What Kanye West Said About Slavery, Mental Health and Obama in His New Interviews
Posted May 2, 2018 12:04 a.m. EDT
Updated May 2, 2018 5:36 a.m. EDT
It feels like Kanye West hasn’t stopped talking in weeks.
Since his return to Twitter last month, the rapper and designer has used 280 characters as his preferred medium to share news of forthcoming albums (and clothes), philosophical musings, polarizing political views (including support for President Donald Trump) and detailed text messages with famous friends concerned about his recent ideological direction.
What West, 40, had not done, until the release of a 105-minute video interview Tuesday, was speak at length on any of the hot-button topics that have swirled around him since the tumultuous period in late 2016 that ended with his hospitalization — and a visit to Trump Tower.
In his first extended interview since, conducted by the Power 105 morning show host Charlamagne Tha God at West’s California home on April 18, the musician appeared calm and lucid as he addressed a wide array of controversies, aspirations and regrets. But soon after the video was published, West made a taped appearance at TMZ headquarters, touching on many of the same points at a higher emotional frequency, including several statements about slavery that inspired outrage on social media.
Below is a cheat sheet for Tuesday’s winding excursion through the mind of Kanye.
On his November 2016 hospitalization
West prefers to think of his breakdown as a “breakthrough,” he said. He cited stress, both personal and professional, including the robbery of his wife, Kim Kardashian, in Paris that October and the lack of radio play for his album “The Life of Pablo.”
“Ever since the Taylor Swift moment, it’s never been the same — the connection with radio,” West said. Because he was “one of the most famous people on the planet,” he added, “I didn’t understand it.”
Still, “There was elements about going to the hospital and having a breakdown — or a breakthrough — that was fire,” West said. “It was incredible, the feeling,” which he compared to an out-of-body experience.
On the aftermath
Following the hospitalization, “I had lost my confidence,” West said — “it just wasn’t Black Panther, Superman-level confidence” anymore.
“I never had the empathy for people who lacked confidence. I had so much of it that I didn’t know what it was like to be without it.” He added: “It was incredible because it was forced humility. Previously, I would’ve looked at humility as more of a negative thing.” But that humility, he said, “gave me time to grow.”
On opioids, medication and liposuction
“I was drugged out,” West said on TMZ, about the period preceding his hospitalization. “I was on opioids. Two days after I got off of opioids, I’m errrrrr — I’m in the hospital.” He said he had been prescribed the pills after undergoing a liposuction procedure. “I had plastic surgery because I was trying to look good for y’all,” he told the staff of the gossip outlet. “Didn’t want y’all to call me fat, so I got liposuction. And they gave me opioids.”
West said he went from taking two pills a day after the surgery to taking seven, but that he was no longer on as much medication. “These pills that they want me to take three of a day, I take one a week maybe, two a week. Y’all had me scared of myself, of my vision. So I took some pills so I wouldn’t go to the hospital and prove everyone right. We are drugged out! We are following other people’s opinions. We are controlled by the media. And today it all changes.”
West began a diatribe on race by citing new lyrics. “I got this rap that says: Parents are the strippers/strip they kids of their confidence/teach white dominance/question your common sense/I’ve been washed in tradition, now I’mma rinse/hopped off the Amistad and made ‘I’m a God.'”
He went on to explain that the conversation about putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill “was the moment that I wanted to use bitcoin,” adding: “It’s like when you see all the slave movies. Why you gotta keep reminding us about slavery? Why don’t you show us — put Michael Jordan on a $20 bill.”
In reference to Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X, he added: “Man, I know this is going to cause an uproar, but certain icons are just too far in the past and not relatable and that’s what makes them safe.” On his first meeting with President-elect Trump in December 2016
“That was almost like a Clayton Bigsby moment — when everybody’s head exploded,” West said, alluding to a “Chappelle’s Show” skit in which a blind racist does not know he’s black.
West said he imagined his fans believing “this dude has to diss Trump at all points, at all costs,” because of his past comments like “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Friends, he said, asked him, “What makes George Bush any more racist than Trump?”
“My response is: ‘Well, racism isn’t the deal breaker for me.’ If that was the case, I wouldn’t live in America,” West said, arguing that even as a rich black man, he continues to face discrimination. “In this gated community, I deal with it.”
Later in the interview, after referencing the murder rate in his native Chicago, West said that he had decided to meet with Trump because he “wanted to do something, to change something.”
“I would meet with him today,” he said. “And I would talk about Chicago.” On the disastrous Yeezy Season 4 fashion show
West also referenced a September 2016 event for his fashion line on Roosevelt Island as contributing to his dark period. Plagued by extended delays, unseasonably hot weather and fainting and falling models, the show was roundly panned and mocked.
“I was 45 minutes late and they LeBron-ed me, bro,” West said. “Like when LeBron went to Miami and they just killed him and burned his jersey.” He continued: “I felt it was the fashion community getting the right to say ‘nigger’ without saying it,” because they did not appreciate his approach to fashion, which West referred to as “stepping on necks.”
“'If you get out of line, boy, we gon’ roast you,'” he said. “It affected me because I’m an artist.”
West told Charlamagne that he was not currently in traditional therapy. “I use the world as my therapy — as my therapist,” he said, adding that he prefers to talk with friends and family. “I will pull them into the conversation of what I’m feeling at that point and get their perspective,” he said. “It’s kind of narcissistic.”
Twitter, he added, was not exactly a form of therapy for him. “I think everything is therapeutic, but I’m not doing it as a form of personal therapy,” he said. “It’s just an innate feeling. I want to express. I decided to use this platform to express some breakthroughs that I’ve had since going to the hospital.” He added: “There will be mistakes, flaws in the way I communicate today. I’m not media trained. I’m just saying exactly what I feel out of love.”
On mental health
“I want to change the stigma of crazy, of mental health — period,” West said. “Best believe I’m going to take the stigma off the word crazy.” On his fractured relationship with Jay-Z
Responding to a question about recent Jay-Z lyrics aimed at him (“You gave him 20 million without blinkin'/He gave you 20 minutes onstage”), West said: “I’m a very loyal, emotional artist — that made me feel like I owed more than the money itself.” (West explained that the money in question was from a touring deal he made with Live Nation while signed to Jay-Z’s management company, Roc Nation.)
The pair, longtime collaborators, have been texting each other, West said: “I haven’t seen him, but I can feel him.”
Still, he said he had been hurt by Jay-Z and Beyoncé's failure to attend his 2014 wedding to Kardashian. “I understand that they were going through some things, but if it’s family, you’re not going to miss a wedding,” he said. “I gotta state my truth.”
“Even when I tweeted that I was in debt, that gave me power,” West said. “I took my power back, like, ‘Man, my financial situation don’t make me.’ I’m in debt — now what? And I’m still Ye.”
On the Paris robbery
“If she wasn’t here I would never forgive myself,” West said of his wife, detailing the security issues he and his family face. “It’s just bugged out when you’re super high-profile. You’re as famous as the president,” he said, but you have to provide your own protection. Since the robbery, West and Kardashian keep no high-priced art or jewelry “any place where our kids stay,” he said.
On his trademark ‘Kanye Rants’
“I actually think that the rants came from the place of a bravery,” he said of the extended diatribes he would often issue on tour. “I had enough of the politics.”
“Bravery is more important than perfection,” West added. “Feeling is more important than thought.” On Nike
West, whose Yeezy line is partnered with Adidas, has long harbored a grudge against Nike for failing to empower him within the company after he designed a successful Nike shoe. “I love Nike — I loved Nike. I had to put the -ed on it for the stockholders,” he said. “It was heartbreaking for me to have to leave Nike, but they refused to allow me to get royalty on my shoe and I knew I had the hottest shoe in the world.”
But he addressed the company’s chief executive, Mark Parker, with some regret. “I just got to speak out as a parent and apologize to this man for ever speaking ill on his name and his company,” West said. “Because he gave me that shot.”
As for Puma, another possible partner, West said: “The dude that didn’t sign me at Puma definitely needs to lose his job. I’m not going to say his name but, can you imagine?”
On his fractured relationship with Barack Obama
West spoke at length about his relationship with the former president, which was damaged after a video leaked in 2009 in which Obama, reacting to West’s infamous outburst at the MTV Video Music Awards that year, referred to the rapper as a “jackass.” West traced his relationship with the former president back to its roots in their shared home of Chicago, where he says Obama, while still a senator, visited him and his mother to ask for support. “I am his favorite artist of all time. Because I am the greatest artist of all time. It only makes sense — he’s got good taste,” West said.
West expressed resentment that Obama never called him to apologize after the video went public, but he also made an attempt at magnanimity. “Nobody’s perfect,” he said. “I love Obama. I’m sure we’ll hang out, go to Richard Branson’s island. It’ll be cool. I just think that we were in a period where he had so much stuff to do that he couldn’t deal with a wild card like me.”
It irked West that Obama maintained relationships with other members of the hip-hop elite. “I’m your favorite artist,” he said. “You played ‘Touch the Sky’ at your inauguration. And now all of a sudden Kendrick and Jay, all the people you invited to the White House, now these your favorite rappers now?”
West also leveled a policy critique at Obama, accusing him of failing to reduce the murder rate in Chicago (West has repeated the criticism on Twitter). In the end, however, he returned to expressing compassion for Obama, alluding to the pressures of being the first black president and ruminating about what he himself might do should he ever ascend to the highest office in the land.
“This man was the Jackie Robinson of politics,” he said. “He was the first person to do it. So, you know, we want to be supportive.”
“A black person can’t be imperfect in the public eye, that’s a form of control,” West said. “I’m here to show you imperfection. The beauty is in the imperfection.”
On what he and Trump have in common
“I love challenging the norm,” West said. “I love people who don’t love him. I love the fact that they speaking up and everybody’s just giving their opinions. I been waiting for this moment in time. This is like a Ye moment in time.”
After Charlamagne described Trump as hostile to minorities and questioned how West could genuinely support him, the rapper elaborated. “I don’t have all the answers that a celeb is supposed to have,” he said. “But I can tell you that when he was running, it’s like I felt something. The fact that he won proves something. It proves that anything is possible in America.” He added, “When I see an outsider infiltrate, I connect with that.”
West said that his dream presidential candidate would have the campaign of Trump and the principles of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
“I’m a producer,” he said. “I like to segue things.”
On his new music
“I want to create music that’s therapeutic,” West said. “I feel ‘Real Friends’ is in the territory of what we’re creating,” he added, referring to a song on “The Life of Pablo.” On starting his own community
Almost in passing, West mentioned that he had bought a large amount of property that he planned to build on, telling Charlamagne: “I was afraid to show you this 300 acres that I just purchased that I’m building my first community on — my first five properties on — because I felt like it would be shut down.”
On parting ways with his manager, Scooter Braun
“My last and final manager was Scooter Braun,” West said. In a tweet last week, he announced that he had parted ways with Braun, who shepherded Justin Bieber to global pop stardom. “I just can’t be managed. What’s dope about Scooter at the end of the day: his parents adopted a black child. His brother’s black. This is a Jewish guy who understands business but also understands how to communicate on a personal level with a black person. Like on a brother level. Me and Scooter would get on the phone and he would talk to me for hours. And that information meant everything. He was Kanye West’s gateway drug to business.”
On sound bites
“I don’t have a sound bite for everything,” West said. “When you want to express yourself, a lot of times words can get in the way.”