What’s going on with Kanye West? A look into the rapper’s presidential bid, controversial career

Kanye West records "Heartless" in his studio in 2008

Eleven years later, one of the most talked-about pop culture moments of the 21st century is still rapper Kanye West interrupting then 19-year-old Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.

Swift had just been named the winner of the Best Female Video award for her song “You Belong With Me,” a category that included artists like Katy Perry and Beyoncé. She climbed the stage and started giving her speech when West grabbed the microphone and said Beyoncé deserved the award instead.

The interruption was not well received by most, and although West somewhat apologized on his blog “Kanye Universecity,” he said the moment negatively affected his career.

The moment is representative of the controversy West is often enshrouded in, from declaring that slavery “sounds like a choice” in tabloid news site TMZ’s newsroom to matter-of-factly stating that “Harriet Tubman never actually freed the slaves” at his first ever campaign rally in North Carolina.

West has teased the idea of running for president multiple times in the past. In January 2019, he vaguely tweeted “2024,” which fans alluded to a forthcoming presidential bid. So it came as a surprise when West tweeted on July 4 that he would be running for president this year. He also named self-proclaimed biblical life coach Michelle Tidbill as his running mate.

This puts him in competition with former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump, who West has expressed support for in the past, even donning the controversial “Make America Great Again” red baseball cap famously worn by Trump supporters in protest of the notion he perceived that Black people must always vote Democrat. West has since revoked support for Trump after hearing Trump was said to have hid in a bunker during the George Floyd protests at the White House in May.

West has never shied away from speaking out about racial injustice. It was a common theme on his debut and sophomore albums The College Dropout and Late Registration, with lyrics like “They be askin’ us questions, harass and arrest us,” in reference to police brutality. He also famously declared “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people,” at a live Hurricane Katrina relief fundraiser. Bush said in 2010 the moment was an “all-time low” in his presidency.

West had already missed the filing deadlines in most states by the time he made the announcement, but he hopes to have voters write him into the ballots. Write-in votes are a uniquely American phenomenon, and so far, no candidate has ever won an election through this method.

Political science professor Thomas Marshall said the campaign is probably an ego trip or publicity stunt and there is no chance of the rapper winning through write-ins.

“Running for president, and seriously running for president, is very different than being the media hype of the week,” he said. “I find it hard to believe that his campaign would go anywhere.”

Marshall also said he thinks it is unlikely West will garner the amount of support needed to be allowed to participate in the presidential debate.

Members of the Republican Party are currently trying to get West on the ballot in states like Arkansas. He has admitted to not knowing much about policy-making and chooses to rely on advisers.

Despite the cynicism that may arise from that admission, the U.S. has been led by presidents from nonpolitical backgrounds before. Fortieth President Ronald Reagan was a famous actor in the 1930s. Trump had his own reality TV show, “The Apprentice,” and cameoed in movies like Home Alone 2.

West is constantly surprising fans, most recently with his presidential campaign but also with his recent foray into gospel rap with his Sunday Service church program and his latest album Jesus is King.

It is an addition to his extensive discography, which fans have divided into “old Kanye” and “new Kanye” in reference to the different styles of rapping he has employed. Many prefer his old style, citing the braggadocious tone in more recent albums.

Finance senior Brandon Clark, who has been a fan of West since about 2005, said unlike most fans, he is appreciative of the rapper’s evolution but is not so taken with his political ambitions.

“Maybe further along down the line,” Clark said. “Maybe when [he’s] old and maybe mature[s] more.”

West’s recent tweet storm also addressed his thoughts on topics like abortion and included now-deleted revelations about his family, which he has apologized for.

Many believed they were manifestations of a manic episode, and it reignited a conversation on social media about mental health and bipolar disorder, which West was diagnosed with in 2017. He dedicated his 2018 album Ye to discussing his emotions and struggles with the disorder.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder is a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration and the ability to carry out daily tasks. The moods range from periods of being extremely energized (manic episodes) to periods of depression.

His wife, reality TV star Kim Kardashian West, publicly commented on the issue, speaking on how it has affected the family and asking the public to be compassionate.

“We as a society talk about giving grace to the issue of mental health as a whole, however we should also give it to the individuals who are living with it in times when they need it the most,” she said via her Instagram story.

Jamar Jones, assistant professor and music industry studies area coordinator, was one of the producers for West’s Glow in the Dark Tour in 2009. He believes there is a dichotomy in the way the public treats everyday people struggling with mental illness versus celebrities.

“Society is kind of like one of those things where you do one thing great, then people just assume you can do all things great,” he said. “Which means be like a superhuman, like you don’t bleed or you don’t cry.”

However, drawing from his experience working in the television industry, he said people should be skeptical of the situation because there is a possibility things are being staged.

“Are we dealing with the real Kanye or are we dealing with an actor? Nobody really knows that part,” he said.

@TritimaAchigbu

features-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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