Article by Matthew Farrell
Kanye West, through a long career of successful albums and successful controversies, has become ingrained in American pop-culture. Combining some very interesting ideas with a ‘can-and-will-do’ attitude, the forty-one year old superstar seemingly cannot break his clingy relationship to the spotlight. Recently, with the wearing of a Make America Great Again hat, Kanye has been expanding his spotlight from the realm of rap to politics, apparently revealing himself as a Donald Trump supporter at first glance. However, is there more to West’s message than his choice of fashion? Is he truly a Trump supporter, or simply a supporter of the man’s persistent run against the odds? Is there even a difference?
As one of the most influential artists of the generation, Kanye is no stranger to controversy. In 2013, he wore a Confederate flag, and highlighted the much debated symbol on various pieces of merchandise, claiming “I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It’s my flag now.” As a reminder of a time in which America was at its most divided, the rapper received some backlash, but continued to sport Confederate imagery to demonstrate his commitment to claiming the hate-filled signs, transforming them into positive symbols for himself.
Now, five years later, Kanye has sparked an even greater commotion with his apparent appropriation of Donald Trump’s MAGA hat. Many on the right have commended the move including President Donald Trump, saying “he’s leading the charge!” On the left, feelings of betrayal have been expressed to the perceived back stabbing of the African American community. CNN even presented a somewhat vicious overall condoning of West’s choice in headwear in a discussion of his choices as an influencer. With both sides of the political spectrum jumping to label the act, perhaps the original intent has been buried beneath a dog pile of journalists and politicians, as well as everyday citizens (and even not everyday citizens) typing their opinions into various forms of social media.
In a discussion with T.I., another pop-culture rapper and close friend of West, Kanye argued “I’m getting this energy, positive or negative, agreeing with me, disagreeing with me. And that sharpens the diamond–our mind, our consciousness, the way we are thinking, just breaking some shit.” Building on the claim that he is inspiring conversation, West later went on to say that he does not agree with half the things Trump does, instead declaring what he likes about the divisive President is “the ability to do what no one said you could do. To do the impossible. It is the most inspiring thing to me.” Later, Kanye shared somewhat vague ideas on Instagram about bringing jobs back to America, however the rapper has avoided completely clearing up his political position and continues to use ambiguous language.
With cryptic language and abnormal presentation, there is no doubt that Kanye has not done himself any favors in his argument that the hat is an artistic, rather than political, statement. T.I. touched on this sentiment saying “Your intentions, from what you tell me, are pure, but the direction that you took to get there is a bit unorthodox and kind of, I would say, some people would say, thoughtless.” Additionally, with references to abolishing (later corrected to amending) the Thirteenth Amendment and “build[ing] factories here in America and creat[ing] jobs,” West is certainly mishandling what exactly he wants his fashion choice to express.
However, the Rapper’s inability to properly spread exactly what he means could potentially be a sign of his current mental instability. In another controversial move, “Yikes,” a song from West’s recent album Ye, contains a lyric claims that being bipolar is a “superpower,” on top of featuring the phrase “I hate being Bi-polar, its awesome,” on the cover art. Yet, few in this age of increasing mental health awareness have spoken about the possibility of the celebrity’s possible mania. Perhaps a combination of an unhealthy mental state and the eyes of the world watching has resulted in a strange cry for helpful attention from the rapper.
As a person with an atypical lens for viewing the world, Kanye West has always had points of view that strayed from the mainstream. Many claim to be translators of the true intent of the rapper, yet with so many varying factors, maybe only Kanye knows what his message is supposed to be. Is he really supporting Donald Trump? Does this question even matter when, at surface level, the hat is a symbol of the controversial president? Does the situation change because West is an influential African-American? Should intent be considered in discussion of actions and consequences? Or is Kanye simply slipping into the celebrity insanity so many revered individuals succumb to? None of these questions have simple answers, with the man who raises them seemingly being unable to come out with the raw truth. However, one thing is for sure, the many sides of Kanye must be explored more in depth, rather than being propped up as surface level arguments for what the mysterious artist wants to say with the wearing of a red hat.
Feature Image: Kanye West at his Houston concert in 2008. Image Credit: Yael Sloma/flickr