Days before the news that Kendrick Lamar had won the Pulitzer Prize and the subsequent ascension of rap music to a level of political and cultural validation, Kanye West was already transcending the genre, doubting the importance of public affirmation and questioning the value of money, and in many ways, life itself.
He resurrected his dormant Twitter account on April 15 with an elaboration on his newest project, “Break the Simulation,” a book of philosophy: “Some people have to work within the existing consciousness while some people can shift the consciousness.”
What followed was a stream of seemingly metaphysical, and at times incoherent, musings on time, space and love, characterized by tweets like “everything you do in life stems from either fear or love,” and “truth is my goal. Controversy is my gym. I’ll do a hundred reps of controversy for a 6 pack of truth.”
At first, the only observers taking the pseudo-philosophy seriously were Kanye’s adoring followers, until he dramatically entered the political conversation. On April 21, he praised red-pill YouTuber Cadence Owens, an African-American Trump supporter, known for, among other things, referring to Black Lives Matter protesters as “whiny toddlers, pretending to be oppressed for attention.”
Next came a flow of contradictory dogmatic statements from Kanye concerning a range of ideologies, from false victimhood and black conservatism to anti-capitalism, globalism and the oppression of free thought. In short, he left everyone, myself included, wondering, “Should we take Kanye seriously?”
Perhaps trying to completely understand Kanye’s principles isn’t possible, and as some have argued, isn’t worth it. But considering the reactions to his reflections, I’d argue that what is worthy of investigation, at least for now, is how Kanye has caused a wave of rejoice and rejection on the right and the left.
Having forgotten Kanye’s confession last summer that he would have voted for Trump, had he voted at all, and his post-election visit to Trump Tower, progressives (Kanye’s typical fan-base) lionized the rapper’s return to Twitter. When he approved of Owens and crossed identity-party lines, however, liberals swiftly recoiled their support.
Orphaned, Kanye was immediately adopted by the alt-right, and became their unofficial celebrity spokesperson. A collection of alt-right legends, captained by Alex Jones, came together to defend Kanye from the liberal rabble. Whereas Alex Jones once called Kanye “a microcosm of America’s degeneration,” he now commends his “bold move against the thought police.”
The reactions from the left and the right toward celebrities aren’t novel phenomena. What matters here, however, is the backing of a radical celebrity voice by an equally radical identity group. If Kanye is an “alt-right darling,” then the left seriously needs to watch out.
Some might question the legitimacy of Kanye’s influence—is he just a cultural brand or a socio-political force?
The left asked this question before, and it knows what happened the last time it didn’t take a brand-focused, incoherent tweeting celebrity seriously. Adidas Yeezy Boosts bear a strong symbolic resemblance to the Make America Great Again hat.
In the end, maybe Kanye should just stick to the music and the pink polos. I know that I miss the old Kanye, and according to his last album, “The Life of Pablo,” he does too.