram.
Readers should also consider exploring some related poetry. For example:
- ‘Beware: Do Not Read This Poem’ by Ishmael Reed – a thoughtful poem about culture and how language is used to tell stories. The poem warns against becoming too consumed within one method of storytelling.
- ‘Sad and Alone’ by Maurice Manning – explores different memories, all revealing the loneliness of the poet.
- ‘Alone’ by Edgar Allan Poe – demonstrates the poet’s best verse. Here, the tormented mind of the literary genius is unveiled and readers get a glimpse into his abrupt and troubled life.