Niela Orr,  April 26

Kanye Unbound

At what cost the MAGA hat?

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We need to Aman Giri the world. Decentralize. Fear takes strategy. Unlearn linear thinking   Hit you with these zig zag thoughts. No race religion region political party can argue with the power of love. With love I am invincible. Truth is subjective but love is the most powerful force in the world and the world needs to express more of it. New ideas will no longer be condemned by the masses. We are on the frontier of massive change. Starting from breaking out of our mental prisons. I’m 40 years old and I’m just now becoming my parents child. I leave my emojis Bart Simpson color

Assembled, these tweets read like a manifesto spoken by the rebel protagonist of a post-apocalyptic thriller set years from now on the planet YEEZY, where the seat of power is a clothing factory, and where everyone is Bart Simpson color. This is travel writing from nowhere, or the pathway less taken, or the reading room of the Illuminati headquarters. Of course, He encourages this—not “He” in the sense of the conventional allusion to the Almighty, but “He,” meaning Kanye Omari “I Am a God” West, the Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, Steve Jobs, and Walt Disney of this shit, according to He.

Kanye West is tweeting again, with existentialist fervor, about . . . lots of things. On April 15, West returned to Twitter with a promotional message about a T-shirt sold by his Yeezy company. That same day, he tweeted that “[S]ome people have to work within the existing consciousness while some people can shift the consciousness.” Over the next couple of days, there were more tweets about his Yeezy line, name-drops of famous fashion designers, more about “future,” and questions about the linearity of time. On April 18, he came down squarely on the side of individual thinking, adding: “Don’t follow crowds. Follow the innate feelings inside of you. Do what you feel not what you think. Thoughts have been placed in our heads to make everyone assimilate. Follow what you feel.” But of course this is not new, it’s just “Self-Reliance” remixed. (Emerson would be proud. You know the “I Feel like Waldo” T-shirts are on the way.)

Fast forward to “future,” seven or so days later, and those iconoclasm-core missives have morphed into dozens of messages about his love for conservative pundit Candace Owens, Dilbert-cartoonist and Trump supporter Scott Adams, and even Trump himself—on April 25, he tweeted that Trump is his brother, and that they are both “dragon energy.” Then he posted an image that saw him sporting a Make America Great Again cap—turns out it was signed. In The New Yorker, Amanda Petrusich compared West’s Twitter revelations to the stoned ramblings of a newly awakened college kid, and also The Dude from The Big Lebowski. I’ll add another pop cultural reference here: he sounds like Neo from The Matrix. Like that fictional crusader, West has saved his worlds—namely, hip-hop and design—from the nightmare of inauthenticity. Now he has come to rescue his dude-in-law, the disgraced Tristan Thompson, from media attention by distracting us all with a disturbing (though not surprising) expression of a long-gestating Trumpism.

Kanye West is tweeting again, with existentialist fervor, about . . . lots of things.

The last time Kanye tweeted with this much verve was in February of 2016, when he was in the midst of releasing his most recent album, The Life of Pablo. So naturally it’s fair to assume that this tweet-wave is conveniently timed (despite its nonlinearity) for the solo and collaborative albums he has due out on June 1 and June 8, respectively. His meetings with tastemakers and industry gatekeepers like Ebro Darden, Charlamagne tha God, and Harvey Levin support the notion that he is simply in promo mode. Just think about it: the similarity of these tweets to Apple’s “Think Different” and “1984” campaigns, which dramatized motivational speak-cum-advertising jargon. And this situation is not all that different from the rollout of Pablo, or even Pablo itself, which unfolded in real-time with evolving titles and tracklists. Tellingly, these tweets are (apparently) about “simulation” and a real-time book which may or may not be titled Break the Simulation—the philosophy guide he professed to be writing in a Hollywood Reporter interview with designer Axel Vervoordt. In other words, Kanye is combining his own tested social media tactics with Silicon Valley’s ideological gibberish and Trumpism without politics—promotionally or otherwise, it’s a coalition of recent winners. Now consider that he wants little or nothing to do with the Democratic Party.

In the Hollywood Reporter interview, Kanye showed an interest in bobbing and weaving, attempting to both frame and elude the notion of time. “I’ve got a concept about photographs, and I’m on the fence about photographs—about human beings being obsessed with photographs—it takes you out of the now and transports you into the past or transports you into the future.” In his tweets, it’s like he is outwitting the permanency of a photo, or any other fixed thing, by taking dozens of snapshots of his thoughts and putting them out into the world. “I started to say things to people—now some of these things I could change my opinion two or three times on it depending on the feeling. I feel like Stephen Hawking. He changed his ideas and his theories all the time. After proving something right, he proved something wrong, right? Because there is no wrong or right, it’s bipolarity, it is both sides.” Both sides?—we’ve heard that recently. There are good people on both sides. This might be Kanye’s most obvious through-line to Trump—the quest for patriarchal-presidential freedom from charges of moral equivalence.

But it’s also likely a matter of personal and mental and artistic rootlessness, which is interesting given Kanye’s refusal of physical location and his enthusiastic embrace of meandering geography. After all, “Yeezy is based in Calabasas but will also be setting up offices in New York London and Wyoming”—the world is their office. (Shout out to Amangiri, Utah.) On Pablo he made fame and its bedfellows (power, corruption, etc.) lay side-by-side, concentrating celebrities and other influencers in a literal bed for his “Famous” video. Elsewhere on the album, he expressed interest in escape, in leaving beds (e.g., the pervasiveness of his “Wake up Mr. West” tagline), homes, and even cities. “No More Parties in LA” is like a really black, celebrity take on John Carpenter’s Escape from Los Angeles, where West and Kendrick Lamar rhyme with relentless rigor over a manic Madlib beat—the sample reminding the listener of the context: “I’m out here from a very faraway place / All for a chance to be a star, nowhere seems to be too far.” On “Pt. 2,” he alludes to losing his mom there, in the real and metaphorical Hollywood—the bed of the Democratic Party. Rather than take root, he now endorses a sprawling, decentralized everywhere—it’s no surprise he’s amenable to the anti-philosophies of Silicon Valley.

West seems to want to transfer that same decentralization he explored in his music to politics. In an effort not to be pinned down to any particular ideology, he finds himself zig-zagging between them, barreling toward no particular destination. His cloud-server anywhereness brings to mind the liminal space where James Brown once resided, the sociopolitical no man’s land between writing “Say It Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud” and proclaiming a kinship with Strom Thurmond (“He’s like a grandfather to me,” Brown once said). And blackness, make no mistake, is part of the question. Every year West, Jay-Z, Beyonce, and other black “influencers” spark new conversations about what blackness means, how it is bought and sold—as a commodity or cultural style—and what it can buy. But to Kanye West, who is clearly interested in demonstrating that he will not be bought by the Democratic Party, you want to ask: At what cost does the MAGA hat come?

Prompted by the Hollywood Reporter, West recently described the most beautifully designed place on Earth. “My answer would be where the ocean meets the rocks in Africa or in Hawaii. Big Sur is close to that feeling. But that’s designed by God,” he said. In his tweets, he’s designing one version of that place for himself—He might end up there alone.

Niela Orr is an artist and writer living in Philadelphia. More of her work can be found at www.nielaorr.com.

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