Kanye West has officially renounced his status as a musical artist in favor of being a provocateur. His descent into public conservatism, while gradual, has been nothing if not a complete reversal of the more liberal views he espoused in his earlier songs, media appearances, and political commentaries.
In 2005, West said, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” In 2013, West rapped about social injustice in a song called “New Slaves.” And in 2015, West donated $2,700 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
But within the past year, Kanye has devolved as an artist and an activist for social change. Gone are his lyrics condemning police brutality and in its place are the scattered ramblings of a man desperate for attention and praise from one of the most powerful people in the world.
Attention-seeking behavior isn’t new for West. It’s been a part of his brand for years.
In 2009, Kanye quite literally took the national stage when he interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV awards to praise Beyoncé.
In October 2013, West proposed to Kim Kardashian with an elaborate display that involved renting a stadium and hiring an orchestra.
And in 2015, Kanye made a splash at the MTV awards again when he announced a bid to run for president in 2020.
As extravagant and bizarre as West’s behavior has been in the past, it hasn’t been problematic until recently.
The beginning of West’s descent into unapologetic conservatism came shortly after his abrupt return to Twitter this past April when he tweeted, “You don’t have to agree with trump but the mob can’t make me not love him. We are both dragon energy. He is my brother. I love everyone. I don’t agree with everything anyone does. That’s what makes us individuals. And we have the right to independent thought.”
On the surface, this tweet is fine. Everyone, including international rap icons, is entitled to their own opinion. West even put in the effort to disclose that he doesn’t agree with everything Trump does.
The problem isn’t with West’s opinion, the problem is with what he doesn’t say — how he fails to back up his ideas with hard evidence while simultaneously disseminating them to a large population (28 million followers at the time of his tweet).
Additionally, West’s status as a black man makes his support of Trump even more significant and damaging. It gives Trump an influential supporter of color to point to when he’s labeled as racist.
West’s status as a wealthy black man supporting Trump and the Republican party is also illogical. Conservatism’s platform (apart from lower taxes) has no obvious alignment with West’s goals or background.
It’s likely that West’s support of Trump is more personal than political — that he sees his personality as kindred to that of Trump. This is supported by West’s belief that he and Trump are both “dragon energy.” This, however, should not be the sole requisite for a desirable commander in chief.
The combination of West’s musical popularity (he’s the sixth most streamed artist on Spotify) and his consistent presence in the news cycle make his controversial statements all too present in the minds of those listening to his albums.
West’s tweets and public statements continued to go downhill after his initial tweet praising the president. On May 1, West lectured the TMZ newsroom on his belief that slavery was a choice due to its 400-year duration, a length of time West evidently views as an unrealistically long period of time to be oppressed.
Most recently, West both praised the president on Saturday Night Live and tweeted about abolishing the 13th Amendment within 24 hours. The comments caused a social media uproar and demonstrated both West’s lack of knowledge of American history and his lack of concern for low-income people of color.
It’s important to note that West recently deleted his Twitter and Instagram. On the surface, it appears as if West has become aware of his social media incompetency and has taken a hiatus because of that.
I doubt that’s the case. Even with no social media platforms available to spew his ideas, West has a significant musical following and a consistent flow of publicity.
Furthermore, his departure from social media was widely reported on sites like USA Today, TMZ, and The Huffington Post. This gave West additional eyes and ears to preach to and shine a brighter spotlight on his relationship with the president.
Kanye West wants attention. He wants as many eyes as possible to be on him because it means more streams, more views, more publicity, and more money.
When we give Kanye West a platform to espouse political nonsense and when we react to that nonsense, we divert our attention from actual conservative political threats and from the words of well-informed activists.
It’s unlikely that liberals will stop listening to West because of his beliefs. The possibility that conservatives will look him up because of his connection to the president, though, is very high.
On the macro level, a large-scale ignorance of West is impossible. He has far too many avid followers and listeners that have already reconciled West’s views with a love for his shock-value-based brand. Real change begins on the micro and local level. Ignore West’s biweekly rant.
Instead, focus on positively changing the communities around you. Instead of re-tweeting or replying to his tweets, register to vote. Instead of obsessing over his latest pair of overpriced shoes, contact your senators and representatives.
Instead of giving Kanye West your attention, give the community your action.
Eamon Morris PZ ’22 is from Orange, CA. To avoid passing out at 4 p.m., he has taken to drinking five cups of coffee a day.
Eamon Morris PZ ’22 is from Orange, California. He’s one of TSL’s opinions editors.