Last year, after accepting the Video Vanguard Award during the MTV Video Music Awards, rapper Kanye West delivered a rambling speech about the nature of artistry in 2015, brands, and “the new mentality.” At the end, he abruptly proclaimed, “And yes, as you probably could’ve guessed by this moment, I have decided in 2020 to run for president.”
That award was given to West by none other than Taylor Swift, who addressed him as “my friend” before poking fun at their infamous VMAs run-in, saying, “I’m really happy for you, and Imma let you finish, but Kanye West has had one of the greatest careers of all time!”
What a difference a year makes.
Since then, West and Swift have been at odds over the lyrical content to his hit single “Famous,” which contains the line: “For all my Southside n**gas that know me best / I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous / God damn / I made that bitch famous.” Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: West claimed he’d cleared the lyrics with Swift beforehand, Swift denied it, and then West’s significant other, Kim Kardashian, released a video of West’s conversation with Swift on Snapchat clearing the lyrics. Phew.
Well, at the 2016 MTV VMAs, West was reportedly given four minutes of airtime to do as he pleased—which of course meant one of his patented passionate, chaotic, head-scratching speeches.
He came out onstage to “Famous,” followed by chants of “YEEZY!” “YEEZY!” before telling the rowdy Madison Square Garden crowd: “I am… I am Kanye West. And that feels really great to say, especially this year. I came here to present my new video. But before I do that, Imma talk.”
West then made his best effort to explain the NSFW video to “Famous”—a play on Vincent Desiderio’s painting “Sleep,” depicting a bevy of nude wax figures of famous people laying in bed in a state of post-coital slumber. The culprits included: Donald Trump, George W. Bush, Bill Cosby, Anna Wintour, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Ray J, Caitlyn Jenner, Amber Rose, Kim Kardashian, and Kanye himself.
“Now, later tonight, ‘Famous’ might lose to Beyoncé, but I can’t be mad. I’m always wishin’ for Beyoncé to win, so,” said a chuckling West. “But for people to understand just how blessed we are, it was an expression of our now—our fame right now, us on the inside of the TV. You know, the audacity to put Anna Wintour right next to Donald Trump. I mean, I put Ray J in it, bro! This is fame, bro!”
Cut to Kim cracking up at the mention of West name-checking her notorious sex tape co-star.
“I see you, Amber!” added West.
Cut to Amber Rose, West’s ex, shrugging in the crowd.
“My wife is a G. Not a lot of people’s wives would let ’em say that,” offered a chuckling West, before linking the video to America’s dark slavery past and inner-city violence. “We came over in the same boat, now we all in the same bed—well, maybe different boats. But if you think about last week, it was 22 people murdered in Chicago. People come up to me like, ‘Man, that’s right! Tell Taylor to…’ and I’m like, ‘Bro, I love all y’all. That’s why I called her!’”
West, clearly short on time and trying to squeeze in as much as he could in a mere four minutes, then shared an anecdote:
“So, I was speaking at the Art Institute last year and one kid came up to me and he said, ‘Three of my friends died and I don’t know if I’m gonna be the next.’ You have to think, like, you know when you’re a senior and it’s the last month and you just don’t feel like doing any more work, if you feel like you seein’ people dying right next to you, you might feel like, ‘What’s the point?’ Life could be starting to feel worthless, in a way. I know times for me, I sit down and talk to older, like, rich people, you know? AKA white. And they say, ‘Don’t compare yourself to Steve Jobs, don’t compare yourself to Walt Disney.’ They tell me, ‘Don’t compare yourself to these people,’ and my friend Sikaya [sic] told me, ‘There’s three keys to keeping people impoverished: taking away their esteem, taking away their resources, and taking away their role models. My role models are artist-merchants. There’s less than 10 that I can name in history: Truman, Ford, Hughes, Disney, Jobs, West.”
[Editor’s Note: Truman?!]
“Bro, we are undeniably the influence, the thought leaders. I’m gonna play y’all a piece of my art, and I just hope y’all have a good time.”
He then premiered the music video to “Fade,” featuring Teyana Taylor working out in the gym, accompanied by her fella, NBA player Iman Shumpert.
The reaction to West’s speech—and his new video—were best summed up by Key & Peele, posing as two obnoxious MTV social media “influencers” during the proceedings: