Where most people would barricade themselves indoors for some months, Ye just finds different cameras to speak in front of (with the exception of Hawai’i in 2009 post-VMAs).
“I am a pop artist, so my medium is public opinion.”– Ye in his honorary doctorate degree acceptance speech at the Art Institute of Chicago (2014)
As mentioned earlier this series, the public and mainstream media are a workshop to Ye where he debuts, beta tests, and refines his ideas right before our eyes. Coupled with his influential position, it’s his unshakeable willingness to being open, loud, and often wrong which makes Ye such a captivating public figure. For better and for worse, he is an uncompromising artist.
To come close to addressing everything Ye has said and done this past year will require similarly scattered writing supported by a broad and well-researched historical perspective.
Here we go.
Everybody gon’ say somethin’ / I’d be worried if they said nothin’– Kanye West, “Father Stretch My Hand, Pt. 1” (2016)
Each section has been hyperlinked in this List of Contents:
- Donda 2 Going for $200
- Ye Admits Sway Had The Answers
- Ye’s Reaction To The Death of Virgil Abloh
- The Media Liked Ye in 2022?! A Brief But Important Moment In Time
- Going “DEATH CON 3” (Defcon 3) on Jewish People
- Kanye Was (Is?) Obsessed With Hitler — So Is The Rest of America
- Centrists (“the Left”) Didn’t Want Ye, But Are Upset Candace Owens and Tucker Carlson Are Using Him
- All That For Pete Davidson?
- A Narcissist Wouldn’t Give Up So Much Control
- Ye Called Diddy A Fed
- The Misguided Idea That Ye Wants To Be White
- Ye Said He, Too, Is A Slave
- Most Black Americans Aren’t Semitic
- Drink Champs Failed Us and Ye
- Stray Thoughts
For further context, including analysis of the public attitude toward Ye over the last 15 years, here are Understanding Kanye West Rants Parts 1-5:
Donda 2 Going For $200
Donda 2 made much less noise than Donda because Ye refused to release it to streaming. Making his Stem Player the mode of distribution rather than digital streaming platforms hurt the album’s ability to be immediately relevant the way Ye albums have been upon release.
This was just one in a series of moves where Ye, who regularly asserts that he’s a slave, is transparently fighting for creative and financial freedom. While the idea of paying for music at all is wild today, let alone a couple hundred dollars, the strategy is refreshing. Not only are listeners getting music with a unique tangible product, the product itself can serve as the distribution for future music releases. Furthermore, the creative product is going directly to people without invasive advertising souring the experience.
Noting this in light of the loss of CAA as his agency and his departure from Def Jam (well before October 2022) means we’re approaching an era of pop culture’s most famous creative no longer creating within the machine. What does that look like?
Ye Admits Sway Had The Answers
Masked by his self-centered rants is a surprisingly strong pattern of Kanye West humbling himself and giving other people credit. His first Drink Champs interview (2021) saw him thanking Lauryn Hill for reminding him he’s “a leader” rather than “the leader.” A sillier example is Ye crediting Sarah Jessica Parker for his use of the phrase “dialogue instead of diatribe” in a 2018 sit-down with Jimmy Kimmel.
Giving Sway Calloway his belated props on national daytime television, however, means a lot more though: Ye’s explosion on the Sway in the Morning radio show during his Yeezus promotional run is a nearly 10-year-old internet classic. To detractors, it is the moment we, the people, officially lost Kanye West. His fight and his worldview no longer included us, it seemed.
Admitting Sway Calloway did, in fact, have a point about independent fashion brands saves “How Sway?” from being a digital fossil. It brings that interview back to life as pretext to Ye’s massive success and fallout with Adidas and Gap. It reconnected Ye to a culture and a bunch of people that he otherwise has seemed isolated from.
Ye did the things he told Sway he had to do: get the corporate backing necessary to create Yeezy products at the scale he knew was possible. The journey convinced him he was still enslaved. While Ye’s improved chances of independent success in fashion are rooted in the success of Yeezy x Adidas, let the record show he ultimately drifted towards Sway’s wisdom and acknowledged it.
Fun fact: this isn’t even the first time he’s gone on the record to admit Sway had the answers. In a 2019 interview with Zane Lowe on his Wyoming property, Ye detailed the feelings and revelations of Virgil being selected as the artistic director of Louis Vuitton instead of him. He says wrestling with that moment and his understanding of his role as a creative led him to going from “How Sway?” to “Now, Sway” as he looks to spur American manufacturing with his Yeezy brand (hyperlinked video set to play right before the quote).
Ye’s Reaction To The Death of Virgil Abloh
Nothing too discoursy here. Just thinking of the number of times Ye has been vulnerable in admitting to feelings of jealousy and pain that Virgil got Ye’s dream job at Louis Vuitton and gave his final years of life to that company.
In discussing Virgil’s career path as a foil to his, Ye has been effusive in his praise for Virgil and his impact on him, Black creativity, and ultimately Black liberation. Based on limited social media posts, Virgil’s passing seems to be confusing as it is painful for Ye. As wrong as Ye’s George Floyd comments were, the part where he says Floyd’s physical description reminded him of Virgil was genuinely sad.
It doesn’t seem like Ye has rested and allowed himself to grieve given the hint of conspiracy he put out there on Drink Champs about Virgil’s untimely death. He’s struggling to make sense of many things, but he takes up too much public space to be thinking his worst thoughts out loud all the time.
Right before the “Now, Sway” revelations of his 2019 Zane Lowe interview, Ye talks at length about what it meant to him for Virgil to get the LV job and how it helped him realize his relationship to the European brand was unhealthy and subservient. Ultimately, Ye found a more collective pride in the fact that Bernard Arnault, LVMH’s boss, had to hire Black talent in order to keep up with the times.
(Video set to play at 1:20:39)
The Media Liked Ye in 2022?! A Brief But Important Moment In Time
Around the time Ye loudly agreed with Sway, he was a billionaire receiving interestingly favorable media coverage. For instance, his contentious CNBC interview about cutting ties with Gap — you know, the one where he says he won’t “argue with people who are broker than me about money” on live television — was greatly enjoyed. Editors across the nation had no choice but to publish headlines and stories that showed Ye in the driver’s seat, a man whose words made markets move and needed to be respected.
For a very brief moment, Ye made it out of his Truman Show. As a billionaire boosting the value of two multinational corporations, Ye wasn’t just ranting and raving behind the glass for our amusement anymore. The American Celebrity Zoo’s greatest attraction was on the loose, holding a couple handlers hostage and negotiating his freedom.
For a few short weeks, White people were writing about Ye without questioning his mental fitness or debating the merits of his ideas. His presence was simply accepted, his words respectfully engaged with.
La, la, la-la / Wait till I get my money right / La, la, la-la / Then you can’t tell me nothin’, right?
Ye understood what that kind of wealth and corporate influence would do for his position in public life. But as he’s been saying for years now, endgame for Ye is leveraging that position to democratize as much of his creative product as possible (not to “be White,” which we’ll get to). Twenty-dollar Yeezy x Gap shades were set to drop before he cut ties with them, with the goal of more affordable Yeezy merchandise.
Going “DEATH CON 3” (Defcon 3) on Jewish People
Someone as famous as Ye can’t say things like that about groups of people. Shouldn’t, can’t, just no. Prefacing such a statement with “I’m a bit sleepy tonight, but …” is bonkers. That tweet might have been the wildest social media event of the COVID-19 pandemic (yep, still in a pandemic).
Even if we give him the less hostile interpretation of what he said — a misnomer of the US’ defense readiness condition (DEFCON) to say he’s defending against rather than attacking Jewish people — it is us-versus-them rhetoric that lends itself to widespread hatred and violence toward innocent people. Powerful people who have impeded or were actively impeding his life prior to those statements may well have been Jewish, but any leeway he may have had by specifying his powerful opponents was erased by leaving his statement at “On JEWISH PEOPLE.”
A Hotep worldview cannot humanely treat the entanglement of Jewishness and Whiteness in America. But about Jewishness and Whiteness in America …
Jewish Americans are White; many perpetuate anti-Blackness because they’re White (not because they are Jewish)
Do they receive hate? Yes. Do we need to combat that hate? Yes. But Jewish Americans are not in the social positions survived by their ancestors in Spain during Moorish rule, in the Roman Empire, or in 20th century Central and Eastern Europe.
As ATC explored in 2020, there are historical grounds for mutual distrust between Black Americans and Jewish Americans.
In an American social context, Jewish people are White. This is not up for debate and this mere fact is not anti-Jewish. Failing to acknowledge Jewish American acceptance into the White racial category is irresponsible and dangerously oversimplifies their role in American society. This requires historical perspective to fully grasp.
At its simplest, Jewish people in America came as part of the waves of Central and Eastern European immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries. Like other Central and Eastern Europeans, Jewish Americans were given chances to side with more established White Americans and later share their social position. Some rejected White identity, while others tolerated and sometimes joined other White Americans in direct racist opposition to Black Americans at crucial points in US history including the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement.
While plenty of stories about anti-racist Jewish American activists have been told, the freedom they had to make that choice and/or ultimately assimilate into White America is what makes them a racially privileged group in US society relative to Black Americans. The privilege shows in disproportionately great Jewish American presence across many American industries, not just media:
- The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is among the most powerful lobbying groups in the US, influencing America’s world-leading military spending and political outcomes both domestically and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
- The disproportionately large presence of Jewish Americans in US entertainment and media as a whole is treated as common knowledge even amongst academics: countless Jewish Americans are/were executives at the country’s major broadcast networks, and popular entities such as Marvel, CAA (Ye’s former agency), and Dreamworks have Jewish American founders.
- Countless banks and financial service corporations, including many of the nation’s largest such as Bear Sterns, Apollo Global Management, Bloomberg, City National Bank, and AIG, were founded and are led by Jewish Americans.
- A 2014 study published in the journal Comprehensive Psychology claims law, psychiatry, and academia (broadly speaking) are other fields in which Jewish Americans have greatly overachieved and enjoy outsized influence in.
Listing these facts about Jewish American influence in US society does not imply some weak conspiracy theory. What these demographics speak to is the reality that Jewish Americans are mainstream, not marginalized, in US society. Do they receive hate? Yes. Do we need to combat that hate? Yes. But Jewish Americans are not in the social positions survived by their ancestors in Spain during Moorish rule, in the Roman Empire, or in 20th century Central and Eastern Europe. They are accepted as White Americans and they benefit from it.
If Jewish Americans didn’t enjoy racial privilege, why did Ye’s misinformed comments on Jews have tangible consequences in his daily life that his misinformed comments about Black people did not have?
Beyond supporting the existence of Israel, Jewish Americans do not have a shared sociopolitical identity. To pretend they do — whether you believe they’re all anti-Black wealth hoarders or peaceful anti-racists — damages the conversation.
Traditional Jews are conservative while Jews less involved with the Jewish faith tend to be liberal. Older and wealthier Jewish Americans oppose a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine while many younger Jewish Americans support it. In the same vein, nothing strongly suggests Jewish Americans as a whole work for or against Black Americans. Some Jews work tirelessly to uplift Black Americans. Others make a living exploiting Black Americans (i.e. Lyor Cohen). They are complicated, like any other major American demographic, and the invalid blanket statements Ye has made about Jewish Americans don’t negate the fragments of truth about their higher social positions within his fields of work.
Despite anti-Jewish currents flowing, Jewish Americans are winners in their specific society. Checking to know if they are winning at other people’s expense — primarily Black people’s — is not anti-Jewish.
Black Americans create and circulate serious misinformation about Jewish people
In attempts to understand their place in American society and greater human history, Black Americans are lured into anti-Jewish thinking in ways other racial and ethnic groups aren’t.
Jewish-American economic success, the Jewish-American role in anti-Blackness, and the complex history of Semitic peoples leave many Black Americans blind to other important truths of the Jewish American story.
For instance, the existence of African Semites — including Ethiopians and Egyptians — fuels the idea of Black people being “real” Israelites and “real” Semites. (The fact that most Black Americans are not descendants of East/North Africans … another conversation.) This appeals to many Black Americans as a prouder origin story than mainstream America is willing to offer (e.g. Ye tweeting “black people are actually Jew also”). But rather than study and accept the diversity of Semitism, the truth of Afro-Semites existing gives misguided and/or hateful Black people justification for anti-Jewish stances.
Another important historical blindspot Black Americans have when discussing Jewish Americans is the incredibly long history of persecution and expulsion of their ancestors from other nations. Nazi Germany was far from the first nation to scapegoat and go after Jewish people. Since Jews had no borders of their own for the vast majority of their history, an inherited fear of silly conspiracies turning into a national purge understandably exists. However, this fear has been used by Jewish Americans in positions of power to deflect valid criticisms of their complicity in social injustice, particularly domestic racism and colonialism abroad.
The Politics Of The Term “Anti-Semitism”
As discussed in the previous subsection, Jewish people are far from the only Semites. Their sole claim to the Semitic identity in a nation with plenty of Arab and East African immigrants is interesting the more it is observed.
On one hand, it makes sense: An Arab American can point to known Arab places on the map whereas Jewish Americans descend from culturally-distinct families who lived in the margins of various European countries. The only Jewish place on the world map is Israel, and most Jewish Americans are not descendants of Israeli immigrants.
On the other hand, with so many other ethnicities considered Semitic, why is anti-Semitism only defined as hostility or prejudice toward Jews (Oxford Dictionary)? Palestinians, too, are Semitic. So when the majority of Jewish Israelis stand against giving Palestine its own state, are they not being anti-Semitic?
Nazi German leaders invented the term “anti-Semitism” to make their anti-Jewishness seem scientifically valid (i.e. based on “inherent” inferiority) rather than purely hateful, which explains its narrowed use today. But it’s this narrowed use that now allows Jewish Americans to evade domestic accountability for racism and international accountability for settler-colonialism.
America’s concern for anti-Semitism is a performance, one that masks the fact that Jewish Americans are now White Americans and that Nazis, the world’s greatest anti-Semites, were deeply inspired by American racism — racism that some wealthy and powerful Jewish Americans partake in.
Kanye Was (Is?) Obsessed With Hitler — So Is The Rest of America
If an American pokes around Hitler and Nazi Germany too much, it will start looking too familiar to them.
CNN recently reported on Ye’s fascination with Hitler and the German Nazi party, particularly leading up to his 2018 solo album Ye. He apparently spoke with admiration about Hitler’s expert use of propaganda to quickly gain fervent political support.
The expectation, one would assume, is to hold this “disturbing” Hitler obsession next to his anti-Jewish rhetoric and at minimum conclude that Ye is an exceptionally dangerous weirdo. But beyond the thrill of tearing down an obnoxious public figure, these revelations don’t reveal much of anything. Ye is obsessed with Hitler … so is the rest of America.
The History Channel runs endless Hitler-themed content, so much so it’s disparagingly called “The Hitler Channel” by some. This includes such fringe content as Hitler’s Women and Hitler and the Occult, not to mention Hunting Hitler, the series following a CIA veteran who thinks Hitler may not have killed himself and could be found in South America.
An old saying in the American publishing industry is that books about dogs, Abraham Lincoln, and Hitler are guaranteed sellers.
Hitler is the person political leaders are compared to when they start doing “bad guy” stuff: pass discriminatory policies, oversee war crimes, or just say disparaging things to marginalized groups.
Hitler is such a bad guy, Americans believe, that we don’t need to bother learning about King Leopold II or Pol Pot. Or US President James K. Polk. Or any US President that oversaw chattel slavery and/or Westward expansion. What Nazi Germany did to Jews was so bad, Americans believe, that we should speak up to make sure genocide never happens again. Unless they’re Rohingya Muslims. Or Yemeni. Or Rwandan. Or Ethiopian.
And don’t you ever, ever, bring up the part where Hitler goes, “I like what y’all did with the Natives. And the immigrants. Ooh and the eugenics movement?! Sheeeesh. A masterpiece. And you’re still the world’s good guys? No choice but to stan.“
America enjoys learning and talking about Hitler. German Nazis loved and learned from America. The USA crushed Nazi Germany in WWII … then hired the brightest Nazi minds to build us weapons (like these guys) and even named an achievement award after one of them. Who said it was beef?!
If an American pokes around Hitler and Nazi Germany too much, it will start looking too familiar to them. Demonizing Nazi Germany to the point of caricature ensures we never have a level-headed conversation about who they actually were, what they actually did, and where they can be found in today’s world.
It’s okay to be fascinated by a master propagandist. I mean … it’s great propaganda! That’s what it’s supposed to do! But stopping at the aesthetic — whether it’s a celebrity saying something positive about Hitler or fake-radical Twitter users shouting “Punch a Nazi!” — guarantees fundamental misunderstandings of history. And when people don’t understand history (Ye included), they repeat it. Watch as the USA slips into fascism as we speak.
Centrists (“the Left”) Didn’t Want Ye, But Are Upset Candace Owens and Tucker Carlson Are Using Him
While Carlson’s use of Ye is limited to his role as a Fox News employee, Owens is personally dedicated to leeching off of Ye’s embattled image
The vast majority of politically “good” or “safe” media platforms have wanted nothing to do with Kanye for a while now. When he is on a hip-hop media channel or a centrist/liberal television program sharing thoughts and feelings about non-music topics, he’s often relentlessly mocked or called crazy by his own communities (i.e. hip-hop participants, Black people) in real time. So how upset can people be that he took an interview with Tucker Carlson and found camaraderie in Candace Owens?
Well, still pretty upset. This isn’t even the first time Candace Owens has taken advantage of Ye at his most unpopular to push her own agenda. But please save the feelings of shock and betrayal: the people most influenced by Ye were the loudest ones calling 808s and Heartbreak, Yeezus, and Yeezy clothing trash.
They were the ones calling Sunday Services a grift and dismissing ideas of Ye as anything but a rapper.
They joined the chorus in calling Ye unwell for sobbing at the thought of being aborted and aborting his daughter at a 2020 rally, while, sadly, Tucker Carlson was the one mainstream TV personality willing to humanize the moment (Carlson’s ulterior political motives are not lost on me).
In no way does any of that criticism of America’s center-left imply Candace Owens and Tucker Carlson are somehow superior media figures for Ye to turn to. Owens is a proven amoral button-pusher for the sake of her personal gain while Carlson is the highest form of Own The LibsTM personified.
Carlson used a sound analysis of Ye’s abortion speech to make his media opponents look bad. Meanwhile, Candace Owens intentionally misrepresented Ye’s breakup with JPMorgan Chase — planned weeks before Ye’s anti-Jewish rants — in order to drum up a free thinker victim narrative. I mean, how else would she convince Ye to buy the failing social media platform where her husband is CEO? She knew Ye wished to detach from major corporations and made sure she was right there to catch him when he fell.
It is particularly disgusting how obvious Candace Owens’ grift is. How obviously her voice on certain issues makes her invaluable to powerful racists. How obviously she thrives off of getting paid to be a Black contrarian. While Carlson’s use of Ye is limited to his role as a Fox News employee, Owens is personally dedicated to leeching off of Ye’s embattled image.
She’s not the one who lost $2 billion speaking her mind. She’s not the one overworking herself, suffering highly publicized mental breakdowns, yet desperately continuing to share her thoughts and feelings trying to connect with people. That is Kanye. These actors and pawns don’t deserve to be around Ye because he’s one of the few people regularly on our screens that actually cares about what’s happening to us as we watch.
I know “[Slavery] sounds like a choice” and “His knee wasn’t even on his neck like that” happened. But why would someone continue to make this much of a fool of himself, risking career and legacy, and publicly admit his faults if he didn’t care about who he was speaking to?
I really hope Ye distances himself from mainstream media outlets and commercial talking heads the same way he’s distancing himself from multinational distribution companies for his creative product. I hope he figures out that Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump want to exploit him for cold-blooded agendas the same way centrist media and the next Democratic presidential nominee would love to exploit him for views, votes, and Blue-tinted versions of the same politics.
All That For Pete Davidson?
About two years before Pete Davidson got with Kim Kardashian, he was gratefully reflecting on footing a scary-big bill for a dinner with her, then-husband Kanye West, and Kid Cudi. The chronically-ill-looking SNL tagalong was now friends with one of his heroes and two bonafide cultural icons. Cool!
That’s what makes Ye’s vilification of Pete so embarrassing. Kanye West, most influential 21st century musical artist, the rapper who made more money selling shoes in a year than Michael Jordan, the (at the time) under-50 billionaire, called on Drake and Charlamagne Tha God (the same Charlamagne who looks to humiliate him every chance he gets) to stop his ex-wife from seeing this guy?
Tattoos of a woman’s children’s initials as the rebound boyfriend is strange behavior. It’s hard to imagine any father, even a true deadbeat, being able to play it cool knowing another man asserted that kind of unearned connection to his kids. Still, despite Ye’s superpowers of naïveté and shame resistance, watching him take the case of his ex-wife and her boyfriend to the Court of Public Opinion was exhausting and sad. It really didn’t need to be all that. At least he apologized to Kim on national tv.
A Narcissist Wouldn’t Give Up So Much Control
No one with a parasocial relationship to Ye — virtually everyone who tweets or posts about him online — can diagnose him for mental illness from the other side of a screen. The label “narcissist” sticks well for obvious reasons: the guy can’t stop talking about himself. But there isn’t much else about his public persona that makes the label fit upon closer inspection. Like many online buzzwords, it’s often misused and distorts the truth of what is being seen or talked about.
What everyone can label him with medical professional confidence (which has its flaws) is bipolar. But Ye’s hot-blooded mania is not the chilling self-obsession that critics desperately want it to be. If you accept the true nature of Ye’s diagnosed mental illness, his public outbursts have to be engaged with humanely. But who wants to do that? Killing a so-called narcissist’s character makes everyone feel better!
It doesn’t matter that the self-proclaimed greatest artist of all-time has more featured vocals on his magnum opus than his own. Or that he, the most influential musician of at least the past 25 years, considers himself “not a real rapper” and “not a real musician.” It doesn’t matter that he regularly lends his words and image to media companies he knows will exploit him, yet is never bothered to have an expensive PR firm clean up the narrative and make him look pretty.
Ye is messed up in many ways. Narcissism is likely not one of them, and the circulation of this social media diagnosis is irresponsible.
Ye Called Diddy A Fed
There aren’t many people (i.e. Ye and 50 Cent) that have access to Sean Combs and the gall to text him something like this:
Ye’s peers were upset by the “White Lives Matter” shirt stunt he pulled with Candace Owens at a Yeezy fashion show. The idea behind the outrage is simple: a Black man as influential as Ye wearing such a shirt undermines the greatest ongoing Black racial justice efforts.
Greater context suggests the shirts are a troll job by a frustrated contrarian Black man. The humor in the shirts’ message is how obvious it is as both a plain statement and as a political move. Of course White lives are cared about, of course this is the thing to say if you want to jab a collective American nerve. Doing it with the country’s most notorious “free-thinking” Black woman just enriches the flavor.
As obnoxious as the shirts were, it’s hard to take the criticism of rich neoliberals seriously. If you don’t care for the academic speak, try this: a guy who preaches Black excellence while starving excellent Black people around him for his own gain is not a credible defender of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Diddy’s history of exploiting and capitalizing on Black people in his line of work is as long and strong as his White colleagues. It’s silly to think that Diddy or any other ultra-wealthy, not-at-all progressive (let alone radical) Black person (e.g. Jay Z) are the ones to check Kanye as they do photo-ops with politicians and encourage more Black people to uncritically vote Blue and finesse their way to a bag (i.e. fully participate in racist capitalism).
So with that context, Ye calling Diddy an opp isn’t just pure comedy — it holds some weight.
The Misguided Idea That Ye Wants To Be White
In the midst of Ye’s Trump-praising 2018, Ta-Nehisi Coates posited Kanye West was looking for a “White” freedom: “freedom without consequence, freedom without criticism … freedom of the strong built on antipathy or indifference to the weak,” among other descriptors.
Weeks ago, Danté Stewart wrote Ye “longs to disappear inside of [Whiteness].”
The paths leading to these conclusions are straightforward: Ye has been frustrated with Black America, admiring of powerful wealthy White people, and obsessed with power. His careless treatment of Black history, American social context, and his own words do not help. (His mastery of speech as a medium falls far behind his fashion design and music production.)
None of this means Kanye West wants to be White.
I agree on some level, particularly with Coates’ view, that Ye is experiencing a crucial disconnect from healthily grounded Black people. If Jesus Is King or Donda are any indication, Ant Clemons and the Sunday Service choir seem to center him, but who knows who they are to Ye outside of collaborators. The Black people (and people generally) we see Ye communicating with the most are either uncritically letting him loose or desperately trying to pacify him for their own comfort. Neither group of people seem to actually care for Ye’s well-being. There doesn’t seem to be a Black person around Ye who can both check him and earnestly work through what he has to say.
That being said, the assertion that Ye wants to completely abandon his Blackness simply doesn’t fit reality. Because in reality, he includes himself when discussing modern-day slavery. In reality, his critical eye was trained on powerful White racists even as he rattled off misinformation about George Floyd’s murder in the same breath. In reality, the people he regularly comes back to as the truest opponents of his freedom are plutocratic White people, not the culture or his Blackness. Uninformed self-comparisons to Trump don’t change the truth of Ye’s well-documented and continued punching up at vulturistic racist capitalists.
What’s painful about misconceptions like this is how easily Black writers and thought leaders accept mainstream coverage of Ye quotables as the whole story. There is very little documentation or critical analysis of the things Ye says in an interview, let alone the dozens of interviews he’s done over the last decade. Pushing back against the idea of Ye wanting to be White, unlike the allegation itself, is supported by nearly two decades of information suggesting Ye’s self-view is rather consistent: that he’s a brilliant slave on tv “talking like it’s just you and me.”
Ye Said He, Too, Is A Slave
“I put $140 million into JPMorgan and they treated me like shit. So if JPMorgan Chase is treating me like that, how they treatin’ the rest of y’all?”– Ye on Drink Champs (2022)
I know that we the new slaves– “New Slaves” (2013)
Even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a coop– “All Falls Down” (2004)
Would Diddy call himself a slave? Would LeBron ever publicly refer to himself as “getting out of line”? When Ye makes the case for himself as the most influential artist in a given timeframe or cultural realm, it often comes before statements suggesting his status doesn’t mean shit to people with real power.
During his infamous Sway in the Morning interview, Ye followed up his claim as the most impactful artist of his generation with the question, “Do you want to marginalize me until I’m out of my moment?” If Ye believed he was above our social reality this entire time, why would he frame disbelief in his creative abilities as “marginalization”? Why would he view media, corporations, and the general public as having that much power over his ability to create?
Sometimes, he makes more explicit statements with the following as his core message: if certain people can keep me from doing what I want, what does that mean for you?
It’s easy to see why people believe Ye views himself as beyond working-class America: he calls millionaires broke, calls himself a free thinker, and does shit like sell new music through pricey musical devices and buy a social media platform. But despite the fact that Ye does live in a reality far different from America’s commoners, he is shameless and explicit in showing us how his condition, ultimately, is that of a slave’s — someone owned by someone/something else, regardless of how much money he makes in bondage.
Ye’s self-understanding as a slave does not get any real consideration in public discourse because it seems to contradict the rest of Ye’s public image. Ye’s self-view as a slave — no different from Prince’s — weakens the narrative of Ye as an out-of-touch, ultra-wealthy Black man who tussles with wealthier White men for ego’s sake.
Not all of that narrative is false: Ye is out of touch and ultra wealthy. But like other Black superstars who entered the game by signing slave deals then ran the Money Race in order to win back their freedom (e.g. Michael Jackson, Prince, Jay Z), Ye keeps getting closer to understanding how elite capitalists use cultural product to manipulate Black people while getting further away from the people who consume the product.
The alienation from humanity that comes with absurd wealth and influence is really damaging to the image of a Black hip-hop artist who started his career as a people’s champ. Ye simply being dumb rich feels like a betrayal, let alone the comments he makes that embolden those who hate Black people.
It’s hard to see how Ye’s activities have “we” in mind rather than “me.” But unlike a Jay Z who wants to pull up to the hood with cryptocurrency and fine art investments, Ye’s proposed solutions at their best would level the playing field (e.g. music industry transparency, high fashion for the masses) rather than give a few more people cheat codes. He’s still the only one of his peers willing to do something like post the entirety of his record deal online and openly share conversations he’s having with the world’s most powerful people.
At minimum, Ye’s consistent self-view of his social position shows he is not as far gone as many think. Still, someone needs to give that guy a good book and challenge his thinking.
Most Black Americans Aren’t Semitic
Ye and Kyrie are the most visible proponents of the Black Hebrew Israelite school of thought in the USA. The theory itself — that the Semitic origin of Black Americans is intentionally hidden to keep us in mental slavery — is a risky half-truth based in obvious and painful truths.
The institutional goals of obscuring Black American history are clearly evil: to create people without a sense of self who will not reject the labels they are given. Being free from a system that destroys them, if they can even achieve such freedom, would be worse than having a destructive sense of self within that system. The idea of Black people as the “true” Semites fills a Black American desire for a history beyond the 400-year-old cage of American history. To self-proclaimed Black American Israelites, the validity of such belief is not as important as the meaning of the narrative.
The cultural and ethnic groups considered Semitic are concentrated in far-Eastern Europe, West Asia (i.e. the Middle East), East Africa, and North Africa. The Transatlantic Slave Trade almost exclusively transported West and Central Africans. The possibility that Afro-Semites were brought to the United States as enslaved Africans is not zero, but their numbers would be specks compared to their West and Central African peers.
Kyrie Irving likely has no Semitic ancestry within 500 years. Same with Ye. What this means for Kyrie is he needs more material to study and a willingness to accept the beauty and valor already present in his actual ancestry. For Ye, his promotion of this theory does not invalidate his criticism of the Jewish American role in White supremacy. However, Black Israelite thinking is too wobbly of a leg for that criticism to stand on.
Drink Champs Failed Us and Ye
REVOLT TV’s Drink Champs is one of the few digital media platforms that has been willing to hear what Ye has to say in full. As such, their interviews of Ye played a pivotal role in determining how his thoughts and opinions reached the public conversation. In other words, N.O.R.E. was one of the only people with opportunities to check what Ye was saying.
N.O.R.E. didn’t check shit.
I get it, it’s Drink Champs. Why expect an interview-based hip-hop media channel self-described as “the most professional, unprofessional podcast” to be journalistic? But in a media ocean full of predators sniffing for a controversial Black man’s blood, a figure like N.O.R.E. has greater responsibility than letting Ye talk his shit for hours uninterrupted.
A figure like N.O.R.E. has to show concern that Ye falsely believed (believes?) fentanyl killed George Floyd.
A figure like N.O.R.E. has to know and tell Ye that 33 percent of Black Americans are not in prison right now, and that he may be mistaking that stat for the common knowledge that 1 in 3 US prisoners is a Black American.
If N.O.R.E. loves and cares about Ye like he says he does, he can’t treat his position as a relevant Black media figure like a front row seat. He, too, is in the conversation, and he failed to bring Ye closer to a shared understanding of reality in order to have that conversation. He failed to sift out the garbage and instead fed it to us. He failed to question Ye’s role in (i.e. exploitation by) right-wing media these days, then exploited Ye for views himself by publishing an uncritical interview at the peak of this year’s media frenzy around Ye (which ultimately got them in trouble).
It’s unfortunate that someone like Jimmy Kimmel did a better job of critically and lovingly conversing with Ye than a Black hip-hop veteran (though Kimmel has since fallen right back in line with popular treatment of the creative).
- Per his 2018 Jimmy Kimmel interview, I hate that Ye believes spending too much time with history harms, rather than aids, our ability to move forward. As creative as he’s proven to be, he clearly doesn’t know what has happened before him and cannot guarantee the stuff he’s doing isn’t repeating history. He’s shouting old and cynical talking points about Jewish people like they should be new and refreshing to everyone, and that’s exasperating.
- In last month’s Drink Champs interview, Ye surprised me with a historically accurate assertion that Jewish Americans began to build their wealth as lawyers filling in gaps of service that White Catholic and Protestant lawyers didn’t touch. The statement was part of a larger point that Jewish Americans have economic safety and agency that Black Americans do not. Here’s related reading from Eli Wald, law professor at the University of Denver.
- Black Hebrew Israelite school of thought isn’t that uncommon among Black men. Hell, even Kendrick Lamar buys into it. Seeing Kyrie and Kanye push this thinking in public feels like an in-house conversation being had with the wrong people, but there’s nothing anyone can do to reel it back in.
- As the Black American editor of Across The Culture, I wonder why important Black Americans are largely incapable of addressing all of Ye. Why do so many Black Americans commenting on Ye blatantly ignore parts of who he is? Whether it’s a Black liberal scholar too politically correct to see Ye still punches up and cares about humanity, or a Black “free thinker” that refuses to see Ye’s worldview is dangerously uninformed, it’s disappointing how resistant Black people are to acknowledge the whole truth about him. The issue isn’t unique to Black people, but Ye means more to us than others. We should treat the discussion of him more carefully.
- I found myself writing some version of “Despite Ye saying this, he’s also saying this” a lot. There are a few too many “despites.” Ye has to start treating the medium of speech like he treats his music and clothing design.
- There is so much potential in Black and Jewish Americans understanding where their stories run parallel and intersect. There is a need for criticism of powerful Jewish Americans playing into Whiteness at the expense of Black folk, as well as criticism of Black Americans blindly going at all Jewish people. The power dynamic is imbalanced in favor of Whiteness, but it will require good-faith efforts from everyone involved to untangle this dissonance. This cannot be done without Black people making false claims to a Jewish/Semitic identity and Jewish Americans claiming they aren’t White in America.
UPDATE 11/23/2022: Lightly edited for typos and added context to “Stray Thoughts” section
This is a developing piece