We're living in divisive times, where we seem to clash daily on issues of race and gender and religion and anything else you could possibly think of. But of all the hot button issues out there, there may be nothing more contentious than Kanye West.
The musician and fashion designer is reviled by some as a pompous, arrogant, "jackass," to quote President Barack Obama. While others—Stans like myself—see the artist as their own personal spirit animal. And considering we've just been treated to a new chapter in the ongoing soap opera between West and Taylor Swift (#TaylorGate), it's likely that the debates over the merits and misdeeds of the Louis Vuitton Don will continue into perpetuity.
Since I've spent the last five days covering Cleveland's Republican National Convention, I decided to engage the delegates from all over the country in my favorite conversation topic and see if they needed Yeezus the way Kathy Lee needed Regis. Here are their thoughts.
Janet Fogarty, Massachusetts
VICE: What do you think of Yeezy?
Janet Fogarty: I like his music better than his politics.
What's your favorite Kanye West song?
I don't really have one. Actually, I can't think of one. So I guess I don't like his music that much either. I lied.
What don't you like about his politics?
Just that he's not very well-informed, but he speaks out and makes statements that I don't think he's really researched.
Are there any statements in particular that jump out?
I don't really listen or watch him too much unless he shows up on some show that I happen to be watching and makes some sort of crazy statement, like at an awards show or something.
What did you think after Hurricane Katrina when he said, "George Bush doesn't care about black people"?
I think that's just ignorant because George Bush definitely cares about black people. Everyone does. So that whole statement is not accurate.
If you could say something to Kanye West, as a representative of the Republican Party, what would it be?
Well, he said he was going to run for office one day. I'd say go for it and see where it goes.
Would you want him in your party?
Sure. We're the big-tent party. We welcome anyone. We don't exclude anyone, so we'd love to have him. Maybe he could perform at the next convention for us because we need some entertainment.
Richard and Leslie Kalama, Hawaii
Y'all know who Kanye is?
Richard Kalama: Yes, but I don't know his music very much. I know he doesn't like Taylor Swift very much. But hey, he's obviously talented. He's obviously got a big following. I'm a little past that age group, but I'd certainly go and listen to him at a concert. I'm sure live, he's very good. But I don't know much to say about him.
Leslie Kalama: I know he doesn't like Taylor Swift, but that is it. His audience is way younger than us.
Matthew Mcauliffe, Ohio
Got any thoughts on Kanye West?
Matthew Mcauliffe: I'm too old to know Kanye West. I'm more of a East Coast rap guy—that's a joke. But honest to God, I have no opinion on him. Everyone tells me he's talented, but I'm kind of like "whatever."
He said he wants to run for president in 2020. What do you think about the idea of a rap artist becoming a presidential nominee?
We have a guy who sold steaks and bad wine who is running for president right now.
He has made some political statements in the past.
Yeah, after Hurricane Katrina. I think that was a ridiculous, uninformed statement.
What's so ridiculous about it?
What fact did he have to back that up other than emotion? There was no fact. It was pure emotion.
Who do you like better, Kanye or Taylor Swift?
I don't even know who she is. I'm more of a Public Enemy guy. They're everything.
Your politics don't necessarily align with your music taste. How does that work?
I appreciate people who communicate with purpose rather than doing stuff just to hear themselves. Bands like U2 and Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine, they communicate with purpose. I appreciate that. I don't have to agree with it, but there's thought behind it.
Do you think Kanye communicates with purpose?
I don't know. I don't watch E! I would say in 2005, he communicated with emotion rather than purpose. But he's provocative, and he's doing exactly what he wants to do and gets a reaction out of people.
Jim Miller, Wisconsin
What do you think of Ye?
Jim Miller: I like Kanye. My favorite Kanye West song is "Gold Digger." It's on my playlist when I'm working out.
Todd Jennings, Florida
Do you have any thoughts on Kanye West?
Todd Jennings: I've only heard one song by Kanye West: "Jesus Walks." I'm a veteran and that song was on the Jarhead soundtrack. It's a great song. I appreciated his courage in coming out in a mainstream hip-hop song and singing about Jesus. It's great.
Pastor Shannon Wright, Maryland
So tell me, what do you think about Kanye West?
Shannon Wright: I think he's an interesting and creative young man who has a mastery of marketing and knows how to stretch those 15 minutes of fame a bit longer than most.
What do you think about him running for president in 2020?
Have you seen some of the things that are running in 2016?
What do you think about some of his political statements that he's made in the past?
Everybody's entitled to an opinion, and everybody's entitled to a non-fact based soundbite just for the heck of it, if that's what they want to do.
Do you think his statements have an affect on people?
I don't think the comments he makes really have an affect on anyone that has a certain amount of intelligence and understanding of politics.
What do you think about Kanye West and Taylor Swift and the stuff that's been going on between them?
I think that sometimes it's best for folks to stay out of other folks' business.
Any other thoughts on Kanye West?
There are, in my opinion, a lot better ways that Mr. West could use his celebrity.
He needs to pick an issue. Do some research. And actually put together some talking points and do something. Not just say stuff. In this day in age, we've got enough people that go around saying things. But we don't have enough people that'll actually get up and do something. You want to prove that you're serious, Kanye? Stop talking and start doing.
Joel Trockman, California
What do you think of Kanye?
Joel Trockman: Kanye is the person who has all the attention. And he can turn that attention into whatever he wants to—he's chosen different business ventures and causes. He's done it in a very good way, so it's pretty respectable.
He's one of the best out there. And like Donald Trump, he's able to get attention from everybody. With Trump, you've got people who love him and come to the conventions, and you've got people who absolutely hate him. But the hate is a connection. Kanye is a person very similar. He gets that same type of attention in the market. People either love him or hate him. But people are thinking about him and that's what it's all about if you want to get people to listen to your causes.
Connecting him even further with Donald Trump, he mentioned he was considering running for president. Does that sound crazy to you?
Politics is a different animal that requires hierarchy. It's like starting up a brand-new business. Right now, Kanye doesn't have any clout in politics.
Donald Trump's been around politics for 20 years. Even though he says he's an outsider, he's not really. His ideas are outside the political spectrum, but he has a base. With Kanye, I don't know if he could translate his power from music to politics. But it's possible.
What do you think Kanye represents about our current culture of celebrity?
I wouldn't say it's a culture of celebrity. It's a culture of attention, and Kanye is a master at getting attention. The guy that has all the attention is most valuable. That's what it's all about at the end of the day.
Kevin Jayne, Illinois
What do you think of Kanye?
Kevin Jayne: Kanye West is obviously a very talented guy, and he's a creative fashion designer and music producer. I really enjoyed his beats before he really took off in hip-hop.
What was one of your favorite beats that he made back in the day?
They were underground. I liked some of the stuff he did with Consequence as well.
What is it like to have someone who people say is the greatest rapper doing it come from your state?
I guess it's good for the exposure. Like I said, he's a talented guy. He's very outspoken. He has a knack for getting attention, that's for sure. But if he runs in 2020, I guess I'd like my chances against him.
Would you want him to come into the Republican party?
Maybe for my VP.
What's one of your favorite songs that he's done?
What do you think about his political views?
I don't pay attention. I listen to his art, that's about it.
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