Do I contradict myself?

Very well then I contradict myself,

(I am large, I contain multitudes)

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1855)

And I don’t think there’s nothin’ I can do now to right my wrongs

Kanye West, Jesus Walks (2004)

Give them long enough and your heroes will eventually let you down. ‘Man of the people’ Bruce Springsteen will charge you £106 for a ticket. ‘Squeaky-clean’ Will Smith will slap Chris Rock at the Oscars. Lance Armstrong will start a podcast. 

Give or take a few die-hards who refuse to countenance any criticism of their idol, most fans of Michael Jackson’s music, Woody Allen’s films or O.J. Simpson’s 1970s Buffalo Bills will have at one time pondered how to separate the art from the artist. 

Can you still enjoy creative work that has been a part of your life for years when the darkness in the creator’s soul has been exposed? What’s the cutoff? Are we deleting ‘Ignition (Remix)’ from our wedding playlists in light of R. Kelly’s racketeering and sex offence convictions, but still enjoying ‘This Charming Man’ because despite being an embarrassing old reactionary Morrissey hasn’t actually committed a crime?

These are questions that fans of Kanye West have spent years grappling with, and for many, the tipping point came this week. 

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Early on Sunday morning, Ye (his legal name since October 2021) tweeted: “I’m a bit sleepy tonight but when I wake up I’m going death con 3 (sic) on JEWISH PEOPLE”. By way of a disclaimer, he added: “The funny thing is I actually can’t be Anti Semitic because black people are actually Jew also You guys have toyed with me and tried to black ball anyone whoever opposes your agenda”. 

The tweet was removed by Twitter, with a spokesperson telling BuzzFeed News: “The account in question has been locked due to a violation of Twitter’s policies”. His next tweet read: “Who you think created cancel culture?”. 

This came shortly after West’s Instagram account was restricted on account of a post which appeared to suggest that rapper Diddy (formerly known as Puff Daddy) was controlled by Jewish people. 

West had uploaded a screenshot of an apparent text conversation between the two, in which Diddy is told: “Ima (sic) use you as an example to show the Jewish people that told you to call me that no-one can threaten or influence me”. 

The dispute stemmed from Diddy calling out West for wearing a t-shirt at Paris Fashion Week earlier this month bearing the message “WHITE LIVES MATTER”. The Anti-Defamation League calls this “a white supremacist phrase that originated in early 2015 as a racist response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which arose to protest against police brutality against African-Americans”, and it has been promoted by white supremacist groups including the Ku Klux Klan. 

Throughout the week, further examples of apparent antisemitism emerged. West had appeared on basketball superstar LeBron James’ series The Shop: Uninterrupted, but the episode was scrapped without being aired. Maverick Carter, who produces the show alongside James, told pop culture website Andscape: “Unfortunately, he used The Shop to reiterate more hate speech and extremely dangerous stereotypes”.

During an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, the 45-year-old made a number of statements that either directly referenced Jewish people or appeared to. Among his comments, which were cut from the final broadcast but leaked by tech website Motherboard, West said: “I prefer my kids knew Hanukkah than Kwanzaa. At least it will come with some financial engineering” and “I trust Latinos when I work with them. I trust them more than…I’ll be safe, certain other businessmen”. Both of these statements play into stereotypes involving Jewish people, money and business.

Wednesday brought claims of further scrapped antisemitic comments. These came from Van Lathan, formerly of tabloid website TMZ, to whom the rapper gave his most infamous interview in 2018. When the footage was released four years ago, West caused outrage with his assertion that “When you hear about slavery for 400 years…for 400 years? That sounds like a choice”.

Apparently, this wasn’t his only controversial remark that day. Van Lathan this week claimed that West told him he “loved Hitler and the Nazis”. 

This isn’t hip hop’s first dalliance with controversy regarding Jewish people. In 1991, Ice Cube released ‘No Vaseline’, a diss track aimed at his former NWA bandmates. Referring to the group’s manager Jerry Heller, Cube rapped “you let a Jew break up my crew” and “Get rid of that Devil real simple, put a bullet in his temple/’Cause you can’t be the N**** 4 Life crew with a white Jew telling you what to do”. 

The lyrics were condemned by many, with Rabbi Abraham Cooper of Jewish human rights organisation the Simon Wiesenthal Center saying: “This is not just a theoretical issue here. Ice Cube is advocating violence against other ethnic minorities and, given the climate of bigotry in the 1990s, we consider this kind of material a real threat”. 

British charity Community Security Trust received more reports of antisemitism in 2021 than in any previous year, while the Anti-Defamation League said 2021 saw the highest number of antisemitic incidents in the United States since their records began in 1979. 

The “climate of bigotry” that existed in the 1990s has clearly intensified, and so the “real threat” pinpointed by Rabbi Cooper must therefore be even more significant. In 1991, there was no social media through which Cube could amplify his message (he has since faced accusations of antisemitism relating to tweets posted in 2020), and his music was not a fixture on commercial radio

West, however, is a cultural phenomenon, with a reach and influence that transcends the hip hop community. At the time of the TMZ interview, Van Lathan pulled him up and said “You’re entitled to believe whatever you want, but there is fact and real-world, real-life consequence behind everything that you just said”. For all the backlash and condemnation, there are numerous young fans among his 31.4 million Twitter followers who will absorb his words without questioning them.

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The most common defence of West has been to cite his mental illness. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2016, and has since talked candidly about the subject. Speaking on chat show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman in 2019, he said: “If you don’t take medication every day to keep you up at a certain state, you have a potential to ramp up…When you ramp up, it expresses your personality more. You can become almost more adolescent in your expression”. 

These may or may not be views that West only holds when he hasn’t taken his medication, but bipolar disorder is too complex for us to definitively state 'Kanye likes Jewish people when he's on his meds and hates Jewish people when he's off them'. Unfortunately, that's a conclusion people will inevitably draw when West and those around him make no attempt to explain, apologise for or walk back his comments

Speaking to USA Today, clinical psychologist and ‘Joy from Fear’ author Carla Manly said: “There are many people who don’t have mental health issues who are racist and bigoted, and there are people with mental health issues who are not racist or bigoted. We want to see those as two very different issues”. 

She insists that everyone must be held accountable for the harm their actions cause, as otherwise “mental health issues would become the excuse for every type of damaging behaviour”. 

Kanye contains multitudes. The MAGA hat-sporting, Trump-endorsing man who’s made numerous wild and damaging statements about race is also responsible for possibly the most significant discography of the 21st century. 

West famously once described himself as a “creative genius”, and has the artistic output to back that statement up. Sadly, the mind that brought us My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is now serving up something much darker.