Kanye West and the Rise of Conservatism

Kanye has expressed his approval of President Trump. What does this mean for rap culture?

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Kanye West and the Rise of Conservatism

Shak Saidjanov, Staff Reporter

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If I were to have voted, I would have voted on Trump.”

As Kanye West screamed those words during the last post-election Saint Pablo concert he would host, it was hard for some fans to comprehend, and justifiably so; after all, the man who staunchly accused Republican President George W. Bush live on television of allegedly being a racist in 2005 now stood before them in 2016 praising Donald J. Trump, a racially controversial figure to say the least. Fans, critics, and even the political media were very confused, some news outlets going as far as blaming Kanye’s political views on his emerging mental illness.

But to me, it came as no surprise when Kanye West publicly dedicated his support to the then President-elect Donald Trump, and here’s why.

Kanye West is an avid representation of the culture around him. When Kanye releases an album, other rap albums released that year will sound similar. When Kanye releases a new style for his clothing brand, other brands imitate the aesthetic features. When Kanye suggested that Republicans no longer cared about the growing minority population, as he did in 2005 during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, his statement not only represented his views, but the views of much of hip hop culture at the time; rap has had a history of being liberal and anti-conservative, a political voice for people who felt marginalized by conservative agendas set forth by the Nixon, Reagan, or Bush administrations.

So when Kanye West proclaimed that he would be “taking [Trump’s] lead” and praised Trump’s “very futuristic” political ideals, what does it say about a traditionally liberal hip hop culture? It says that the culture has undergone a large political change, a change that can be attributed in large part to its unofficial leader, Kanye West.

Kanye’s decade long transition from “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” to “I hope [Trump] builds the wall!” is not only representative of a political change in himself, but representative of a larger change in hip hop and popular culture; a slow but steady rise in the acceptance of conservatism spanning the last several years. Kanye’s latest outburst is only the last piece of a larger puzzle, a cultural shift influenced deeply by growing conservative politics worldwide, a global effort characterized by the gradual change in Kanye.  

Indeed, Kanye West, and the complex culture around him, has increasingly become more and more politically conservative through the years.

This transition started to become more evident when, amid his YEEZUS album tour in 2013, Kanye shocked fans and various news outlets when he began to proudly wear the confederate flag on his jacket, saying “It’s my flag. Now what you going to do?” Soon after, Kanye’s YEEZUS tour clothing line began to depict T-shirt graphics that included the confederate flag and a human skull with the words “I ain’t comin’ down” written across it, alluding to the common phrase used by more conservative persons who advocate continuing the use of the Confederate flag.

At the time this move by Kanye created controversy and backlash, some even calling for a boycott of the YEEZUS brand. For many fans Kanye now seemed distant, completely detached from the culture he belonged to. It seemed that Kanye and his endeavor into Southern style would not last in the progressive culture of rap.

But eventually, rap culture followed in Kanye’s steps. Fans donned the new YEEZUS clothing, proudly wearing the Confederate flag concert shirt. Artists such as Travis Scott, who released his debut album in 2015 entitled Rodeo, found new inspiration in vintage guitar synths and art reminiscent of country westerns. Travis Scott and Young Thug’s Made in America festival featured merchandise such as leather biker gang jackets, stuffed bald eagles, and dad caps; their concert shirts depict nationalistic bald eagles, skulls, and the American Flag embroidered on the back of grungy tye-dye cloth. Maharishi, a popular streetwear brand, partnered with Scott for their 2015-2016 collection, which they called “Year of the Cowboy”. These culture changes evoke feelings synonymous with a different America, a conservative America.

In this way, Kanye has changed rap politics forever; and whether you like it or not, his rants in favor of Trump will do more for liberal America than an attack on George Bush ever could.  

As rap culture continues to become more accepting of traditional America, conservative politics are given a new path to favorability in younger generations, the kind of favorability that allowed Donald Trump to become president.

I believe Kanye’s change in favor of conservative politics is a necessary phenomenon. Kanye’s political shift adheres to a different America, opening up a line of communication between two seemingly incompatible cultures: liberalism and conservatism. Now those in the world of Kanye West, largely a liberal population that includes many minorities, have a chance at meaningful conversation with those in the world of Trump.  

And maybe, just maybe, conservatism still has a chance at becoming a topic of discussion, not a reviled political ideal, in rap culture. Conservatism is back and on the rise, as seen in the many conservative political movements around the globe; Kanye’s shift from outspoken rapper to Republican advocate could signal a larger change not only in American culture, but in the culture of the world, a change I would very much like to see take place.

Ironically, Kanye’s apparent distancing from his people, his fans, and the cultural tendency of rap music could bring more people together and help mend the divide between politics and people.

So as Kanye West makes his way up Trump Tower to meet with the newly elected President of the United States, I hope Kanye knows that he holds the balance of an entire culture in his hands.