Nix Ye or PhoYenix? 

And how can men die better than facing fearful odds, 
for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods?
~Baron Macauley of Rothley (1800-1859) 

Ye – b. Kanye Omari West, 1977 – is having a rough few weeks on the PR front.

After YZYSZN9 runway show featuring “WHITE LIVES MATTER” t-shirts on October 3rd, came a viral interview with toupéed thumb Tucker Carlson on October 7th, then an interview with Piers Morgan on October 21st,i and then most recently an appearance on the Lex Fridman Podcast on October 24th. With each appearance revealing darker and darker sides of the already-almost-painfully-controversial artist. With each successive interview and increasingly provocative comment from the Atlanta-born and Chicago-raised artist, “the people” decided that he was no longer deserving of contractual relations with, well, much of anyone. So out went Balenciaga,ii Adidas, JP Morgan, GAP, Foot Locker, and CCA. As a longtime fan and supporter of Ye – first of his music and more recently of his fashion – here’s your humble author’s currentiii take based on watching the full Piers Morganiv interview and catching a few random snippets of the others.

Firstly and arguably foremost, is Ye anti-semitic? Does he hate das Juden as much as Goebbels? My view is… maybe yes but probably no. Stripping past the inflammatory, rather Trumpian rhetoric,v we see that Ye openly admits his “death con [defcon] 3” comments came from a place where so much hate (and in particular anti-semitism) comes from: envy and wounded pride. 

kanye west ye death con 3 to jewish people october 2022

With regards to envy, it’s the family-orientation, community-orientation, and respect for life (l’chaim!) that Ye seems to most appreciate, admire, and ultimately feel is lacking from his own Black people’s lived experience, particularly in the United States, and which he sees as strengths of the Jewish people he’s interacted with. As we’ve discussed previously on these pages, the subtext here seems to be that Ye is confronting the fact that the American Dream is the exclusive domain of new immigrants and others of extremely tight religious or faith-based communities (eg. Mormons, Jews, etc.), not natively-born secularised citizens. Long though this has been the case, it still stings to admit it.

With regards to pride, in our capitalist-obsessed world where we know the price of everything and the value of nothing, it can be a bit shocking to realise that not everyone is motivated exclusively by financial gain, or at the very least that people who’ve achieved financial gain still might not be entirely satisfied with just Ye certainly falls into this latter category and is using his influence and means as a successful artist and businessman to shed light on the underbelly of the industries that he’s lived and worked in. In particular, he feels wronged by a raft of business executives within sports, media, fashion, and music that have taken advantage of him and his fellow entertainers and artists in the Black community.

Are these the ramblings of a crazy man? These are certainly the ramblings of a hurt man, a man who wants better for his family and his people, a man who wants a fairer deal, but there’s nothing particularly crazy about wanting what other people have. Even if the apple of your eye takes generations on generations and isn’t for the taking nor for the asking, this is rarely immediately apparent to anyone, certainly not those looking up the slope of the mountain rather than down it. Ironically, and this really is the pièce de résistance of this whole malarky, is that the majority of the Jewish community, of which your humble author counts himself, looooooves to humblebrag about how “our people” are in so many prestigious positions in law, medicine, finance, tech, media, etc. etc. etc. but the microsecond that someone else (particularly someone we don’t like) points that out that exact same fact (and it is a fact), it’s suddenly “anti-semitism” on the level of the Shoah? This is like “only Black people can say the word n****r”. But is this what the post-industrial “progressive” age reduces to, schoolyard bullying and wordplay? If so, I’m afraid that Ye is in the deep end and had better start reading some more books (Ye is a apparently something of a “non-reader”) because while his poetic verse is top-shelf, his off-the-cuff ramblings are crude at best and muddled at worst. At the very least, words shape consciousness, which shape actions, so choosing your words carefully can only help to guide us towards the light.

Recognising the power of words, at this point it must also be addressed that comments like Ye’s about Jewish people can, at their worst, normalize more aggressive and dangerous behaviour not just from himself but from others who feel galvanised by the openness of such rhetoric. But at the same time, albeit in the most clickbaity manner possible, Ye genuinely seems to be trying to open up a debate (words!) around disadvantageous contracts (more words!) signed by black athletes,vii performers, musicians, etc. that are written by lawyers, executives, and agents that by and large just so happen to belong to the Jewish tradition. As such, and in a world where the ends seem to justify the means, I don’t think Ye can be fully damned just yet, at least if he can actually manage to move the spotlight off himself and towards his cause. He’s a bit loco to be sure but that’s always been part of his schtick. So taking his concerns about unfair and unjust treatment of his people, even the most “successful” ones, at face value, can we fault a guy for trying to elevate his community when the cards are so often stacked against them? He’s going about it in a bizarre, and yes Trumpian way,viii but if “Effective Altruism” is somehow socially acceptable, even encouraged, why not this?

As an interviewer, while Piers Morgan kept trying to attack Ye regarding the artist’s relationship with his former wife Kim Kardashian, using a degree of forcefulness he’d surely never apply towards, say, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, Piers at the very least managed to extract a genuine apology from Ye for the originally offending tweet, depsite a yuuuuuge amount of resistance from Ye, to both of their credits. On the subject of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ye was wise to avoid directly answering Piers’ enquiries about Putin, because really, why is it that we expect fashion designers and creatives to be geopolitical experts again? It’s no wonder that redditards and such huge swaths of CT see fit to opine on such matters. That’s what makes a “democracy” innit!ix

As to Ye’s “Jewishness” I actually *get* what he means when he says he’s one of the Tribe because what does it really mean to be Jewish? Aside from being well read, which Ye isn’t, and devoted to a tradition more than a faith per se, which Ye isn’t, it means to be the “other,” which Ye actually seems to embrace and embody! For better or worse, the Jew (the comedian!) takes the position of revealing truths in ways that the Emperor can mostly tolerate, even if that means the overstepping the lines once in a while and losing one’s head, knowing only too well that the trade-off for this freedom of expression is the occasional scapegoating and subsequent purge, which is also a healthy part of any functioning ecosystem. As Anselm Kiefer reminds us in Venice, forest fires burn the excesses of old and allow the seeds of opportunity to flourish in the next generation.

So where does this all leave us? Currently Ye’s reputation is in flames. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe he’s playing chess and the rest of us are just playing checkers.x Ye has a funny way of rising from the ashes – whether that’s car crashes or deplatforming – and if he needs to self-immolate every once in a while, then I don’t see who’s going to stop him. Recall that artists don’t just have one career, they have many. Only industrial (meat)robots have a single career. The rest of us(!)xi need to invent and reinvent ourselves continually. That Ye chooses to do so as publicly as he does is a testament to his media whorishness, personal insecurity, and possibly even megalomania, but not all artists can be Vincent van Gogh or XCOPY, taking entire decades in the wilderness before being recognised (whether by conscious choice or cosmic accident).

If Ye is going to remain “the most powerful Black man in the world,” which might even be true in a post-Idi Amin world, he certainly seems to be taking a page out of ol’ Queen Elizabeth II’s book. No, not her stoic demeanour and germanic poise, but rather by embodying a quote that she often used: If things are going to stay the same, things are going to have to change.”xii That such change is possible in the United States without risking a “suicide” as it would in Russia or China, is in fact very bullish for the U S and A.xiii It’s also very Modern, at least in the sense of being “not small.”

So change it is! Change of shape. Change of form. Constant evolution. Kinda Jewish, y’know?

  1. I’m actually not much for the gossip rags, but there’s only so much insight to be gained from commentaries of commentaries of commentaries. Sometimes (most of the time?) you just have read/watch the original to make up your own opinion. Best not to over-dramatically throw all your shoes in the garbage just because you’re a desperate engagement farmer who “doesn’t tolerate intolerance.” It was actually by coincidence that I gave away a few of my Yeezy 700 V2s to Goodwill a few weeks ago, I just wasn’t wearing them (toe box too small). I’ve also been wearing the Slides and Foam Runners a lot less lately, but mostly because they were doing damage to my poor knees so I switched to Vibram toe-shoes and Xero runners. Between the new footwear and some acupuncture, my knees are good as new now! Comfort can be a disease, y’know. But you knew that already.
  2. *SNIFF!*SNIFF!* Go figure… no sooner did Ye crush the first look of the most recent (and otherwise lackluster) Balenciaga runway show, cutting the bossest oversized authority figure silhouette since Schwarzenegger played Kindergarten Cop, that the mf got himself cancelled about as bad as Michael Jackson did right after Virgil Abloh’s second runway show for Louis Vuitton. Of course, unlike Travis Scott’s little blooper where some peeps died at his concert and Dior just delayed their Cactus Jack collab collection, the Michael Jackson x Vuitton pieces were never released, though a few articles did sneak out into the public sphere and I have to think will be amongst the most collectable Virgil pieces in the future. Likewise, expect YEEZY GAP pieces and Adidas Yeezy shoes to only become more collectible and desirable going forward!
  3. As you’ve probably figured out by now, I change my mind all the goddam time. It’s called learning. So I reserve the right to change it again here as well. Not that I’m asking for permission.
  4. Go figure! Were any of y’all paying attention to Ye vs. The People in 2018?

    I feel a obligation to show people new ideas
    And if you wanna hear ‘em, there go two right here
    Make America Great Again had a negative perception
    I took it, wore it, rocked it, gave it a new direction
    Added empathy, care and love and affection

  5. Were “we” all surprised when Putin crossed the border into Ukraine even though “it would be to his economic disadvantage” according to Western pre-war pundits. Of course it wasn’t, and of course that wasn’t the point either, but both of those realities were, and largely are, inconceivable to armchair peaceniks imagining rational actors who count their lives in yellow gelt rather than in history book citations.
  6. Are Black athletes slaves? Maybe the succesful ones aren’t complete slaves, but they’re also 1/1000th and the other 999 arguably are exactly that, per Guardian, NYTimes, and Pride News.
  7. Trumpian in the sense of negotiation tactics that always start by asking for 100x what you actually want from a deal, so that even if only get a tiny tiny fraction of that, you’re still miles better off than you were before, and even more than you really wanted as a minimum.
  8. Of course democracy has been dead and buried for a while, living on only in name now, but you knew that already because you wanted that already.
  9. Ye’s very often ahead of the curve. Autotune in hip-hop? He popularised it. Complex foam extrusions in footwear? Same. Brow-beating sitting Presidents? Yup again! I mean really, “George Bush hates Black people” was a full cultural generation before “Not my President” and “Will someone please get Granpa Joe his memory meds?” It was edgy and “controversial” when Ye did it but now it’s just part of The Agenda.

    Does that mean that Jew-hating is on The Agenda for 2035? I guess I hope not, but my bags have always been packed just in case. What, you think I’m into crypto, watches, and tapestries by accident or coincidence? Ha. That’s just part of being the “other!” It’s in the contract, you might say. Not that it’s a fair contract, but hey who said life was fair?

  10. But Pete, *you’re* not an artist? Mkay Dmitri, you keep thinking that.
  11. Per Ryan Holiday, Econtalk October 24, 2022.
  12. Greatest Country In The World!

2 thoughts on “Nix Ye or PhoYenix? 

  1. […] if we look out at the world of bananas Balajis, maverick Musks, cashmere’d Chamaths, and kooky Kanyes, that’s not what we see at all. In fact we see the exact opposite: a world of […]

  2. […] enjoying life, including our increasingly decadent obsession with minutiae, all mediated by increasingly engrossing entertainment.xii So what have we to fear but fear […]

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