So it was a shock to fans that after the 2016 election, West visited with Trump. He explained himself on Twitter by saying, “It is important to have a direct line of communication with our future President if we truly want change.” He also said he and Trump had talked over “multicultural issues,” including “bullying, supporting teachers, modernizing curriculums, and violence in Chicago.”
But what’s clear is that for West, political allegiance flows from style first, not substance. “That don’t mean that I don’t think that black lives matter,” he said on tour, explaining why he would have voted for Trump. “That don’t mean I don’t think that I’m a believer in women’s rights. That don’t mean I don’t believe in gay marriage.” What attracted him, instead, were Trump’s “nonpolitical methods to speaking” that were “very futuristic.” In other words, he was interested in Trump as an aesthetic innovator—and even, perhaps, as an artist.
West’s notion of politics as an artform explains his latest controversy, too. In his recent return to Twitter (he’d left a few months after his 2016 hospitalization for exhaustion) he’s announced an astonishing slew of back-to-back release dates for albums by himself and by his famous friends, including Nas, Kid Cudi, and Pusha T. He’s also been tweeting about philosophy and style. “Everything is so planned these days,” he wrote. “People appreciate spontaneity and honesty.” Shortly after, he tweeted this: “I love the way Candace Owens thinks.”
Owens is a rising pundit in the right-leaning media ecosystem, having used public-speaking gigs and her YouTube channel to criticize Black Lives Matter and praise Trump. Her big idea appears to be that for African Americans to focus too much on racism will consign them to remain “victims.” In a widely shared clip, she said, “There’s an ideological civil war happening [between] black people that are focused on their past and shouting about slavery and black people that are focused on their futures.”
Future—that, right there, may well be Kanye West’s favorite word. As I type this, he’s tweeting out videos by Scott Adams, the Dilbert creator who in recent years has built a following as a right-leaning guru. Adams stands in front of a white board, explaining that West “just altered reality” by endorsing Owens. “Forget about whether you think Candace has everything right or everything wrong,” Adams says. “That’s not the story. The story is that these two people that shouldn’t be in the same conversation, in seven words, Kanye just changed that.”
This thrill, a shock of disruption that opens new possibilities, is what West continually chases as an artist. As he rapped in 2013, “Soon as they like you make ‘em unlike you.” As he tweeted last week, “Trend is always late.” Owens may play a familiar role as a black pundit who, to the glee of a conservative white audience, tells black people not to complain too much. But she has found a way to update that role for the YouTube era, and West, who fetishizes the notion of influence for its own sake, must see that as a breakthough, too. “Self victimization is a disease,” he tweeted, swiping Owens’s rhetoric. “It’s no more [barring] people because they have different ideas,” he also wrote.