Reactions were wide-ranging when Kim Kardashian West revealed her husband’s new project, Jesus is King, the follow-up to his eighth studio album Ye. Twitter users both praised and berated Kim and Kanye West for his decision, which, to many, seemed out-of-the-blue. How could Kanye West refuse his fans, and the larger culture of music, a new album to satiate their cravings for his artistic genius? How could Kanye West, the perennial titan of the rap industry, turn to such a bland, shallow subject as Christianity, especially now with its maligned and hypocritical representation?
The answer is simple: Kanye West is a contrarian.
While many of his loyal fans and ardent political allies declare him to be one of the last bastions of free thought in the modern music world, the truth is that he isn’t. Dragon energy or not, Kanye West’s bread and butter is clearly his ability to distance himself from every other artist that anyone might favor. Whether it is in artistic style, lifestyle choices or even the names of his children, these decisions of independence apply to almost every aspect of his life. West’s choice to support President Donald Trump, for example, shook pop culture and most of political America to its core. Devoted followers mostly felt alienated and betrayed, and many in the African American community took it upon themselves to shun West for professing his support to a figure ensnared with the rampant xenophobia swelling across the country. Yet West continues to flaunt his red MAGA hat, not as much as a declaration of support for Trump and Republican politics, but more as a symbol of what he believes to be his independence as a “free thinker,” or a holder of “dragon energy.” Even as many of his contemporaries condemn the hat and the message it carries — Pusha T described it as “this generation’s Klu Klux Klan hood”— West presses on, likening the hat to a “Superman cape.”
West thrives on this controversy. It’s evident in the plethora of examples that he has willingly provided across decades of his public spotlight. In his fumbling and ill-conceived attempts to relate the inequality and injustice that has afflicted African Americans during the early history of the United States, West issued one of the most insensitive comments of any major cultural star in recent memory. He followed that exposure in the press with an outburst of crackpot tweets that increased his celebrity a substantial amount, coincidentally right before the release of Ye. To be fair, the sentiment behind his sudden expression of allegiance to the Republicans and interest in conservative figures like Candace Owens appears genuine. West plays his part beautifully, melting down to express his “true” intent, tweeting, “I’m not even political. I’m not a Democrat or a Republican.” Behind statements like these, it’s easy to forget West telling Rolling Stone in 2006, “My misery is your pleasure.”
But who is to say that he isn’t confused, afflicted or lost within the blinding maelstrom of wealth and fame in modern America? After all, West’s hospitalization and subsequent addiction to opioids shows a legitimate problem that he seemingly overcame. West sprinkles references to his apparent decline in mental health like a breadcrumb trail through his recent projects, and his supporters, who crave a sufficient defense of his whirlwind personality, gobble them up.
The real question is: what semblance of intention resides behind these dangerous personal issues?
The only clear-cut fact is that Kanye West is mercurial, always adapting and shifting his form. He doesn’t want to be who you think he is. As arguably the greatest producer of the modern era, Kanye West desires to be different. He keeps us coming back by changing, even if we don’t like it.