Kanye Isn't Getting Red-Pilled, He's Just Being Kanye
We revisited West's 2009 book 'Thank You and You’re Welcome' in light of his recent Twitter controversies.
Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images
Kanye West is back on Twitter, and he’s doing what Kanye does best—riling people up. He’s returned to the social network because, apparently, he’s “writing [a book] in real time.” (Same.) Along with tidbits of his highly-entertaining, mercurial wisdom—”truth is my goal. Controversy is my gym. I'll do a hundred reps of controversy for a 6 pack of truth”—are controversial tweets that have exasperated his woke fanbase.
He tweeted an endorsement of Candace Owens, a black conservative who is the communications director of TPUSA, a national campus organization known for stunts like having a member put on a diaper to protest safe spaces. And he posted multiple videos of Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, and more recently, a toxic far-right internet presence. All this has earned West praise from Alex Jones, who once called him the “microcosm of America’s degeneration.”
To his critics on the left, West’s message is clear:
To better understand the “book” West is currently writing on his Twitter, I went back to his real 2009 book, Thank You and You’re Welcome. Co-written with J. Sakiya Sandifer, the spiral bound pamphlet is a collection of “Kanye-isms” and life advice. Chock full of sage and sometimes trite self-help tidbits—”You can learn more from a critique than from a compliment!” and “Never complain without offering a solution”—it's a reminder that we should take West’s tweets with a grain of salt.
Instead of confining West to our limited partisan and political talking points, we ought to see him as a finicky artist who has an ever evolving worldview—and sharing that worldview on a whim is a crucial part of his artistic practice. As the old adage goes, let Kanye be Kanye.
While criticism of West’s latest problematic endorsements is certainly warranted, the idea that West is somehow in the process of getting red-pilled by the alt-right is kind of silly. West has built his career on being a provocateur. His music, aesthetic, collaborators, and business ventures are in constant flux. This is the guy who came into the game as a hip-hop producer and is now making video games and fashion lines. He's a brilliant and willfully problematic artist who says whatever he wants and doesn’t really care what you think about it. He’s not afraid to put himself out there, and because of that he makes mistakes and magic constantly. He also loves the haters, he thrives off them. In Thank You and You’re Welcome, he writes, “I would rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I’m not.” Later in the book, he opines, “Love your haters, they’re your biggest fans.” If you're getting huffy about one of his tweets, you are one of those haters.
Kanye West is also an enfant terrible. He’s the guy who stole Taylor Swift’s award at the VMAs, the dude who had the courage to say “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” on live TV, and the man who married Kim Kardashian and helped turn her into a style icon. He’s on his own plane, doing Kanye, and that means flourishing off of the kerfuffles he creates.
It almost makes sense that West’s personal philosophy could appeal to conservatives. He’s a self-made multimillionaire who espouses a distinctly American, capitalist ideology. If you want to achieve your goals, “think it, say it, do it,” he instructs in Thank You and You’re Welcome. At another point in the book, he talks about an early career failure. “Instead of allowing my anger to push me to do something negative, I focused on the positive. I...worked harder, and worked through the pain.” In other words, he pulled himself up by his bootstraps to achieve the American Dream the way Republicans always suggest. Of course, Ye is also the guy who blamed Ronald Reagan for pumping the black community with crack cocaine to purposely destroy the Black Power movement. At the end of the day, both conservatives and liberals can find a lot to praise and bemoan when it comes to Kanye, because Kanye is complicated. He can't fit easily into any box. And anytime you think you know which way he's going, he goes the other way just to spite you.
On a page in his book titled, “Embrace your flaws!” the rapper explains how his family used to tell him, “You don’t need to get your teeth fixed,” but the kids at school would taunt him by saying, “Your teeth are big and white just like horse!” He continues:
So I got braces and had to have eight teeth removed… Once my teeth were fixed, everybody (including some of the same people who said I didn’t need them) said, “Your teeth look so much better!” So now, when I see people with messed-up teeth, I want to be that one person who tells them the truth like the kids told me… I don’t believe in accepting a changeable condition.
This is endearing because in typical Kanye fashion it brazenly goes against the common refrain that you should accept yourself for who you are, through a mundane anecdote about getting braces as a child. It’s not particularly profound, but it’s a funny piece of insight into the inner workings of West’s wild mind. He does not go where you want him to go.
The last two pages of the book say, “I question anyone who questions me… but I question myself all the time!” Hopefully, this indicates that West will continue to question the passing thoughts he shares on Twitter.
Short-lived White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci once said, don’t take Trump literally, “take him symbolically.” While that’s terrible advice for how to interpret the words of the President of the United States, it’s a good way to understand West’s Twitter feed. Don’t interpret every statement as a permanent etch in the final book of Kanye, because he's rewriting that book everyday. Trust that he’s always questioning himself, and feel free to do the same.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.