Sixteen seasons in, Keeping Up With the Kardashians is pulling out all the stops to try and maintain its must-see-TV status. The Kardashians have spent over a decade mining their personal lives and family dynamic for viewers—so it’s shocking, and impressive, that they can still surprise. On the Sunday night premiere of KUWTK, reality TV’s first family revealed this season’s secret weapon: increased airtime for Kanye West, who has finally deigned to do confessional interviews.
Those who have kept up will recall that when Kim first married the increasingly controversial superstar, he appeared to distance himself from his new family’s E! empire. But if this episode is any indication, Kanye is essentially a main cast member now. Like most image-related decisions that Kim Kardashian and/or Kris Jenner have made, this is a smart one. Keeping Up With the Kardashians is a weekly opportunity for a group of very famous people to spin the celebrity news cycle. Kanye West is in perpetual need of damage control. With Kim by his side—literally, he only participates in on-camera interviews as a couple—Kanye can try and reframe the narrative in his favor.
During this premiere, the story that Kim and Kanye are trying to contain is about Kanye’s alleged lack of support for Donda’s House, a Chicago nonprofit that was co-founded by West and named in honor of his late mother, Dr. Donda West. Kim has traveled to Chicago to show North where her father grew up and to make a (contractually obligated?) appearance at the Sugar Factory. But in order to visit the house, which is now tied up in the nonprofit, Kanye has to reach out to co-founder Rhymefest. This is a bit awkward, because Kim and Rhymefest got into a very public spat last year when the rapper called West out, accusing him of neglecting the organization and “the youth of Chicago.”
KUWTK viewers who probably just tuned in hoping for some Khloé/Tristan/Jordyn drama are forced to sit through multiple scenes in which Kim and Kanye discuss the social-media feud and double down on their side of the story. Kim repeatedly tells Kanye that she would lash out at Rhymefest and write some “foul shit over his face on Snapchat” if their paths crossed in Chicago. She insists that Rhymefest was in the wrong when he tried to make Kanye look bad, saying that he actually volunteered to take full responsibility for the nonprofit back when West was in massive debt—only to turn around and tweet about Kanye’s lack of involvement. At the time, Rhymefest wrote in a statement to Kim that during a studio visit with Kanye, “I spoke to your husband about peace, and balance, as well as about the work that we have been doing in Chicago regarding Donda’s House. He was more interested in his record… You have not been privy to the conversations that we’ve had, the emails that have been sent, and frankly the positive press that Kanye has received as a result of our work.”
While Kim is dedicating valuable screen time to constructing a flattering storyline for her husband, Kanye seems more concerned with spouting Kanye-isms on camera. He begins by saying that his inspiration to finally start doing confessional interviews was The Incredibles, a movie which, according to Kanye West, also begins with interviews and features a wife with a big butt. “I just see our life becoming more and more like The Incredibles until we can finally fly,” he continues. When pressed by Kim about why he isn’t more pissed at Rhymefest, West explains, “I’m not rational, I’m spiritual,” adding, “spirit is love.” “Yeah,” a clearly defeated Kim Kardashian replies. In another confessional, West further clarifies that he’s “about forgiveness”—“I’m on that Buddha. That Yandhi.”
When Kim isn’t sitting next to Kanye, she’s noticeably more inclined to talk shit about his purported pacifism. In a FaceTime with her mother, she complains that, “He lets all of his friends back in that always publicly talk shit about him,” adding, “I can’t babysit him and figure out who’s fucking him over today… It is so frustrating to me to just see him not care and let people walk all over him.”
Before Kanye and Rhymefest can finally work things out on camera, the Wests need to ensure that they’re going to come out looking good. Hence, a visit to the Regal Theater, which Kanye is helping to renovate, “To be able to give back to the community that helped make me who I am.” Now that Kanye’s been shown giving back to Chicago, he can hash it out with Rhymefest, who goes to see Kimye in California a few months after their hometown visit. Kim begins the meeting by saying that she thinks that Kanye is incapable of saying no to people, and can be financially generous to a fault. Rhymefest insists that his callout wasn’t about money, saying, “Kanye is from a village, and the village was feeling like our dear brother turned his back on the village.” The crux of the argument seems to be that Kanye may have said that he wanted to help out more with the nonprofit and failed to deliver, although Rhymefest concedes that he could have found a better way to reach out instead of insulting West on social media. Everyone agrees that there has been hurt on both sides and that communication is key, and Rhymefest gives Kim a very special crystal.
A preview for the next episode of the season shows Kim’s frustration with Kanye mounting as he considers a serious move. “I don’t have much more to give,” Kardashian cries. “Moving to Chicago might be my breaking point.”
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Kardashian-land, a pre-Jordyn Woods-gate Khloé insists that she and Tristan are doing great, Kourtney is trying to cure her relationship anxiety with Reiki, and Scott Disick learns how to crack an egg.