I’m standing up and I’m telling you, I am Warhol. I am the number one most impactful artist of our generation. I am Shakespeare, in the flesh. Walt Disney, Nike, Google…
-Kanye West, Creator of the Yeezy, 2013
The last time we heard from Kanye West, he was unleashing a tirade at a show in November 2016, during which he called out Jay Z and Beyoncé, proudly proclaimed he would have voted for Donald Trump (West didn’t vote), then abruptly ended the show after four songs.
At the time, it was the latest in an ongoing string of very public meltdowns, and a few weeks after that show, West was hospitalized for mental health issues. West receded from the public eye for a while, and given the news about his mental breakdown, the public was willing to attribute his previous crack-ups to a manifestation of untreated mental illness.
Last week, however, Kanye West resurfaced, and as the kids say, he’s on one.
It began with a tweet expressing support for black conservative Candace Owens:
Owens believes, among other things, that Black Lives Matter is comprised of “spoiled toddlers,” and that Donald Trump is the “savior” of the free world. Perhaps as a corollary, Owens is also the communications director for Turning Point USA, a youth conservative movement best known for being mocked into near-oblivion after members wore diapers on campus at Kent State. (The purpose was to mock liberal/leftist students for being too sensitive; needless to say, the demonstration did not have the intended effect.)
Kanye continued from there:
West’s praise for Trump marked the first time an honest-to-God celebrity – apologies to Scott Baio, Antonio Sabato Jr., Roseanne Barr, and Ted Nugent – publicly offered support for the president. And Trump, drawn to admiration like a moth to a flame, responded with a “Very cool!”
Trump, of course, has been actively working to enact policies seemingly designed to harm communities of color. Many of Kanye’s fans weren’t particularly thrilled by the artist’s endorsement of Trump, and they wasted no time telling him so. Even singer John Legend weighed in, suggesting to West in a text that he “reconsider aligning [himself] with Trump.” Also particularly galling to many was that Kanye supported Trump but not Obama. In fact, as The Outline notes, West and Obama haven’t exactly been on good terms for quite some time now.
Kanye West is, of course, free to support whichever politicians he so chooses, including Trump. Hell, given the Trump administration’s clear prioritization of the ultra-wealthy over the average American, it’s not necessarily surprising that Kanye would get on board. And on a personal level, it is not at all surprising that Kanye is drawn to an incurious narcissist with a penchant for brash, inflammatory rhetoric. Nevertheless, it was viewed as a curious move; after all, West made a career as a socially-conscious rapper, and his first foray into political commentary came in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when he asserted that “George Bush does not care about black people” on national television.
The ensuing backlash to Kanye’s pro-Trump statement presented an opportunity for West to explain his thinking – all eyes were on him, just as he likes it. Unfortunately, as has become clear of late, not even Kanye knows why he does the things he does. So instead, what we got from the self-proclaimed “genius” were a lot of profoundly stupid counter-arguments.
First, there was the “free thinker” argument, which basically contends that one cannot be criticized for holding a bad opinion, so long as one has arrived at that opinion of their own volition. According to West’s labyrinthine reasoning, one who holds a bad opinion is actually more enlightened than the unwashed masses who stand up and say “That’s pretty stupid, man.”
By the same rationale, it is perfectly okay for Kanye to take diametrically-opposed stances on a given issue; in fact, it’s encouraged. A more reasonable person might call this “a complete lack of any logical or moral compass,” but in the land of the intellectually adrift, one position is as useful as any other. By espousing myriad conflicting viewpoints in tandem, Kanye never has to be wrong.
Interestingly enough, this tweet came two days before West dropped what he presumably expected everyone to believe was a profound insight from the only man bold enough to tell the truth:
Yes, that’s noted “free thinker” rolling up not one, but two bog-standard (and inaccurate) conservative talking points into a single tweet. For one thing, Obama was the president of the United States, not the mayor of Chicago. For another, Obama did in fact introduce legislation and social programs that would have helped cities like Chicago; unfortunately, they either did not pass or were rendered toothless by a Republican-led Congress. For yet another, nearly every major piece of legislation that Obama did pass has been summarily rolled back by the Trump administration.
And finally, unemployment in Chicago – which rose to 12.1% in 2010 following the 2008 housing market collapse – was down to 4.7% in early 2017. In early 2009 when Obama first took office, unemployment was at 9.7%; even before the housing market collapse, unemployment in Chicago never went below 5%. In other words, not only did Obama help the country (and Chicago) weather the recession, but Kanye’s hometown actually came out economically better than it was when Obama first took office.
That Kanye likely believes he’s the first person to deploy the “BUT CHICAGO!” argument should tell you everything you need to know about him. When his career first started, Kanye’s swagger and self-confidence were appealing: everybody loves an underdog story, especially when said underdog has maintained an unwavering faith in their own talents.
Somewhere along the line, though, Kanye’s confidence metastasized into narcissism. Because of his considerable musical abilities, West was able to sell his audience on the mythos of Kanye, and their approval of his many dubious ventures – I’m sorry, but he is a godawful clothing designer – only heightened his already-towering sense of vanity. Unfortunately, his ego is as fragile as ever.
In an interview at TMZ yesterday, Kanye’s meandering, self-important ramblings eventually landed on the topic of slavery: “When you hear about slavery for 400 years — for 400 years? That sounds like a choice. You was there for 400 years and it’s all of y’all? We’re mentally in prison.”
Kanye was rightfully taken to task by TMZ staffer Van Lathan. Kanye attempted to fall back on the “free thinking” argument, but Lathan was having none of it, responding “I actually don’t think you’re thinking anything. I think what you’re doing right now is actually the absence of thought.”
West, thoroughly dunked-on, then retreated to Twitter. His efforts were pure gold:
It’s probably worth noting here that 148 years ago, it was 1870 – the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed seven years prior, and the Civil War had been over for five years. The Tubman quote would seem to bolster Kanye’s argument, but unfortunately for Mr. Free Thinker™, it’s fake. Rather than admit he was wrong, Kanye quietly deleted the tweets.
Some have argued that Kanye is having another mental breakdown; however, Kanye, his friends and his family all insist that he is in a healthy mental state. If that’s the case, then there exists only one other possible explanation for his behavior of late: he’s an idiot.
As a musician, it can be argued that Kanye West is a generational talent. Not by me, mind you; he was, once, but his most recent work has been confusing at best and downright terrible at worst. Paired with his repeated insistence that actually, this stuff is good, his music paints a different picture: one of a former great who knows he’s lost something but isn’t quite sure what; who’s wildly flailing about in the hopes that he’ll find it again; and who’s hoping he can skate by on his reputation until that day comes. But I digress.
His musical talents arise from his willingness to search for new sounds that he can reshape in such a way as to set himself apart from his peers. He is open to any form of music as long as it sounds unique, and his ability to take those unique sounds and push the boundaries of hip-hop is unrivaled. He has built a career on going against the grain.
Somewhere along the way, Kanye began to value uniqueness over all else not just in music, but also in life. When it comes to social issues, he doesn’t view each side of a debate through a right/wrong lens. Instead, he awards points for originality, even – or especially – if he doesn’t fully grasp what the “original” viewpoint is expressing.
Kanye is convinced that a commonly-held belief is of less value than one he’s never heard before. It doesn’t matter if that belief is nonsensical, or if the person expressing it is a moron; frankly, I don’t think he possesses the critical thinking skills necessary to make such an assessment. His ego is such that if you say or do something that surprises him, no matter the content, you must be a genius.
And even in this, Kanye is not nearly as unique as he likes to pretend. This attitude is typical among artists, for whom consensus is an unpardonable sin. Kanye is not elevating the discourse; in fact, he’s not contributing to it at all. He’s just making noise – the only difference is, he has a louder megaphone than most.
A Tribe Called Quest released “The Love Movement” 20 years ago this year. Aceyalone released “Love & Hate” 15 years ago. The concept of love is not new, not even in hip-hop. But none of that matters to Kanye, who has since begun repurposing banal sentiments one might find on a 19-year-old English major’s blog:
As tempting as it is to roll my eyes at him, there’s a certain comfort in this – Kanye can talk about abstract concepts all he wants. At least in that space, he can’t do quite as much damage.