Kanye West has never been a stranger to controversy.
Ever since claiming in 2005 that ‘George Bush doesn’t care about black people’ on live national television, Kanye has continually created headlines for reasons apart from his music. His most recent comments, however, are controversial in a very different way. As rebellious as the George Bush saga was, or as childish as his infamous hijacking of Taylor Swift’s Grammy appeared, there usually seems to be an element of humour to Kanye’s controversy.
Kanye has in recent times been very outspoken regarding his support of President Trump, reinforcing his views once more by donning a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat for his performance on American television show ‘Saturday Night Live’. It’s certainly an unusual stance for a musician to make, with both the rap and the music worlds in general ordinarily being associated with anti-establishment elements.
However, just like anyone else, Kanye is allowed to express his political beliefs. The trouble is that supporting Trump, in the eyes of many, is tantamount to endorsing the worst characteristics and beliefs of the President. Under the intense scrutiny of the public eye that West finds himself in, every single comment he makes is taken to the extreme. Therefore, when Kanye wears a ‘MAGA’ hat, it is deemed by many that he is also in favour of the infamous wall along the Mexican border, and shares Trump’s perceived sexist and racist values. Whether he likes it or not, those who oppose Trump will label Kanye with these traits as well.
Such assumptions are by nature unfair. West himself expressed on the talk show ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’ his dissatisfaction at the assumption that all black voters are expected to be Democrats. He correctly pointed out that voting for Trump is not an automatic acceptance of each policy the president stands for. West also focused on the importance of being confident and self-expressive enough to wear and support whatever he wants, something the Make America Great Again hats signify to him personally. For a man whose struggles with bipolar disorder have only become public in recent months, Kanye deserves greater sympathy from the media at large and support for his renewed self-esteem, regardless of its associated politics.
Admittedly, Kanye has been making himself an easy target with his latest comments on slavery. In the wake of deeming the institution of slavery ‘a choice’ in May, a comment he has since rightfully and convincingly apologised for, Kanye provoked those hurt by the previous comments once more. The day after his SNL performance, he appeared on Twitter to advocate the abolition of the 13th Amendment, the law which abolished slavery in America in 1865.
Within hours of this tweet, Kanye attempted to clarify that what he had meant was ‘not to abolish’ but to ‘amend’ the 13th Amendment. He subsequently thanked the Washington Post for their recognition that he had in fact supported the abolition of the ‘exception clause’ of the law that still allows for slavery if it is as ‘punishment for a crime’.
So, if investigated in enough detail, it becomes apparent that Kanye West is in fact in favour of furthering black rights, primarily in the prison system. However, the initial tweet that seemingly supported the 13th Amendment’s abolition is what has made the headlines, which has played a huge role in the wider public’s opinion and widespread disgust with West.
It would perhaps be foolish to assume that this huge controversy Kanye has created for himself is accidental. His heightened Trump-supporting and the revisited comments on slavery certainly seemed to coincide suspiciously with the proposed release of his new album Yandhi, which was scheduled to be released on the same night as his controversial Saturday Night Live performance. However, the album’s release has since been pushed back to November 23rd, which has only heightened public discontent for the artist as fans are once more left frustrated by the unfulfilled promise of new material.
The reality is that Kanye has not so much done anything morally wrong; instead, he has made some rather sizeable PR blunders. Kanye’s standing on the political spectrum should not concern anyone else, but for Kanye to act as if the modern world is not interested in such matters demonstrates considerable naivety. The most recent slavery comments have been blown out of proportion, yet it is undeniable that Kanye has underestimated the value of clarity of expression in a world of excitable clickbait-driven media outlets and social media warriors with their own political agendas.
If it wasn’t for his astonishing artistic output of late, criticism of Kanye would be a lot more damaging. However, this has arguably been Ye’s most compelling musical year. The five albums he has either put out under his own name or produced have been nothing short of remarkable. His collaboration with Kid Cudi for Kids See Ghosts remains rightfully the most critically acclaimed, but each of the five sub-twenty-five-minute records was of considerable merit. His own effort, Ye, was a brilliant and unashamedly personal look into Kanye’s troubled psyche, whilst his involvement with Nas’ Nasir resulted in the iconic New York rappers’ most interesting release since 1996’s It Was Written. West’s production on Teyana Taylor and Pusha T’s latest albums similarly signified high points in both artists’ discographies. This is a man at the top of one of his career’s many creative peaks, not someone who is using controversy to cling to a dwindling sense of relevancy.
Regardless of the unfairness of much of the criticism levelled at him, it is probably for the best that Kanye has recently deleted his social media profiles. His step away from the spotlight will give the public more time to focus on what has been a remarkable year artistically, and give West himself greater opportunity to focus on perfecting his upcoming album. The music should naturally be the primary focus for the artist and fans alike. And, as Kanye now seems to be stepping away from social media to concentrate on his music, we as fans should look to do the same.