On the evening of Nov. 17, 2016, just nine days after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, White Trash Tyler shared a peculiar photo on Instagram Stories.
Tyler (real name: Tyler Ross) is Kanye West’s personal videographer and a member of his close-knit inner circle, having helmed the controversial music video for his song “Famous” and behind-the-scenes footage of sister-in-law Kylie Jenner’s secretive pregnancy. The photo in question presented a collection of assorted shirts and hats from West’s Saint Pablo tour, accompanied by the message: “Signed tonight by Kanye”—only the merch didn’t bear West’s signature, but rather the word “Trump” scribbled in black magic marker.
Later that night, West took the stage and surprised a sold-out crowd in San Jose, California, by launching into a full-throated defense of President-elect Trump.
“If I would have voted, I would have voted on Trump,” West remarked. “There were things that I liked about Trump’s campaign… There’s methods—non-political methods—to speaking that I like that I feel were very futuristic, and that style and that method of communication has proven that it can beat a politically correct way of communication. And I fuck with that.”
He continued: “I hate the fact that, because I’m a celebrity, everybody told me not to say that I loved the debates; I loved his approach. It be like white people that’s racist runnin’ around sayin’ ‘nigga’ now. If people are racist and they feel more inspired to say how they feel, then they exposin’ themselves, bro. This is what I’m sayin’! It’s already the beginning of change. Sometimes, things that you may think are bad have to happen in order for change to fuckin’ happen.”
Four days later, West canceled his remaining tour dates—21 shows total—and was hospitalized “for his own health and safety” after the LAPD responded to an afternoon “medical welfare call” at his trainer’s home in Los Angeles, reported NBC News. A subsequent TMZ report alleged it was West’s personal physician who had called the police and placed the musician on a 5150 psychiatric hold, claiming his patient “suffers from temporary psychosis due to sleep deprivation and dehydration.”
After a week under medical observation, West was released from the hospital, and on Dec. 13, he further shocked his supporters by paying a visit to Trump Tower to meet with the president-elect. There, the two posed for a series of photos together with West smiling from ear to ear, apparently happy to receive the president-elect’s approval. In a series of tweets, West clarified that he’d met with Trump “to discuss multicultural issues,” adding, “I feel it is important to have a direct line of communication with our future President if we truly want change.” He also tweeted out a photo of a Trump-signed copy of his TIME Person of the Year issue that he’d made out to West.
A heavy backlash ensued among the rapper’s liberal fan base, prompting West to delete all his tweets. That May, he deleted his Twitter and Instagram accounts entirely.
While West’s return last week to Twitter—a medium he’d once mastered—was initially met with excitement, those feelings quickly turned to disappointment when he tweeted praise for the far-right YouTube personality Candace Owens, a Trump supporter who trades in respectability politics and has branded Black Lives Matter “a bunch of whiny toddlers.” If that weren’t enough, West shared a series of InfoWars-adjacent videos by Dilbert creator (and Trump devotee) Scott Adams, earning him plaudits from several prominent members of the alt-right.
The Candace Owens tweet prompted Ebro, a radio host on the popular hip-hop station Hot 97, to reach out to West and try to talk some sense into him.
According to Ebro, during their 30-minute conversation he repeatedly accused West of stirring controversy to promote his upcoming albums, with West responding, “Let me just take this heat right now, and maybe people will understand when I put the music out.” He also explained how West defended his Owens fandom: “Kanye wants to deprogram people—that’s his ultimate goal, to have people think differently than we’ve thought before. The only reason he likes this Candace lady is because she’s challenging conventional black thought.”
“[West] went on to talk about ‘demonization,’ and he feels he’s been demonized, and how, as a society, we demonize individuals who are trying to speak out and challenge conventional thought; we demonize them for trying to think different, when really they’re just trying to continue to make progress,” Ebro recounted.
The most telling portion of their talk came after West allegedly told Ebro, “I love Donald Trump” and went on to justify that by saying, “Well, I reached out to Obama for years and I couldn’t get anything done. Trump gave me a meeting.”
I’m not exactly sure what is going on with Kanye West right now, and I’m certainly not qualified to diagnose it. But West and Trump do appear to have at least one thing in common: They were both publicly mocked by President Obama. For Trump, it came via a roasting at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner; in West’s case, Obama branded him “a jackass” for sabotaging Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech during the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
Those Obama slights seem to cut deep.