On Friday, Kanye West released the song “Ye vs. the People,” his newest, surprising foray into political discourse, after a week in which he horrified longtime fans and stole headlines for his apparent embrace of President Donald Trump.
On his new track, Kanye opines further about his politics with fellow rapper, T.I. The two engage in conversation, with T.I. representing West’s loyal fans, and West clarifying that he hasn’t changed what he has always stood for. Instead, he says, he’s hoping to promote new, more expansive thinking for black people in America.
only free thinkers
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 21, 2018
Over the past several days, right wing politicians, news hosts, and pundits alike have embraced Kanye West. Fox News host Laura Ingraham praised the candor of his provocative Trump-approving tweets. Disgraced former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly tweeted his appreciation for Kanye West and wrote a column. Incendiary YouTuber Candace Owens also added her voice to the chorus after West gave her a shout out.
Much of the praise could be attributed to one thing: Kanye West being enough of a “free thinker” to speak up, even if what he says is unpopular in certain political circles. But considering that the rapper has always been known as somewhat of a free thinker, the move to admire him now that he’s name-dropped Trump can’t be read as anything other than hypocritical.
West is well-known for speaking his mind. Who can ever forget the infamous night of the Hurricane Katrina relief telethon, when on national television, West proclaimed, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”?
Almost five years later, he stole the microphone from Taylor Swift onstage after she won the Best Female Video category during the MTV Video Music Awards and said, “I’mma let you finish, but Beyonce had the best video of all time.”
That incident led President Obama to call West a “jackass,” and his image shifted in the mainstream culture. It led to a complicated beef between Swift and West, one that they have both referenced in their music. For instance, West was criticized for name-checking Swift in his 2016 song “Famous,” in a lyric deemed sexist, misogynist, and toeing the line dangerously close to rape culture.
Now, in just one week, West has gone from outspoken heel to the Republican Party’s favorite rapper.
That’s in sharp contrast to the reaction from the right, when many other prominent black figures have spoken up or dared to be a “free thinker.” Just look at how many right-wing pundits branded Colin Kaepernick’s protests during the National Anthem as anti-military, when in reality they are anti-police brutality.
As much as West is now making bizarre claims to suggest he supports the right or is at best a centrist, his history and his music would depict otherwise.
In the song “All Falls Down” West raps, “I say, ‘Fuck the police,’ that’s how I treat ’em // We buy our way out of jail, but we can’t buy freedom.”
We know West comprehends the concept of systematic racism, and the ways that power structure creates obstacles regardless of socioeconomic status. He’s spent a large portion of his career rapping about just that.
In “All Falls Down” he also raps, “Drug dealer buy Jordan, crackhead buy crack // And the white man get paid off of all of that.”
West has a song called, “I Love Kanye” in which he raps coyly about the anxiety a lot of his longtime fans feel toward his apparent evolution. He says, “I miss the old Kanye,” a taunting but self-aware remark.
Since Jordan Peele’s breakout horror film Get Out, many people have jokingly — and some even seriously — excused West’s behavior by suggesting the rapper is stuck in the “sunken place,” a horrorscape in which white people trap and control their black victims. West, most likely in jest, tweeted “from the sunken place” multiple times over the course of his recent tweetstorm, doubling down on this apparent self-awareness.
His release Friday night of “Ye vs. the People,” would also seem to suggest that he is aware at all times how his actions appear, and what he has to gain and to lose in them. One step too close to the left and he could lose his newfound admirers. A step too far right and he stands to lose his legacy.
Wake up, Mr. West.