It's no secret Kanye West has had his fair share of media scrutiny. The 43-year-old multi-hyphenate has become one of the most divisive figures in entertainment, often praised for his musical genius and artistic vision, while frequently receiving backlash for his political musings and perceived egocentric nature. Ye touched on his polarizing persona during a recent interview with Pharrell for i-D Magazine, in which he drew parallels between his and Michael Jackson's treatment from the media.
"We should have something that says we can't allow any company to tear down our heroes. Not on The Shade Room, not on social media and especially not in documentaries," he told Pharrell for the outlet's "Faith in Chaos" issue. "I’m like every time the media isn’t happy with me it’s like, 'Here they go. They’re gonna come and Wacko Jacko me.' Which in some ways, they’ve tried to do."
Although Kanye didn't expand on his comment about "documentaries," it may be a reference to HBO's Leaving Neverland film, which explored the longstanding child sex abuse claims against Jackson.
Kanye also talked about being inspired by the King of Pop, and the ways in which he redefined black culture.
"It felt like you really tore down the walls and the doors much like Michael Jackson did a generation before," Kanye told Pharrell. "In a way, he’s very similar to Michael Jackson, in the ways where Michael Jackson was doing covert, super gangsta stuff, like he’d just pop the needles off. He kissed Elvis Presley’s daughter on MTV. Black culture used to be... we used to be fronting all night, but Michael was doing stuff that was different to what we were programmed to understand as being what we should do. He bought The Beatles’ back catalogue. That was Mike Jackson, right there."
The longtime friends and previous collaborators conducted the interview over the phone, as they were each in lockdown. Pharrell turned his attention to the social, physical, and economic effects of the ongoing global pandemic, and what life will look like post-coronavirus.
"I think we need to be clear that this is a plague we’re living through at the moment," he said. "I don’t think there will be such a thing as a new normal – it doesn’t do enough justice to the difference in who we were pre-pandemic and who we will be moving forward. I think it’s made a lot of people very wary and on edge. Life’s going to have a different kind of gravity than it’s ever had before. It’s also gonna make us really separated. We’re disconnecting from each other even though online we’re probably more connected than we’ve ever been. It’s a bit like the Tower of Babel, if you will. We’ve never been this close, and there’s a lot of advantages that come with that. There’s a lot of disadvantages, too, and a lot of grey areas."
He continued with an optimistic prediction: "But I also know that love is going to be a very deep emotion. Something people really feel you know. You can’t just shake a hand or hug a person and exchange that feeling in a way you could before. And then, look at things economically, regardless of whatever ways stabilisation reveals itself – not normality, but stabilisation – because like a wave it’s gotta stabilise at some point, and when that does, there’s nothing normal about looking around and seeing so many businesses closed and so many people without jobs. But we have been through many plagues before. We have been through pandemics. We survived. We’re gonna make it. In a lot of ways we got ourselves into this, we gotta get to work to get through it."
Kanye initially gave a brief response, stating, "there’s nothing else that needs to be said ..." However, Pharrell pressed Ye to continue the conversation, reminding him there are many people who want to hear his views.
Ye addressed the issue of economic disruption, and how Americans need to come together to ensure everyone has access to necessities. He recalled a conversation he had with music executive Abou "Bu" Thiam, who pointed out the differences of being poor in America versus poor in Africa.
"... We got on the concept of what it meant to be poor in America, and then I started the sentence and I said, 'When you’re poor in Africa…' and before the sentence was finished, Bu interjected and said, 'You’re better off there than in America, because if you’re in Africa, the community won’t let you go hungry.' That’s the type of mentality that we’ve gotta apply moving forward [after] this pandemic. That’s the change that must happen."
Kanye went on to say that in order for people to change the world, they must first change their mindsets.
"We have this time to pause and reflect, to ask each other how we’re really feeling. What are we feeling? What am I feeling? What are you feeling? And then we need to ask what we’re thinking, and the deepest level is knowing. That gut feeling," he continued. "I believe that things can be simplified. We’re over inundated with everything and now we have the opportunity to readjust and focus on the essential and the simple things."
Kanye then shared more details about the homeless shelter units he's building in Wyoming. He told Pharrell he was aiming to build a community of "actual home[s]"; a "tasteful" space where he could imagine himself living.
"I want to build something with taste," he explained. "... So I called it the T-shirt of homes because a billionaire can have a T-shirt and a homeless person can have a T-shirt."
Kanye revealed he and his team have been studying communal living in Africa, organic farming, as well as solar energy.
"This is one of the opportunities we have right now. We’re learning how to build a city. You can go to a tattoo artist, and they have the worst tattoos in the world, but they’re the best artist," he added. "Why? Because they practised on themselves. Like if you take a lot of my media from the last past 20 years, well I was practising on myself."