What Is Kanye Doing & Will It Work?

A long look, because it shouldn’t be short.

For the rest of this post, I’m going to just throw in random art I like, ’cause why not?

Boy, it’s been a week.

I waited to take a stab at writing this because I’m naturally soft-spoken, and that’s taught me that in a room full of chaos, the louder voices will drown everything out. But, everyone eventually needs to breathe; and when there’s silence again, when panic turns to pondering — that’s when to jump in.

  • Of course, there’s music — I’ve heard pretty much every song and feature Kanye’s released, and a good chunk of unreleased ones as well (leaks, references, demos, etc.). I even got the homie Justin a brief moment in the blogosphere spotlight by identifying an unsurfaced one myself. If I type Kanye into my iTunes, I get 828 results. And I stopped updating that ish in 2016 so that’s inaccurate. (Again, fanboyish… in the wise words of Migos just wait on it!)
  • That said, music is just one medium and, regardless of where you fall on the art/artist debate, further context is always appreciated. So let me also mention that I wrote a 40-page paper on Kanye during my senior year at Columbia. It began as a focus on Yeezus, but I couldn’t write about that without touching on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and you can’t discuss that without 808s, and next thing I know I’m up for 10 hours having watched every interview, freestyle, and concert rant that’s on YouTube. I own two of the three books he has written. I’ve also read his mother’s book, Raising Kanye; still have the PDF if you want it. So yeah, I’ve engaged with his thoughts, and observed how they’ve both changed and stayed the same over time, more consistently than most.
Kazimir Malevich, ‘Dynamic Suprematism’
  • And artists can be wrong, because humans can be wrong. Kanye has been wrong about things from the jump. Most of the time, he’s backtracked (though perhaps that didn’t always get as many clicks). In some cases, we’re still waiting. (Bill Cosby isn’t fucking innocent.) I guess this is where the art/artist debate comes in. I think it’s easy to separate in the case of someone like the aforementioned Cosby, or R. Kelly — people who have done horrendous things that have come to roost. It’s harder for someone like Kanye (or, another example that comes to mind is Dali) who has almost solely courted controversy for just his perspective and little else.
  • All that to say: I’m not looking at this week with a thousand yard stare after watching the quote-unquote downfall of some gilded Grecian hero. You think I have one product from his dystopian-ass line? I’d rock some Yeezys, don’t get me wrong, but miss me with 98% of that ish. If that dude’s a God, I’m a God. Wait. I am a God, and that dude is a God too. I’m a human, and that dude is a human too. He’s talking, and I’m listening; I’m not blindly endorsing. I’m Kanye West’s equal, not his understudy.
Fortunato Depero, ‘La Casa Del Mago’

Individuality

Rose Piper, ‘Slow Down Freight Train’

Self-Assurance

Theodor Kittelsen, ‘Pesta Kommen’

Belief

Jean François Garneray, ‘Whale as described in Moby Dick’

Futuristic

Giacomo Balla, ‘Abstract Speed + Sound’

Connectedness

George Petty, untitled sketch
Francisco Goya, ‘The Madhouse’
Takashi Murakami, ‘Of Chinese Lions, Peonies, Skulls, And Fountains’
  • Second, the impact of Trump’s existence has the potential to fundamentally rewrite how people think about the very core concepts of our society. If the impossible can become impossible — “President Donald Trump” — then why can’t other facets of conventional wisdom, the ones that sound correct but don’t feel right, also be challenged?
  • Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, destruction leads to reconstruction. Comedian Hari Kondabolu likes to tweet daily: “REMINDER FOR DAY ___ OF TRUMP PRESIDENCY: THIS IS NOT NORMAL (AND NORMAL WASN'T THAT GREAT EITHER)”. And he’s right. Normal wasn’t great. You’re a Google search away from statistics, but you probably don’t need them to know that. At the moment, we’re all still adapting to the reality of chaos. But in the long term, we still need to figure out what we’re working toward. What does progress mean? More than ever before, we’re going to need to reckon with that question. And as someone who wants to change everything, Kanye clearly has a lot to share on that topic.
Carmen Herrera, ‘Lines of Sight’

What can Kanye do from here?

From the few e-breadcrumbs shared by his closest associates, we can assume Kanye has some sort of a plan in his actions. This is somewhat speculation, but there are a few ways he can play this.

  • The Pink Polo Approach: It worked for him before, right? Kanye has a knack for leveraging a kind of cultural Trojan Horse, wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing approach; what he described to Zane Lowe in 2013 as “bringing the flowers to the door first.” He wields perception as a weapon, and it is certainly possible that he is doing so yet again with a longer goal in mind: to position himself with a smile now, raising his platform among the ultra-elite who run and fund the country — all so he can then challenge, subvert, and attempt to influence their approaches. When CyHi the Prynce tweeted that Martin Luther King was a Republican, many Twitter users snapped back. One directly summarized the disconnect: “Martin Luther King was only a republican because the Democratic Party in the South was a private party and didn’t allow blacks to vote Democrat. #TheMoreYouKnow”. Interestingly enough, CyHi responded: “Exactly.” In his eyes, at least, there are parallels to be drawn between how MLK worked the political system with what Kanye is doing now. He wasn’t really a Republican, he just had to ‘be’ one to serve the interest of his larger goals. Perhaps Kanye is attempting to do the same.
  • New Black Leverage: Clearly, many white Americans will be confused by ‘rapper Kanye West’ seemingly aligning himself with a far-right candidate. This, in itself, alerts them to the possibility that blacks are not the monolith that the media suggests. Most blacks (most people of color in general) are Democrats; somehow, Kanye isn’t. In a larger sense, this actually helps increase the leverage of the black community. If African Americans (and again, we can spread this to people of color as a whole) are no longer tied to the Democratic party — if they demonstrate that they are looking for the best ideas, not just the least-worst, and are willing to leave their previous party to pursue them — then suddenly there is more pressure on both parties to appease them. The Democrats cannot advertise the old normal as a new solution if people of color do not buy into it. (Some of) the Republicans suddenly have reason to give a damn about what people of color think if they are in danger of losing their power and suddenly have the chance to court a new section of voters. Look at how the Democrats have been exerting more efforts to win back Trump voters since 2016; a group of voters that, if nothing else, have shown that when people are quite clearly fed up with the status quo and thus willing to vote in whatever direction they want to, those in power will actually give their opinion credence (even if it’s just hateful nonsense). None of this is to say that a person of color should ever vote for Trump (please don’t) or Republican. But if it continues to remain a foregone conclusion that they will always vote for Democrats, their voices will be easier to overlook and it will be challenging to ever truly have efficient and substantial progress for the most marginalized communities in our country. In just a few tweets, Kanye has shown a large swath of people a possibility they didn’t know existed. He’s stuck the key in the lock, and there are plenty of new doors that could be opened from here.
  • Redefining Normal: Last, but in his eyes certainly not least, Kanye has the opportunity to creatively influence the cultural conversation as we work to redefine the very notion of normal. Already, he has begun to do so. By embracing Trump as a facet without actually endorsing his politics, he is encouraging the separation of one particular sliver or idea from a larger perspective. (He hasn’t specified what idea yet, and will need to soon, but it likely ties into Trump’s own lack of conventionality and tendency to attempt whatever he wants regardless of others’ opinions.) Kanye is, essentially, encouraging his audience to stop looking at extremes but instead sort through ideas: to look at everything, including the bad, and try to pick out and embrace the good. (And, on the flip side, fans are also reconciling with the notion that the ultimate ‘good,’ their favorite artist, may indeed have ‘bad’ in him.) Again, this perspective is deeply aligned with how Kanye thinks and believes the world can, should, and will one day be. And it does make some sense. As the chaos around us dies down and we begin to think through a post-Trump world, the biggest currency is ideas. The social dialogue as a whole needs to shift away from how bad things currently are to how things can, fundamentally and lastingly, be better — and this ultimately happens through sorting through various ideas and embracing the best ones, regardless of who suggests them. In its essence, this is what collaboration means, and it shouldn’t be surprising that one of the greatest modern artists holds so much value in it. Such an approach leads to creation, and thus is needed to craft enduring, impactful solutions. And, to be clear, this process is already happening within many of our neighborhoods. But Kanye is attempting to make it happen among everyone. Saving the world means the world. He can zigzag through different audiences, drawing lines they didn’t see, forcing the conversation to expand and evolve, making people question their preconceived notions and develop and endorse their own particular beliefs. In doing so, he’s also putting his faith into the best ideas naturally winning out.
George Condo, ‘Rainy Day Butler’

Will It Work?

Charlamagne, who has been conspicuously quiet during this week’s Twitter debacle (though what he did say certainly suggests Kanye is proceeding with intention), mentioned on his podcast that he got a text from Kanye saying nothing but “50/50.” He didn’t elaborate on what it meant, but it certainly can apply to the likelihood of whether Kanye will pull off this particular move. The best way to gauge how this can all play out is to take a look at the popular narratives and questions surrounding Kanye right now. I can hear Takeoff’s voice in the back of my head so I’ll try to make this quick.

  • Kanye is in the sunken place. But how’s that even possible, given what he has said in the past? Given his mother? And why are prominent black voices close to him still supporting him? Is Pusha T in the sunken place? Nas? Chance? Is it possible Kanye can say he loves Trump while disagreeing with everything he spouts and still believing that black lives matter? Is it possible that Kanye understands systemic racism, but has chosen a different, at first glance more sinister, route to combating it?
  • Kanye is being used. If it’s that black-and-white how come he can’t see that? Hasn’t he always been obsessed with never, ever being used? Isn’t that the very antithesis of what he wants? Is it possible we’re underestimating his intelligence? Does he already know Trump will try to do that? Isn’t it obvious? Who’s smarter, Kanye West or Donald Trump?
  • Blame Kim. This might not be my place to say, but isn’t that a bit sexist? And hasn’t she consistently voiced her support of Hillary and disavowal of Trump? And shouldn’t she support her husband publicly while addressing him more directly in private? Why is that a bad thing?
  • He has mental health issues. But why are those closest to him saying he is more lucid than ever? And how is his behavior more or less erratic in comparison to his past demeanor? Is everyone who says they support Trump crazy? Is every person of color who says they support Trump crazy? What does ‘crazy’ mean?
  • My hero is dead. Why do you need a hero? Why was he your hero? What did you embrace in him? Can you still embrace any of those things? Do you follow idols or ideals? What can you forgive and what can’t you? What narrative did you write in your mind for Kanye West? Is there anything Kanye can do to make you love him again?
Julie Mehretu, ‘Empirical Construction’
Henri Rousseau, ‘The Sleeping Gypsy’

i have an idea