What’s going on with Kanye West, from fake kids to antisemitism

Kanye West at Paris Fashion Week, October 2022.

Ye has always courted controversy. This week feels different.

Fake children, lost Black tribes of Israel, and vast conspiracies: This is not the Kanye West we used to know.

Ye, né Kanye, habitually draws headlines for more than just his music, whether it’s for his outspoken comments on race and politics, his beefs with other artists, or his contentious relationship and divorce from Kim Kardashian. Ye is so much, all the time, that it might be easy to skim past the last several weeks of non-stop Ye controversy. 

But even for Ye, the abrupt spiral following his October 3 appearance at Paris Fashion Week has been disturbing. Through a controversial Fox News interview — and unaired footage from it that was even more controversial — and then on social media, Ye has revealed the latest phase of his bizarre political evolution: A growing embrace of antisemitic conspiracy rhetoric. Overall, Ye’s behavior and statements have raised public concern and debate over his politics, the nature of his growing extremism, the state of his well-known mental health issues, and whether anyone in his position should be given a platform at all.

Ye has been careening through extremist conspiracy tentpoles

The hip-hop legend made headlines for all the wrong reasons when he showed up at Paris Fashion Week to stage a guerrilla fashion show related to his own YZY clothing line. Ye invited his friend of some years, controversial conservative pundit Candace Owens, to attend the event, which the New York Times characterized as a messy “experience” that was more about celebrating the aura of Ye than the clothes on the runway. 

Ye and Owens used up every bit of media attention on themselves by wearing matching “White Lives Matter” shirts, which she proudly shared on social media. The phrase originated with extremist white supremacist groups in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and is closely associated with white supremacist ideology.

The ensuing outrage this stunt provoked might have quickly faded like most Ye-related outrage, had he not quickly followed it up with an even more shocking appearance on Tucker Carlson. The interview, a two-hour pre-taped conversation with Carlson, was filmed in response to Ye’s fashion show and aired over two nights on October 6 and 7. In the interview, Ye explained that he thought wearing the shirt would be “funny” and a mark of both his “brilliance” and his connection to God. “The answer to why I wrote ‘white lives matter’ on a shirt is because they do,” he said. Carlson inserted commentary throughout, reminding viewers to observe how sound of mind and rational West appeared. 

Throughout the interview, Ye made provocative insinuations about Jews and money and went on unprovoked tangents. His unsettling statements suggest he is growing increasingly paranoid, adopting a range of bizarre conspiracy theories and delusions, and harboring growing antisemitic tendencies. As disconcerting as the interview itself was, Vice later reported that Carlson strategically edited it to make Ye’s remarks appear more coherent and less antisemitic than they apparently were. Even the broadcast footage was striking, however. 

At various points, Ye did seem to be his old trenchant self. He indicated he’s still, at least nominally, thinking about the impact of racism, regardless of what T-shirts and hats he wears. “For politicians, all Black people are worth is an approval rating,” he told Carlson, in a direct criticism of Trump. “The democrats … and the Republicans feel that they don’t owe us anything.”

But he also seemed fixated on the idea that Blackness itself is an identity that Black people need to distance themselves from. The concept of Blackness was, he alleged, created by white people. Instead, he offered up Black community power — through the form of real estate development and financial control — as an alternative, bizarrely adding, “The people that make money and the powers that be, I am your true Nikola Tesla.” It’s not clear what he meant by this, but it sums up the interview as a whole: some sharp observations colliding with a fixation on power, characterized by incoherence, grandiosity, and conspiracy rhetoric. 

Ye’s conspiratorial thinking was on display at several moments that made it to air — like when he accused the media of conspiring to keep fellow rapper Lizzo fat in order to promote “clinically unhealthy” lifestyles. (Lizzo seemed unfazed by the shade.) He explained the media’s motive as “the genocide of the Black race.” 

Ye also claimed to Carlson that “the people at The Gap” knew about the Uvalde mass school shooting before it happened, a statement Carlson smoothly finessed into Ye suggesting that it was a “coordinated message” from the media. (It’s not clear what the connection was, but given Ye’s recent contractual disputes with The Gap, it seems possible that Ye’s reference to “78 specific outlets” that he implied had coordinated a shooting-related message was a reference to Gap outlets that Carlson misinterpreted as media outlets.)

Most unsettling of all, Ye accused Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner of orchestrating Middle East peace treaties in order “to make money” for himself. Then he added, “I think that’s what they’re about. I don’t think that they have the ability to make anything on their own. I think they were born into money.” 

At the time of the interview airing, you could be forgiven if you interpreted Ye’s use of “they” here as a reference to Trump’s relatives. But it would soon become alarmingly clear that Ye was being straightforwardly antisemitic here, embracing one of the oldest, most bigoted conspiracy theories — that Jewish people secretly control the world’s systems of finance.

This became rapidly apparent once Ye blasted out more antisemitic remarks via Instagram and his only recently revived Twitter account, in posts that both platforms have since removed. Ye first posted to Instagram, sharing a long seriesof screenshot texts between himself and fellow rap legend Sean Combs, after Diddy apparently tried to reach out to share his concern for Ye promoting the “white lives matter” slogan. Ye, clearly angry, told Diddy he was focused on selling his merch. Then he added, “Ima 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 outcry over Ye’s antisemitism was immediate and sustained, and his Insta posts were quickly deleted. But Ye then tweeted into the ensuing wave of backlash. He revived his account by linking a Forbes article about likely future Twitter owner Elon Musk welcoming him back to the platform following his Instagram cancellation. In the same tweet, however, he abruptly threatened the world’s 15 million Jewish people: “I’m a bit sleepy tonight but when I wake up I’m going death con 3 [sic] on JEWISH PEOPLE,” he wrote, an apparent reference to going on “defcon” military alert. 

Though this tweet was deleted, another, in which Ye seems to rhetorically suggest Jewish people invented cancel culture, remains online. 

The statements drew a wave of backlash from fellow celebrities and Jewish organizations. LA’s Holocaust Museum invited him to visit; the Anti-Defamation League strongly condemned him. Musk tweeted that he’d talked to Ye and expressed his concerns, which he indicated vaguely “I think he took to heart.”

Incredibly, all of this happened before Vice revealed on Tuesday that Carlson had strategically edited his interview with Ye, and that the parts that didn’t air were even more offensive and conspiratorial in nature. 

Some of the edits were directly political, like Fox’s omitting Ye’s offhand comment that he received the Covid-19 vaccine. But most fully undermined his credibility and claim to rationality. Most of the unaired antisemitism regurgitated the “Jews control finance” conspiracy theory, but some was convoluted and difficult to parse, like when he claimed that Black people were the real “12 lost tribes of Judah,” a claim that seemed to be linked to an extremist religious sectthat believes Black people are really Jewish. 

Most baffling of all, Ye claimed that fake children had been installed in his home to corrupt his children.

As Vice reported:

“I mean, like actors, professional actors, placed into my house to sexualize my kids,” he told Carlson. He referred to the “so-called son” of an associate, seemingly to imply the child was fake. “We don’t, we didn’t even believe that this person was her son because he was way smarter than her, right?”

This is obviously a lot to process. But the basic problem with all of these statements is that it’s unclear how much is pure trolling for publicity, how much Ye really believes, and how much his long history with bipolar disorder has spiraled into a disturbing increase of volatile behavior and activity. (Bipolar disorder, of course, does not cause antisemitism.) 

This question has hovered over his public behavior for years, but especially ever since his very public breakup with Kardashian: That is, is he embracing a deliberately edgy public performance in order to commandeer the spotlight, perhaps to sell products or draw people to his growing religious commune? Or is he truly going down a mental health rabbit hole, the way so many people have as they get drawn into conspiratorial beliefs or struggle with personal stressors?

We can’t really contextualize any of this without taking a quick look back at Ye’s long history of being controversial. What, if anything, makes this week any different?

Kanye West loves a controversy

Prior to 2005, West largely confined his controversial opinions to his excellent hip-hop albums, but that changed with Hurricane Katrina. A live celebrity-studded fundraising effort during the disaster went completely off the rails when West, standing next to a dumbfounded Mike Myers, famously shone a spotlight on the inherent racism behind the Bush administration’s handling of the disaster: “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” 

In his current conservative mode, Ye has since attempted to distance himselffrom that statement, saying it represented a “victimized mentality.” But at the time, what made this moment instantly historic was not only the greater truth it represented about politics and racism, but Ye’s casually blunt approach, as if there was nothing else he could have said and he wouldn’t even know how to approximate saying anything else more polite. 

It was the same casually shocking approach he used when interrupting Taylor Swift’s award acceptance at the 2009 VMAs four years later to declare straightforwardly that Beyoncé should have won instead — another legendary moment that spawned the subsequent decade-long feud between Swift, West, and Kardashian. Heading into the 2010s, West steadily ramped up both his interpersonal conflicts and his edgy, unpredictable behavior: His early friendship with Drake abruptly became another decade-long feud when he cut Drake from his 2010 single “All of the Lights.” 

2013 saw him first dally with white supremacist symbols, wearing a confederate flag that he claimed he was attempting to “reclaim.” He also sold the flag shirt as merch for his “Yeezus” tour that year. The debate about that stunt was essentially the same as the debate we’re having today: Was Ye genuinely trying to create discussion and dialogue, and if so, what kind of dialogue could be created around such an incendiary symbol? Or was it a pure publicity stunt? In 2013, though, West had yet to publicly flirt with white supremacist principles, so this debate in the abstract felt less real than it subsequently would. 

By 2016, however, he was voicing his support for Trump and wearing MAGA hats. In 2018, he caused public outrage when he stated during an appearance at TMZ that slavery was “a choice.” In 2020, he ran for president himself, albeit in the most erratic way possible. P.R. Lockhart smartly outlined West’s political evolution for Vox, pointing out that it’s always been linked to his quest for cultural power and influence. Somewhere around the time he was donning the confederate flag, he seemed to become enamored with the idea of co-opting controversial iconography and rhetoric, as if absorbing them into his personal brand could negate their power. But over time, his use of symbols and rhetoric have grown more extreme and more violent — so much so that it’s gotten hard to keep track — and further gotten hard to tell how much of this is irony, how much of it is innocence, and how much of it is a sincere embrace of white supremacist rhetoric.

Complicating all of this is his mental health. In 2020, he raised widespread alarmfor what seemed to be a significant mental health spiral during the deterioration of his relationship with Kardashian. Throughout 2022, he’s drawn repeated concern over his artistic depictions of his ex-wife’s then-boyfriend Pete Davidson, after repeatedly describing Davidson’s murder. Again, we have to ask: Is it a real obsessive fixation, or is it trolling? And at what point does it stop mattering? 

Throughout this period, he’s been drawn to critique the idea of “cancellation” and criticism. Promotion for his 2021 album Donda saw him conflagrating a stage version of his childhood home at a concert featuring musicians Marilyn Manson and DaBaby, who have been accused of sexual assault and homophobia, respectively. All of this suggests he’s creating an insulated bubble for himself that renders him impervious to criticism. After all, troublesome artists who’ve been criticized themselves are arguably less likely to judge him for his own controversial behavior. And we saw how he reacted when Diddy tried to reason with him. This is a man who, after all, has always had a god complex.

On top of everything, he’s seemingly going down a very niche religious path — both through his quirky “Sunday Service” and his new “mysterious religious school.” As we’ve seen with another recent celebrity downward spiral, that of Ezra Miller, the whole “cult-like religious commune” thing will likely inflate his ego and validate the narrative of specialness he’s writing himself into — none of which is likely to encourage him to seek help for whatever is going on with him.

It’s already difficult to tell whether the subsequent fallout is reaching him or making him reconsider anything he’s said lately. His partnership with Adidas is now on hold following Ye’s string of statements, and ex-wife Kim Kardashian has beefed up security at her children’s school after Ye shared its location on Instagram in one of his many posts. 

What is clear is that the Ye we see before us isn’t the Ye we once knew. The clear-sighted Ye of 2005 and 2009 has been replaced by a guy who claims people are hiring out replacement children just to mess with him. 

Ye answers to almost no one, so it’s unclear what, if anything, can get through to him and curb his mayhem, especially following his divorce from and anger toward Kardashian. Certainly, it won’t be a smirking Tucker Carlson, encouraging him by telling him he’s “speaking the truth.” Someone needs to speak the truth to Ye about himself — if anyone still can.

All Rights Reserved for Aja Romano

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