On Tuesday, Kanye West took to multiple forums in an attempt to set the record straight, and succeeded in confusing everyone in the process.
If Kanye’s goal, as he claimed in an almost two-hour-long interview with radio personality Charlamagne tha God, is to be a model of imperfection, then mission accomplished. Anyone hoping that hours of interview footage would help to pin down Kanye’s political beliefs and state of mind—or explain away his recent flirtation with Trumpism and the far right—can keep on hoping. Kanye remains a man of mystery, oscillating between seemingly contradictory statements while repeatedly referencing his endless ability to spark controversy.
Of course, even if Kanye’s MAGA hat-wearing and Candace Owens-stanning is some sort of commentary on the scandal-obsessed celebrity news cycle, he still has millions of fans who look up to him and expect the icon who called out George W. Bush’s negligence in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to take a stand against the Trump administration. And, as many people have pointed out, Kanye’s desire to be free of expectations and thought-control has only put him under the thumb of a president who is using West’s tweets to raise campaign money.
West’s second interview that aired Tuesday was the more controversial one, and perhaps the most illustrative of his current mind-set. In what he doubtlessly thought was emblematic of his freedom and out-of-the-box thinking, West tweeted Tuesday afternoon that he was doing TMZ Live with far-right commentator Candace Owens. An incendiary clip from that Harvey Levin and Charles Latibeaudiere-led interview featured Kanye elaborating on his decision to wear a MAGA hat in a photo, saying that he “felt a freedom in doing something that everybody tells you not to do.”
At another point, he exclaimed, “I just love Trump. That’s my boy! So many rappers, you’ll look at a video of Snoop Dogg loving Trump, but then he gets in the office and now they don’t love him. Like, Trump is one of rap’s favorite people!”
Kanye also talked about his distaste for labels, which he sees as an attempt to “minimize” him. “People try to minimize me to artist, hip-hop, black community, yeah I’m always gonna represent that, but I also represent the world.”
But this interview inevitably went viral for a meditation on slavery that’s as offensive as it is ill-informed. “When you hear about slavery for 400 years, for 400 years? That sounds like a choice,” Kanye began. “Like, you were there for 400 years and it’s all of y’all? It’s like we’re mentally in prison. I like the word ‘prison’ because slavery goes too direct to the idea of blacks.” He went on to clarify his word choice but not his larger statement, saying, “Prison is something that unites us as one race, blacks and whites being one race. We’re the human race.”
The aggressively edited TMZ Live clip ends with a segment in which Kanye addresses the entire office, shouting, “Do you feel like I’m being free? And I’m thinking free?” TMZ reporter Van Lathan stood up in response, laying into Kanye for using his huge platform to spread such harmful ideas. “I actually don’t think you’re thinking anything,” Lathan opined. “I think what you’re doing right now is actually the absence of thought. And the reason why I feel like that is because, Kanye, you’re entitled to your opinion. You’re entitled to believe whatever you want. But there is fact, and real-world, real-life consequence behind everything that you just said. And while you are making music and being an artist and living the life that you’ve earned by being a genius, the rest of us in society have to deal with these threats to our lives. We have to deal with the marginalization that has come from the 400 years of slavery that you said, for our people, was a choice. Frankly, I’m disappointed, I’m appalled and, brother, I am unbelievably hurt by the fact that you have morphed into something, to me, that’s not real.”
The edited clip did not show how Kanye proceeded to approach Lathan afterward and debate him. And while Kanye did apologize, he seemingly doubled down on his Trump support, saying, “Trump is a human being also, and he’s in a very powerful position, and he’s doing a lot of things to actually help business owners be able to go past all these fake laws and rules. I mean, Candace can give you the facts better than that, but we need to speak to people…Why can’t it be OK for an influential rapper in the black community to go up to the president and talk to him about how we can make a change?”
“I believe that Kim Jong Un didn’t believe that Obama was crazy enough to come at him,” West continued. “Sometimes you need some crazy.”
Another clip from Kanye’s TMZ appearance shows the rapper and fashion designer confessing his opioid use. “Two days before I was in the hospital, I was on opioids,” he shouted across the TMZ office, referencing his 2016 hospitalization. “I was addicted to opioids. I had plastic surgery because I was trying to look good for y’all. I got liposuction because I didn’t want y’all to call me fat like y’all called Rob [Kardashian] at the wedding and made him fly home before me and Kim got married.”
He continued, “The reason why I dropped those tweets and everything is because I was drugged the fuck out, bro, and I’m not drugged out! These pills that they want me to take three of a day, I take one a week maybe, two a week. Y’all had me scared of myself, of my vision, so I took some pills so I wouldn’t go the hospital and prove everyone right. We are drugged out. We are following other people’s opinions. We are controlled by the media and today it all changes.”
At another point in Kanye’s TMZ Live appearance, Candace Owens expressed confusion at why the rapper was criticized by the black community for wearing a MAGA hat, insisting, “Donald Trump has not put forth a single policy that has harmed the black community. In fact, he’s put forth many that have helped us.”
In his interview with Charlamagne, West also shared some controversial ideas, but benefited from an interviewer who occasionally pushed back and called him on his shit, and also allowed him the time to work through and contextualize some of those ideas. For example, Kanye proclaimed at one point that seeing an image of Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill was “the moment that I wanted to use bitcoin,” then added, “It’s like when you just see like all the slave movies, it’s like why you gotta keep reminding us about slavery? Why don’t you show us Michael Jordan on a $20 bill?”
West and Charlamagne’s interview had a lot of rambling, but it also touched on some interesting anecdotes and opinions. Kanye shared his belief that, after the Taylor Swift incident, he didn’t get as much play on the radio. This lack of external validation, combined with other factors like his wife’s robbery at gunpoint, led to West’s breakdown, which he calls a “breakthrough,” and hospitalization. He insisted that he’s repaired his relationship with Jay-Z after a series of rants against Jay and Bey, although he added that, “I gotta say, I was hurt about them not coming to the wedding. I understand they was going through some things, but if it’s family, you’re not gonna miss a wedding. I’m not using this interview to put any negative things, but I gotta state my truth… I’m past it, but at the time I was hurt about it.”
West revealed, with no elaboration, that he’s building a “community” on 300 acres that he recently bought. He went on to speak at length about his relationship with former President Obama. “Obama came to me before he ran for office,” West began, “And he met with me and my mother, to let me know he was gonna run for office, cause I am his favorite artist of all time. Because I am the greatest artist of all time. It makes sense! He got good taste.”
After a few asides, West continued, “Obama is like ‘Ye, you’re my favorite artist, I want your support, I’m running for office.’ I’m like this is dope, black president, this dude’s mad cool, he’s from Chicago. Then when I went onstage, and it would’ve been good if this video [of Obama calling Kanye a ‘jackass’] didn’t get out, but you saw the video.” Kanye went on to complain that Obama never called him to apologize for that, explaining, “The same person that sat down with me and my mom, I think should’ve communicated to me directly.”
Later on, Kanye elaborated, “I love Obama! I’m sure we’ll hang out, go to Richard Branson’s island, whatever. It’ll be cool. I just think that we were in a period where he had so much stuff to deal with, he couldn’t deal with a wild card like me… Just tell me you love me. And tell the world you love me. Don’t tell the world I’m a jackass.”
When Charlamagne pressed Kanye about his first meeting with Trump and the inevitable backlash, West responded, “The first thing they say is racism, they say, well, what makes George Bush any more racist than Trump?... My response is, well, racism isn’t the deal-breaker for me. If that was the case, I wouldn’t live in America.” He then mused, “I’m not gonna let myself off easy by saying I met with Trump just because I was going through something. I’m not going to give the universe that. Nah, imma face it. This was the Ye that wanted to do something to change something. And I would meet with him today, and I would talk about Chicago.”