Who knows what’s real anymore?
I can’t say for sure what’s going on with Kanye West right now, but I know I’m bored of it. After a week of professing his love for Donald Trump, sharing extremely stupid new songs, and – perhaps most disturbingly – willingly hanging out with Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens of infamous diaper-fillers Turning Points USA, yesterday he underwent a whirlwind press tour that included a stream-of-consciousness two-hour interview with Charlamagne tha God, a bizarro-world appearance on TMZ, a fake quote from Harriet Tubman, and an extremely dodgy quote about slavery.
If you don’t have a clue what’s going on anymore (let’s say you spent last night with friends or loved ones instead of being extremely online and incredibly logged in), then never fear, as we have a useful explainer of all of the shit Kanye’s talked about yesterday. Read it and free/lose your mind.
THE CHARLAMAGNE INTERVIEW
So far Kanye’s tweetstorms have been put out on his own terms, but yesterday he did a more conventional bit of press to explain himself, talking to The Breakfast Club co-host Charlamagne Tha God in an interview posted to a website named wegotlove.com. It was quite revealing, though also an incredible two hours long (to quote Peep Show: “I’ve got Heat on DVD at home. We’re watching this, when we could be watching Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.”).
This interview was probably the most normal part of Kanye’s day, and often genuinely illuminating. He talked about his mental health, and how he is using medication but not going to therapy – instead, he uses “the world as my therapist”. (Incidentally, if you can afford a therapist, you should definitely not follow this advice – speak to trained professionals instead.) He also discussed his currently-damaged relationship with JAY-Z, which not only revolves around money, but also personal hurt over Beyoncé and JAY-Z’s absence at his and Kim Kardashian’s wedding. Regardless, he said that he’s confident that their friendship could be repaired and that they’ll meet again in future.
He also discussed his breakdown and hospitalisation last year – a result of stress, he says, following Kim Kardashian’s robbery in Paris, the relative lack of radio success for The Life of Pablo, burnout from his Saint Pablo tour, and the negative reception to his Yeezy Season 4 fashion show. However, the breakdown was apparently also down to an opioid addiction, which Kanye later confirmed to TMZ he was prescribed following plastic surgery. Today, he sees it as a “breakthrough” rather than a breakdown, and says that his forthcoming Wyoming record reflects a newfound calm and is aesthetically aligned with The Life of Pablo track “Real Friends”.
More bewilderingly, he talked about how he started using Bitcoin to protest the Harriet Tubman $20 bill, because he doesn’t like being reminded of slavery. “That was the moment I wanted to use Bitcoin, when I saw Harriet Tubman on a $20 bill,” he said. “It’s like all the slave movies, why you gotta keep reminding of us slavery? Put Michael Jordan on the $20 bill… Certain icons are just too far in the past and not relatable. And that’s what makes them safe.”
That leads us to the next point.
THE WHOLE SLAVERY THING
Not long after the Charlamagne interview went online, Kanye gatecrashed the TMZ newsroom to hold a quasi-town hall with the staffers there. During the interview he galaxy-brained about Donald Trump (“That’s my boy!”), how wearing a MAGA hat is actually an act of free thought (tell that to the families being broken up by ICE right now), and how slavery was, in fact… a choice????
His words: “When you hear about slavery for 400 years. For 400 years?! That sounds like a choice. You was 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. Slavery is to blacks as the Holocaust is to Jews. Prison is something that unites as one race, blacks and whites, that we’re the human race.”
Naturally, these comments didn’t really go over very well, not just online but in the TMZ newsroom itself. A TMZ staffer, whose name is Van Lathan but who’s basically a surrogate for everyone at home right now, retorted: “I actually don’t think you’re thinking anything.” He had some other wise words: “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.”
EVEN MORE OF THE SLAVERY THING
After TMZ, Kanye decided to use Twitter to clarify his thoughts on slavery, sending a series of tweets that, if sincere, display the critical faculties of a child. In them, Kanye elucidated his theory that while, yes, slaves were taken to the USA by force initially, it was really their mental enslavement that stopped them from being free.
On the subject of imprisonment, it’s perhaps worth noting that while Kanye was saying all this, LA rapper 03 Greedo was sentenced to 20 years in prison for drug and gun possession offenses, a completely disproportionate sentencing highlighting the absurdity of America’s prison-industrial complex. As of writing, Kanye – who once rapped about exactly this sort of thing – has not commented on it.
to make myself clear. Of course I know that slaves did not get shackled and put on a boat by free will— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) May 1, 2018
My point is for us to have stayed in that position even though the numbers were on our side means that we were mentally enslaved— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) May 1, 2018
They cut out our tongues so we couldn't communicate to each other. I will not allow my tongue to be cut— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) May 1, 2018
Kanye vs the media is modern day Willie Linch theory.— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) May 1, 2018
they hung the most powerful in order to force fear into the others.— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) May 1, 2018
they can no longer stop our voice.— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) May 1, 2018
THE FAKE HARRIET TUBMAN QUOTE
Kanye capped off his eventful evening by sharing a fake quote from Harriet Tubman: “I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves,” he wrote. As basically everyone pointed out below the tweet, Tubman never said this. A comprehensive Snopes article breaks down its falsity, while others, such as Dr. W. Caleb McDaniel, have written about the insidiousness of the fake quote. Did Kanye tweet this out of ignorance? Was it down to his hatred of that $20 bill? Was it deliberate provocation? Or was it a combination of all three?
I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves. - Harriet Tubman— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) May 2, 2018
Harriet Tubman didn't say this dumbass https://t.co/9pFBqIpuiu— Brentin Mock (@brentinmock) May 2, 2018
1. Harriet Tubman never said that. 2. This fake quote is actually pro-slavery since it implies that slaves deserved their condition because of ignorance or inherent servility. 3. Stop this. https://t.co/ZESC7JiYBi— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) May 2, 2018
IS ANY OF THIS SINCERE?
I’m increasingly coming around to the idea that Kanye is enacting a big, Andy Kaufman-esque stunt to promote those two albums he has coming out – we know, for example, that his “mood board” includes references to Kaufman and performance artist Joseph Beuys. Kanye is presumably savvy enough to realise that the way to make the biggest cultural impact in 2018 is through politics, because in the accursed ‘Age of Trump’, politics has essentially morphed into an entertainment spectacle that’s totally disconnected from people’s everyday lives. Given Kanye’s love of ‘disruptors’ – be it Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, or Donald Trump – it makes sense today that to disrupt culture, you have to disrupt the media’s liberal hegemony. Latching on to Trump is obviously the easiest way to do that. It’s telling that in the recently released “Ye vs. The People”, Kanye’s main reason for supporting Trump wasn’t his policies (which are vastly unpopular), but because “ever since Trump won, it proved that I could be President”. And in the Charlamagne interview, Kanye revealed that his own presidential campaign would probably resemble the Trump campaign but with “Bernie Sanders principles”.
But Andy Kaufman committed to the bit over the course of years, not days, and he wasn’t a superstar during the age of social media-as-rolling news. He wouldn’t be considered a genius if he were operating at the same level that Kanye is today – he’d just be considered annoying. If Kanye is pulling all of our legs, then the result is less Man on the Moon and more like Joaquin Phoenix’s I’m Still Here – a tiresome performance project that wasted years of its participants’ time, was almost universally loathed as a piece of art, and was immediately forgotten about after its release.