For most of his career, Kanye West has griped about not getting what he deserved, so there was a kind of perverse poetry in how the past month unfolded. When he cut ties with Gap in September and premiered a “White Lives Matter”–themed collection weeks later under his YZY fashion line, Diddy reproached him. “Don’t buy the shirt,” the mogul urged his Instagram followers. When West claimed the next day that Diddy was being controlled by “Jewish people,” West’s Instagram account was restricted, prompting an antisemitic Twitter rant and the dissolution of partnerships with Balenciaga, Vogue, and athletes signed to his Donda Sports agency. “I can say antisemitic things and Adidas can’t drop me — now what?” he boasted shortly before Adidas, too, ended their near-decade-long relationship.
The 45-year-old rapper and designer now known simply as Ye envisioned more accolades when he complained about not being given his proper due. Lately, he has gotten comeuppance instead. The corporate fallout from West’s bigoted remarks — which included his threat to “go death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE” — could cost him more than $1.5 billion and void his status as a billionaire, according to a Forbes estimate.
This turnaround in fortune has been widely construed as his downfall. “Kanye West Destroys Himself,” read a recent Atlantic headline. The impression is that West, one of the creative visionaries of the 21st century, has forsaken his artistic gifts in favor of becoming the type of aggrieved provocateur more often found on Fox News. But the clear path before him suggests that what he is experiencing is less a downfall than a rebirth, the particulars of which illuminate what it means to be a Black conservative after Donald Trump.
Here’s how that process is going so far: West appeared for a two-part interview on Tucker Carlson Tonight, during which Carlson went to great lengths to reassure viewers that the rapper was lucid and rational — even as the show’s editors had to cut several more of his anti-semitic statements and conspiracy theories, including his claim that Hanukkah would be a better holiday for his kids to celebrate than Kwanzaa because it provides “financial engineering.” He has agreed to buy Parler, the conservative social-media platform known for being used to plan the Capitol riots of January 6, 2021. (Parler CEO George Farmer is married to West’s friend Candace Owens, the Black conservative influencer.) And he posted admiringly about NBA star Kyrie Irving, who recently stoked controversy by promoting an antisemitic movie on social media, and Herschel Walker, the former football player turned Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Georgia. West captioned the Walker post with the words PRO LIFE.
West’s rising status in the conservative movement could be summed up in an October 6 tweet by the Republicans in the House Judiciary Committee, which has gone conspicuously undeleted even as the rapper’s antisemitism has ramped up: “Kanye. Elon. Trump.”
If West is falling anywhere, it’s into the waiting arms of a right-wing ecosphere that has shown few reservations about embracing troubled mouthpieces like him. His conspiratorial prejudices, thirst for attention at all costs, and animosity toward his critics in the entertainment business make him a perfect fit for a conservative media environment that has turned the combination of those features into a thriving industry. The cherry on top of this rancid sundae is that West is Black. Modern Republicans, hounded by accusations of racism, have long paraded the Black allies they can attract.
The backstory of this phenomenon is by no means linear, nor do its avatars always fit neatly into ideological categories. Clarence Thomas, who was seated on the Supreme Court amid accusations that he sexually harassed his former employee Anita Hill, is a dedicated agent of today’s conservative movement responsible for many of its recent victories, including the end of Roe v. Wade. The respectability politics advanced by Bill Cosby, who once toured the country lambasting Black people for being immoral and lazy before getting outed as a serial rapist, descend from a brand of Black conservatism that dates back to the 19th century. Trump’s grip on the attention economy has granted Black fame and media savvy a new currency on the right. The bar is now so low for Black entry into the GOP’s most influential circles that the novelty act Diamond and Silk was invited to testify before the House Judiciary Committee in 2018, while the then-undergraduate and Quillette writer Coleman Hughes, appearing before the same body for a hearing about reparations, was offered up as the Republican rejoinder to Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Then there’s Walker. Under different circumstances, one could easily see Republicans having a field day with his history of domestic violence, philandering, absentee parenting, and pressuring — and, in at least one case, paying for — his girlfriends to get abortions. But the same behavior that regularly gets other Black men’s faces plastered across Fox News and the New York Post has, in Walker’s case, been folded into a Christian redemption arc now that he’s promised to advance a conservative agenda in Congress. Walker is a Black politician made in the image of Trump, whose own bad behavior was excused for the same bargain.
Winning West would be a special sort of coup for the right. It is widely taken for granted that, although conservatives helm many of our political and judicial institutions, the ideological left has a stranglehold on culture. And even today, with the quality of his music in steep decline, West commands almost universal recognition as one of the best and most influential artists of our age. His main utility for the right seems symbolic, at least for now — owning the libs by poaching a onetime darling of their cultural elites.
But his role as a transgressive right-wing delegate has only been expanding. It really got going in 2018, when he emerged from a hiatus from the public eye to praise Trump. West then commended Owens, who believes that the 1969 moon landing was faked and that a COVID-19 vaccine killed Bob Saget, on Twitter — “I love the way Candace Owens thinks,” he wrote — and the two became fast friends. It was Owens who helped debut his “White Lives Matter” line, a testament to their shared zeal for shallow provocation. In October, West opined on Piers Morgan Uncensored about white men being victimized. “I empathize with the position of the straight white male,” he said, “and part of the reason I empathize with that position is because I know that I’m headed to that position. And what position is that? Top power position.”
It was the natural next step for West to find an ideological refuge in a conservative movement transformed by Trump. His declarations about being victimized by a host of specters — his ex-wife, the Jews, the impostors who’ve replaced his children — is in tune with a movement whose identity is increasingly defined by enemies real or imagined, even when it’s in power, and demands for impunity. NBC News reported in early November that half a dozen of West’s former employees had heard him praise Hitler or mention conspiracy theories about Jews, a fascistic turn that no doubt will be glossed over by Fox News and other conservative organs that have done the same for dozens of Republican politicians. His singular voice will become one of many howling into the same ether. He’ll be more alienated than ever from the people and communities that made him, but at least he’ll be home.