It’s tradition by now: right before the release of a new record, Kanye West makes waves in the news. This manifests itself in his rageful tirades in interviews promoting 2013’s “Yeezus” and in the incoherent, shambly rollout of 2016’s “The Life of Pablo.”
Those social media campaigns encapsulated their respective albums quite fittingly. So it seemed that when Kanye returned to Twitter after numerous reports of breakdowns and hospitalizations last month, he would give us a look at his mindset going into the new record.
At first, this new Kanye was surprising in a pleasant way. The infamously self-serious artist acted more frivolous than ever, cracking jokes and spreading an uncharacteristically optimistic message of universal love. The “love everyone” message was baked in with fake-deep platitudes, but respectable nonetheless.
But Kanye’s surprises quickly took a turn for the unpleasant. In the past week or so, Kanye has proclaimed his support of Trump, flaunting a signed Make America Great Again cap. He randomly posted private conversations with the likes of John Legend. He suggested that he would make his album cover a picture of the surgeon who operated on his mother days before her death. And, while suggesting that slaves were kept mentally subservient to their masters, he sloppily implied that slavery was a “choice.”
As expected, the backlash against these remarks has been swift and extreme. There was a period where Kanye lost a flood of followers. His collaborators and friends such as Chance the Rapper attempted to defend or explain Kanye’s statements for him, then quickly retreated in self-defense as the angered crowds turned against them. Even more alarming was the other support Kanye was receiving: the “MAGA” legion, far-right and alt-right media personalities and Trump himself have rushed to claim Kanye as their token celebrity.
Kanye’s statements don’t really line up with those in his past discography or public history. As someone who’s followed him for many years, I don’t believe that Kanye is politically aligned with Trump. It’s far more likely that he relates to Trump on a personal level — undeniable egotism, extreme ambition and drive. Indeed, there’s almost something respectable in Kanye’s intentions. After years of being a contentious public figure, it seems like he wants to be someone willing to forgive the past, find the basic humanity in everyone and open his mind to ideas that are new to him.
While I can respect the intent, it’s the execution that is deeply problematic. Open-mindedness has taken a whole new meaning in the era of “fake news” and “alternative facts.” Now, some people are building their platforms on manipulated truths and flat-out lies designed to garner support over fabricated or nonexistent issues. If you decide to soul-search for your political and social identity in this climate — which is, I think, what Kanye is doing — you must be exceedingly diligent about where and from whom you obtain your information. Unfortunately, Kanye is doing exactly the opposite.
Here’s an example — Kanye was convinced by someone named “Steve” that Republicans were on the side of black Americans because that was Abraham Lincoln’s party during the Civil War. Quickly, musicians like Charlamagne tha God and John Legend messaged Kanye, informing him that there was a major shift in party ideologies last century, leading to our current party system. Clearly, Kanye wasn’t very informed about this party shift, which is not in itself terrible. Someone tried to misinform him and others stepped in. It is Kanye’s publicization of the factually incorrect statement, and his framing of this as a “new” or “different” idea, where the problems arise. His promotion of these ideas on Twitter allows for people to spread these harmful ideas to their own followers, pushing their own corrupted agenda using Kanye’s celebrity as a false support. And the internet exists with its own rules of time and influence, so even if he later discredits that false statement on his own feed, it may not reach the same people as his earlier promotion of it.
John Legend — often the voice of reason in this entire debacle — said it best when he texted Kanye, “Think freely. Think with empathy and context too.” We should encourage everyone to examine history and ideology to craft their own worldview. However, you should always be discerning with your sources. You can “love” every single person, but sometimes thoughts are not “new;” they are simply wrong. And there is an extra burden upon celebrities to watch what “facts” they highlight for the world. That kind of careless promotion is what put our latest president in office. We should try not to make a mistake like that again.