It started when rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, wore a“White Lives Matter” t-shirt at the Yeezy Season 9 fashion show in Paris, putting himself back at the center of controversy and leaving everyone wondering: Was this talented musician and outspoken cultural icon really a white supremacist? Why did he disavow Black Lives Matter?
Whether the rationale related to his documented mental health issues or was motivated by deep-seated personal bias, it was clear that ever since announcing his presidential bid during the week of Thanksgiving, his anti-hate speech escalated. He went on a media tour, attacking Jewish people on podcasts and in interviews. “Stop dissing the Nazis,” he shouted on the InfoWars talk show with provocateur Alex Jones. He did that just before praising Adolf Hitler and sharing that he would have liked to name his last album after him (AJC News).
However, none of these statements knocked Kayne out of the Forbes billionaire list nor incited an entire #deletekayne social movement rejecting him, his music, and his every fashion affiliation until his recent Fox News interview.
His entire reputation, brand, and fortune crumbled on October 6th when he interviewed with Tuck Carlson of Fox News (well, he’s still worth $400 million according to Business Insider, so not exactly ‘crumbled’). He said he’d “prefer my kids knew Hanukkah…at least it will come with some financial engineering,” and went on to argue that “white” Jews are “not the real Jews” and that Jews are imposters who stole the identity and “birthright” of black people, the true chosen people of God (Moment Magazine).
Kayne West’s public relations team tried to cut out those parts of Kayne West’s interview, but the social media platform Motherboard got its hands on leaked footage and aired it. Ye had plenty of opportunities to apologize, but instead, he only made matters worse by posting that Jewish people were “controlling” industry artists on Instagram and then, on October 8th, tweeting that he would go “Defcon 3 on Jewish people” (Moment Magazine).
Then came the fallout.
One by one, brands whom the rapper had lucrative multibillion-dollar partnerships with, severed ties with Ye due to customer outrage. In an October 27th Instagram post, West revealed he lost two billion dollars in one day following the termination of his Adidas and Gap collaborations, which had previously propelled Ye to icon status within the fashion industry.
Ultimately, Ye’s antisemitic comments serve as a cautionary tale to all artists and public figures. Just as their words and actions are used to create chart-topping anthems, they can also function as weapons. Not only were his remarks harmful to Jewish people, but they opened the floodgates for other dangerous narratives targeting minority populations to be perpetuated across social media. The controversy demonstrates the pivotal role artists hold in influencing public discourse and opinion. A platform as large as Ye’s should be used to promote inclusivity and tolerance instead of hatred. If not, artists must face the music.