I hate to admit it, but I have been sucked into the Kanye West-Donald Trump media storm. At first, I didn’t want to play a role in this manufactured event, but there are some important marketing, media and political lessons here.
West has always been a controversial figure. He’s a talented musician, who has won multiple Grammies. I bought two of his first CDs, back in the days when people bought CDs, and I enjoyed that his songs were different from the usual guns and blunts fare produced by other rappers. But in recent years, controversy has overwhelmed his talent.
There was the thing with Taylor Swift, the outrageous boasts and then the marriage to reality star Kim Kardashian. Several people in the industry have whispered that Kardashian’s reality TV antics are overshadowing West’s career and he has now been absorbed by the Kardashian clan. And more recently, West was hospitalized for “exhaustion” and rumored to be treated for a mental health condition. Now there is the sudden alliance with the Trump-MAGA crowd.
This MAGA love happened just when West is promoting his new album. West comes from the showbiz world, where there’s no such thing as bad publicity. (Rapper 50 Cent once said that he didn’t mind some of the black gossip sites running stories about him being gay, because at least they were writing about him.)
West’s alleged alliance with Trump has newsjacked social media and made him trend on Twitter, which is all great publicity for his album. This kind of publicity would cost you millions of dollars, and West just got it for free.
There is a history of people using outrageous antics to market their product. Madonna practically perfected it. I’ve never heard a song by rapper Azealia Banks, but her history of making crazy statements landed her in Playboy.
But there is a danger that West’s antics will alienate his base. And that’s already happening. He’s already lost millions of Twitter followers. And West has been hit by abuse on Twitter as fans are horrified by his comments. He might be embraced by MAGA lords, but they’re not going to buy his album or go to his concerts.
Part of the problem is because he’s allying himself with the Trump administration, which is one of the most white supremacist presidencies in several decades. As ESPN’s Jemele Hill said, Trump has surrounded himself with open racists. He’s also implemented anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim policies and referred to African countries as “sh*thole countries.” Even the phrase Make America Great Again (MAGA) is racist, because Trump supporters think America was great in the 1950s, when white males ran everything and people of color had no representation.
Is this what West wants to ally himself with? If so, it’s no wonder his fans and management team have bailed on him. It’s also ironic that West is getting praised by FOX News, a network that hates hip hop. FOX often tells entertainers that they shouldn’t talk about politics, but loves to embrace Hollywood types if they have conservative views.
One of FOX’s arguments against Hollywood political commentators is they don’t know what they’re talking about. Well, that’s exactly the case with Kanye West! Just look at some of his statements:
Kanye says he loves Trump and he is his brother, but he’s not political.
He also once said that he doesn’t see the need to read books and bragged about not reading contracts.
He also praised black conservative commentator Candace Owens, who said that police violence wasn’t a problem with the black community. She also called Black Lives Matter whiny. Owens appears on Alex Jones’ conspiracy show, InfoWars, which should be enough to kill her credibility. Jones has spent years denying that the Sandy Hook school shooting existed until he was sued by the parents of the children killed at the school.
African-Americans turning against West isn’t about group think. People are not rejecting him because he’s dallying with Republicans. They’re turning against him because he’s allying with racists and he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It’s not about left or right, it’s about right or wrong.
But good luck to Republicans with their embrace of Kanye. He’s a loose cannon and when he explodes again, it’s going to be your problem.
Manny Otiko is a media professional who is based in Southern California. Follow him @mannyotiko on Twitter. This column represents the views of the author, not California Black Media.