Unlike Drake, Kanye seems to want to make some new friends.
Over the past few days, the 40-year-old rapper has endeared himself to conservatives with a series of provocative tweets which, in what is clearly a complete coincidence, came quickly after his announcement of several new albums and collaborations. On Saturday Kanye tweeted his support of right-wing activist Candance Owens, before sharing links from the ardently pro-Trump cartoonist Scott Adams on Monday.
I love the way Candace Owens thinks
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 21, 2018
Conservative and far-right media figures were soon beside themselves with glee. Infowars contributor and conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson called it a “watershed moment for the culture war” while conservative group Turning Point USA wasted no time in gushing over Kanye — ignoring previous statements Kanye’s made, like “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”.
Then, on Wednesday, Kanye tweeted a selfie with Lucian Grainge, the CEO of Universal Music Group and Lyor Cohen, Google’s Global Head of Music. Wearing a MAGA hat, Kanye earned a compliment from Donald Trump, who tweeted “Thank you Kanye. Very cool!”
we got love pic.twitter.com/Edk0WGscp6
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 25, 2018
What’s most interesting about the selfie though isn’t Kanye’s MAGA hat but Cohen’s “A-OK” hand gesture. Since the 2016 election, numerous far-right media figures have adopted the gesture as a symbol — in a similar manner in which white nationalist trolls adopted Pepe the Frog as a meme. Far-right media stars like Lucian Wintrich, Milo Yiannopoulos and the Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft have all previously posed with the symbol.
— Jim Hoft (@gatewaypundit) February 13, 2017
The extent to which Cohen meant the gesture as an explicitly far-right sign is unclear. It was quickly lost amid the bevvy of other trite remarks that Kanye posted on Twitter, like “everything you do in life stems from either fear or love” and “all you have to be is yourself”.
In a statement, Cohen said that he was just with Kanye to see him and listen to his music. “He is someone I care about. I don’t abandon people,” Cohen said. “With great music comes great pain and stress.”
But the gesture, and accompanying MAGA hat, should remind progressives that, despite Mark Zuckerberg’s description of Silicon Valley as an “extremely left-leaning place” there is an extremely strong libertarian streak, particularly among technology founders. One of the most famous of these is Peter Thiel, the cofounder of Pay Pal and Trump supporter — who Kanye also wants to meet.
Whether or not the rapper’s sudden endorsement of conservatism will do the Republicans any good remains to be seen — one study found that, for Republicans, an endorsement by Kanye West was about as damaging as an endorsement from the Democratic Party.
This post has been updated with a statement from Lyor Cohen.