This week, Kanye returned to Twitter. It marked the end of a long stint spent out of the spotlight, following a hospitalization and highly publicized visit with the then-President-elect at Trump Tower. He’s been around: fans are keeping an eye out for snowy Instagram Stories from rappers or producers—or the weed carriers of said rappers or producers—for any indication of who Kanye’s flown out to Wyoming to work on what is presumably his next album; he’s on Family Feud; he’s kissing Kim; he’s hosting screenings for Dame Dash at his office in Calabasas; he’s wearing Yeezy apparel on walks around Calabasas. But that’s not the uncut access to his thoughts and feelings that we’re referring to when we say sentences like “Kanye is back on Twitter,” a feeling people were evidently missing and which he brought back with a vengeance this week.
It started with an interview. Last Friday, The Hollywood Reporter published a conversation between Kanye West and his interior designer, Axel Vervoordt. It was presented as Kanye interviewing Vervoordt, who has a book coming out, but that premise was done away with quickly in favor of Vervoordt interviewing Kanye (it’s difficult for someone to out-interesting Yeezy). In it, Kanye told Vervoordt, “I don’t wish to be number one anymore. I wish to be water,” and promised a book of philosophy called Break The Simulation.
Also touched upon in the interview was the announcement that longtime Kanye collaborator Virgil Abloh was the newly named artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton. Kanye had some things to clarify—“When they say he was my creative director, that’s incorrect. He was a creative collaborator”—but also expressed some surprise at the situation, saying he “had been dealing with a very heavy concept this week that [he] couldn’t get out of his head.”
It makes sense that Kanye, the self-styled Louis Vuitton Don, would have some feelings about one of his closest collaborators in his long-running, struggle-laden takeover of the fashion industry taking a top job at LV. Kanye described Abloh’s move to Vervoordt as “not good or bad,” but clearly it weighed on him heavily prior to their conversation, and has been a hot topic of conversation for almost a full month now. Not long after the interview went live, Kanye made his triumphant return to Twitter.
Kanye’s prowess on Twitter approaches legend. He typically uses it in a run-up to a big release but doesn’t drum up publicity for anything in particular except Kanye himself and his unfettered thoughts. He waxes poetic about design, water bottles, or getting emotional about fonts, displaying a talent for articulating every thought in his head in a dizzying, stream-of-consciousness feed that, somehow, always seems to cut through the noise. This time around, after his long period of silence, he started slow, playing “caption this” games with his 10.6 million followers. Since then he’s pivoted, throwing out haughty aphorisms imploring us to lead better, more mindful lives, and specifying how. Break The Simulation, it seems, will be published on Twitter. Taken together, it's Headspace by Kanye, an exhortation to be in the moment, be your best self, and not to let anyone restrain your creativity, no matter the cost. It’s all very Westian, and people are lapping it up.
Then: the pièce de résistance. Kanye announced four albums on Thursday. One for him, a seven-track record set to debut on June 1. Then, a collaborative album with Kid Cudi, his longtime collaborator and protege, as the duo Kids See Ghost, out on June 8. He also announced that Pusha T, who’s been pushing his presumably Kanye-produced album back for years now, will be hitting a release date of May 25, and Teyana Taylor will be releasing something on June 22. Def Jam, the label responsible for this ambitious slate of releases, appeared unaware of these release dates as they were announced.
The air was sucked out of the proverbial room. Kanye still knows how to make himself the center of attention.
What makes that incredible is how attention-grabbing this week was. Just this Monday, Kendrick Lamar won a Pulitzer Prize for Damn., a hip-hop (and any genre that isn’t classical or jazz) first. Drake, on what might be shaping up to be the hottest streak of his career, announced that his album Scorpion will be coming out in June. J. Cole, the dark horse candidate of hip-hop’s A-List, announced an album on Monday, let a select group of fans listen to it live during the week, then released it on Friday. Even without Kanye’s announcements, this was the biggest week in rap news in at least the past year, and potentially far longer.
It’s impossible to know whether Kanye’s on any sort of offensive here. Kendrick is an unlikely target of his ire—they’re collaborators and have stayed out of each other’s way. Drake has been out in Wyoming, likely lending his own magic touch to whatever we’ll (hopefully) be receiving on June 1. J. Cole is a not-so-subtle critic of Kanye’s and, according to Charlamagne, Kanye’s no fan of the attempted patricide on 2016’s “False Prophets.” But this doesn’t feel like sabotage.
Rather, it seems that Kanye was ready to seize the spotlight once more, and it’s no coincidence that the impulse came on the heels of his closest collaborator’s new job and a series of news from his closest competitors in the rap game. Kanye noticed everyone talking, and decided to have everyone talk about him instead. What’s impressive, though perhaps not surprising, is how effective he was at making that happen.
Kanye West is, evidently, still Kanye West.