One thing that surprises people who know me well is that I love Kanye West. My Spotify account is eclectic at best, ranging from 50’s Motown to 60’s rock to 80’s pop, all the way to more recent music that fits under the general guise of “indie.” Kanye West holds his own special place in my album collection – I have always loved how Kanye mixes his songs with intention, his deliberation bleeds from the frequency waves. In “Drunk and Hot Girls,” he samples “Sing Swan Song” from 70’s band CAN for the titular line, a song that’s mumbling, ambiguous lyrics only feeds to the hazy frenzy West describes. On the album Yeezus, Kanye utilizes samples to juxtapose past injustices with modern day black experiences. What he chooses to say in his songs is only enhanced by what he adds to it – he cherry-picks lines, beats, and samples to create songs that transcend into works of art and become powerful.
From an artist who I’ve always respected for his deliberation, his awareness, and seemingly close analyzation of lyrics and mixes, Kanye’s recent media stunts have seemed haphazard at best. The lyrics from the 2016 song “I love Kanye” have never stuck out more.
Starting on April 21, he began tweeting and retweeting messages from the far right, leading followers to question his political leanings. On April 25, his behavior escalated – Kanye went on a twitter rampage, announcing his love for Trump, and posting pictures of himself in a “Make America Great Again” hat. In a May 1st appearance on TMZ, Kanye stated mid-interview that slavery “sounds like a choice.” Amid the controversy, West just added fuel to the fire, dropping two songs: “Ye versus the People,” a collaboration with rapper TI in which the two debate Kanye’s political views, and “Life Yourself,” a song which samples the Amnesty track Liberty over the lyrics “Poopy-di scoop/Scoop-diddy-whoop/Whoop-di-scoop-di-poop/ Poop-di-scoopty.”
Kanye’s interviews, lyrics, and tweets are full of contradictions. In one tweet, Kanye offhandedly mentions “I’m not political.” However, he raps, “ever since Trump won, it proved I could be president,” and tweeted simply “2024,” building on his VMA speech where he first announced his intention to run for President. He acts like his suddenly expressed admiration for Trump occurred organically, and says in the TMZ interview, “I felt a freedom in, first of all, just doing something that everyone tells you not to do.” In his song “Ye Vs The People,” which was released the day he publicly endorsed Trump, he says, “Make America Great Again had a negative perception/I took it, wore it, rocked it, gave it a new direction.” Kanye’s version of the narrative seems to be widely off from reality, considering the backlash he received. Did he assume by endorsing Trump he would lead his fans towards doing the same? And, of course, the main contradiction Kanye keeps sticking to is a message of “Love Everyone.” But by coupling a message of acceptance of individuals with the act of embracing one of the most divisive administrations in recent history, Kanye sets up yet another contradiction in his behavior.
I’m a huge advocate for respecting the political beliefs of others – I understand that everyone is different and, as long as their beliefs don’t inhibit the basic human rights of others, should be able to vote and act as they see fit. But I also see no problem with discussing said beliefs. Even if two people leave a conversation unshaken in their stances, friendly political discussion can help us see the ‘other side’ as more human. Understanding “why” can lead to understanding of the individual. And this is a key issue with Kanye’s tirade – contradictions in his own messages imply he isn’t listening to what others have to say, including TMZ’s Van Lathan, John Legend, and others have attempted to explain to him. At this point, his behavior isn’t “free thinking” – it’s deranged and misinformed. And, as an influential figure, we must hold him accountable for it.
Part of holding Kanye accountable means twisting the narrative away from excusing Kanye’s behavior as side effect of mental illness. First, while Kanye opened up about his history with mental illness in an interview with Charlamagne tha God, he explained that he’s “stronger than ever.” But, even if Kanye was in a worse-off place, the reality is that supporting Trump is not a byproduct of an underlying condition – the implication is harmful to individuals with mental illness, as it undermines their political participation, and democracy itself. After all, saying that aligning with any individual because of mental illness simplifies the election process and discredits any valid reasons why someone might support a controversial figure. This prevents any value we may gain from analyzing why Trump was elected and what we can do to prevent it in the future. In Kanye’s case, attempting to project the blame onto his history doesn’t hold him accountable for the choices he is making as a powerful member of society. As Trevor Noah pointed out, those on the far right and white supremacists will use Kanye’s endorsement of Trump as a way to excuse their behavior.
In the TMZ interview, Kanye tells reporters, “We’re taught how to think, we’re taught how to feel, we don’t know how to think for ourselves.” As Lathan pointed out, West isn’t breaking any sort of government-taught brainwashing. By refusing to engage in a dialogue about his most recent forthcomings, Kanye isn’t thinking for himself. I’m not sure what worse – if he’s not thinking about the repercussions his actions have, or if he has, and doesn’t care. But as a public figure, we must hold West accountable for the messages he is broadcasting. Given the release of his new album, I’m both apprehensive and excited to see what he says next.