It’s not so easy to separate Kanye’s anti-Jewish tirades from his artistic greatness—both spring from his paranoid ego, writes Ross Anderson.
Last Monday, the man formerly known as Kanye West was in Paris, presenting his Yeezy Season 9 collection, with all eyes on his new “White Lives Matter” T-shirts. On Thursday he was on Tucker Carlson Tonight, expounding on abortion, atheism, the fashion industry, Obama, Elon Musk, how Gap executives knew about the Uvalde shooting beforehand, and how Donald Trump was held back by his Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner, who only carried out the historic Abraham Accords to “make money.” Last Friday, following the Carlson appearance, Kanye, naturally enough, accused rap mogul Diddy of being controlled by “the Jewish people,” which prompted Instagram to lock his account, bringing an end to his days-long spew on the app—not that he stopped there. Late Saturday night, Kanye repeated the cycle on Twitter, posting that he was “going death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE” and (reiterating a point he’d made repeatedly on Instagram) that “black people are actually Jew” so he “can’t be Anti Semitic.” For the coup de grâce, Kanye tweeted, “Who do you think created cancel culture?” drawing that all-important line for the paranoid, messianic paragon of celebrity and fashion culture between himself and Jesus Christ, two martyrs betrayed by perfidious Jews. Twitter removed the tweet about going “death con,” but his account is still up, along with the “question” about the origins of cancel culture.
West’s spoutings draw from a particularly American strain of antisemitism, as spread by the Nation of Islam and its leader, the dishonourable Louis Farrakhan. As explained by John-Paul Pagano, their conspiracy theory claims that the Israelites were Black, and thus Black people today descend from them. The ugly corollary is that “white” Jews are Satanic thieves of their “birthright” and manipulate society through dominance of cultural and financial institutions.
It’s hardly surprising that someone as megalomaniacal and martyrdom-obsessed as West has stumbled upon these ideas. They are disturbingly common among Black entertainers without Ye’s history of mental instability and manic episodes, including his peers Jay-Z and Jay Electronica, and it’s both futile and disingenuous to try and separate West’s bigotries from his bipolar disorder (however oft it’s attempted, as Freddie deBoer writes). Paranoid delusion and anti-Jewish prejudice are, after all, perfectly compatible.
Regardless of its ultimate source, whether in his psyche or his newfound political convictions and alliances with right-wing influencers like Candace Owens, paranoid, bigoted conspiracy is consistent with the broader way Ye thinks. Namely, his epistemic ADHD leaves him full of ideas, with no means to parse them but his ego-driven instinct. Going by vibe and tone has led to his phenomenal success in fashion and music—few are more original and influential—but precisely these same ingredients have rotted his politics, along with his personal and business lives. Hasty, intransigent outbursts seem to have harmed everything in his life except his profile in the media. His antisemitic outbursts are but the ugliest face of that.
His marriage to Kim Kardashian is in tatters. His most recent album, Donda 2, was released as a rough draft and may never be completed. And his fashion output has completely imploded since its high point, only last year.
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Last year saw Yeezy shoes as Adidas’ highest-grossing and most interesting line, with new profiles like the 450s, NSLTD BTs (insulated boots), and Knit Runners pushing what sneakers could look like. Simultaneously, his newly announced 10-year collaboration with Gap produced the Round Jacket and the “Perfect Hoodie”; perfect manifestations of his vision for buttonless, zipless, cropped fashion, with designer quality and reasonable prices. Each has a prized place in my wardrobe.
A year later? His rush and rage has destroyed all that. Initially outraged at Adidas for selling in-house knockoffs of his Yeezy designs, he escalated the conflict, attacking its board on social media. The Yeezy Adidas collaboration is now “under review.” Similarly, Gap became frustrated with Ye’s sluggish, inefficient prototyping, and Ye hated Gap’s resultant price hike for his eventual larger Yeezy Gap collection. (The Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga products included $140 T-shirts and a $440 denim jacket.) That partnership has now been dissolved.
But, according to Ye, he’s free now. He doesn’t need these large corporate partners; he’s got the answers. Even if we ignored the (likely prohibitive) difficulties of mass-production logistics, manufacturing, quality control, and so forth, the fruits of Ye’s newfound freedom should have been evident at his surprise Oct. 3 Yeezy Season 9 runway show in Paris (co-designed by Hood By Air’s Shayne Oliver). It wasn’t.
There were a few highlights, but for the most part, like everything else current Ye, it was reactionary, rushed, and disappointingly generic. The anti-shoe/ballet flat trend was done earlier and better by other brands, as was the pre-worn look (including in the Balenciaga show he opened!). The “White Lives Matter” shirt overshadowed the rest of the collection, but there wasn’t much deserving light.
The cynically—and successfully—provocative shirt led Thomas Chatterton Williams (among others) to tweet “This Paris Fashion week has been terrible.” But it wasn’t. There were the unique cuts of Rhuigi Villaseñor’s Bally; neoclassical dresses of Balmain; stark, elongated silhouettes of Yves Saint Laurent; ingenious trompe l’oeil leatherwork at Bottega Veneta (jeans and white vests out of leather?!); and witty spring heels and exposed stitching of Off-White, founded by Ye’s late friend Virgil Abloh.
This was a great Paris Fashion Week, and Ye ought to be in discussion for its highlights. But he wasn’t. His hurried, disorganized, uncompromising manner soiled Yeezy Season 9. It wasn’t worthy of Paris Fashion Week or of Yeezy, and yet his empty, ugly T-shirt provocation got more attention than the rest combined. Corerni’s stunning spray-on dress never stood a chance.
And this is probably the biggest clincher: Ye tends to cause outrage right before the release of a new product or album. I don’t doubt his beliefs are genuine—I wish I could—but he’s as brilliant a self-marketer as he is an artist (at least when he tries). And of all the bigotries a celebrity can hold, “the longest hatred” is the most tolerated. Nick Cannon is still on the air; Mel Gibson has completed his comeback; Ice Cube, Jay Electronica, and Jay-Z still stream; and so it will be with Ye. If Jews made cancel culture, as Ye alluded, they did a shit job.
His “White Lives Matter” T-shirts reportedly go on sale soon. They will sell out.
Ross Anderson was a 2020 fellow at Tablet magazine and has written for Los Angeles Magazine, The Dispatch, and The American Conservative. Follow him at @ThatRossChap.
Wait: are you saying Candice Owens taught him to be an anti-Semite? That feels like a claim you need to provide some support for and not just float out there with a shrug and a “well it’s possible” sort of connotation.