Exclusive: We Spoke to Van Lathan, the TMZ Senior Producer Who Challenged Kanye's Slavery Comments

The lifelong Kanye fan opens up about why he confronted the rapper on 'TMZ Live.'

Kanye West stirs up the TMZ newsroom over TRUMP, SLAVERY and FREE THOUGHT. There's A LOT more that went down ... and the fireworks are exploding on @TMZLive today. Check your local listings for show times. pic.twitter.com/jwVsJCMPiq

— TMZ (@TMZ) May 1, 2018

In the past week, Kanye West fans have felt a whirlwind of emotions. He tweeted a photo of himself wearing a MAGA hat, a separate photo of one autographed by Trump himself, shared album release dates for like 20 differentartists, and talked about seemingly whatever popped up into his head at any given moment. You might find yourself either trying to defend his behavior, rationalizing the things he's saying, shutting him off completely, or just not giving a fuck. However, for most fans, the emotion most likely felt in the wake of Kanye's return to the public eye is disappointment. 


Yesterday, after releasing a somewhat coherent, nearly two-hour interview with Charlamagne the God (or the new Oprah, as Kanye referred to him), he went on TMZ and said things like, hey, maybe slavery was a choice and that people don't march against gang violence in Chicago—which is incorrect.

TMZ Senior Producer Van Lathan had an opportunity that many Kanye fans wish they had this week: he confronted both 'Ye and Candace Owens when they dropped in his office to do TMZ Live. Like many of us, Van has been affected by 'Ye's music, by his passion, his confidence, his drive, as well as his recent musings on politics and free thought.

But, also like many of us, Van now feels confused about the people and ideas Kanye is aligning himself with. We spoke to the day's viral superstar about his Kanye West fandom, why he decided to speak up, and how he feels about Kanye now.

As a fan, were you excited when you heard he was coming in?
I was conflicted and I was weirded out. I didn't know if we were going to be able to talk with him, engage with him. I wasn't sure what the nature of his appearance was going to be, how long it was going to be, I didn't know any of that stuff, and I didn't know what I was going to say if I got the opportunity to talk at all. But when I did have the opportunity, it was easy because it was a direct rebuttal of something he said.

How were you able to keep your composure?
We do that every day here. Every day there's something different that we go back and forth about at TMZ, and shout-out to my brother Charlamagne the God who always tells me the way to make a point is to stay calm when everybody else is in their moment. Even when my voice is raised, I try to be measured and focused.

You look frustrated when Kanye was talking to you.
If you love hip-hop, if you love this culture, then there's no possible way that you don't have love for Kanye West, right? He's really been one of the voices that has reshaped things for a lot of people. Meeting him and seeing him in here today, obviously there's some sort of narrative or ministry that he's trying to push, but it's frustrating to see how in the world he fell so far in terms of relatability from where we are. It's shocking. When he said some of the things he said, it was almost like looking at everything that I looked up to and had influenced me so much, and wondered, was it all bullshit? The interaction and the exchange I had with him was of genuine bewilderment and disappointment.

Was that the first time you met Kanye?
Never met him before.

You know the saying, "We should never meet our heroes." Was that one of those moments for you?
It's definitely that but at the same time, I want to try to understand where people are coming from, especially when they've earned that cachet. I was completely disappointed in him and I'm not sure he's on the right path, as far as what he's talking about. A lot of the things he's saying are not only just wrong but also destructive, harmful, and dangerous, to be honest with you.

Yeah, like when he was agreeing with Candace Owens about black on black crime.
She said that I'm emotional. There's a playbook that certain groups use, right? They say that our emotions make us weak, that our emotions are the things that are holding us back. Basically that marginalized people need to be more proactive and maybe less reactionary to things, I can give her that. But she starts screaming out facts like 90 percent of crimes committed against black people are by black people, and those are facts that people weaponize when they discuss what's wrong with black people.

You can say that about any racial or ethnic group. About 75 percent of whites commit violent crimes on other whites.
It's just the way of the world. The people in the community are the people that you're going to commit crimes against.

Maybe if the country wasn't so segregated, those numbers would be different.
Right, then we could fuck each other up. I'm familiar with her tactics, though. Her tactics are old, they're not even fresh. Those aint Yeezys, those are a pair of Pro Wings from '87.

She's spittin' that Uncle Tom 101.
That's old shit. I'm not even flipping on her, she can go out and say what she wants. There are many of "her" out there. The thing that bothers me about Kanye West is that he's been such an inspirational figure all these years that when he talks people go, "Yo, should we really be thinking about what he's talking about?" And the answer is no, the answer is we shouldn't. We shouldn't re-explore whether or not we were responsible for slavery, that's done. The ancestors of black Americans were degraded and systematically had their humanity stripped away over the course of 400 years. It took the efforts of a great many people to break those chains.

This is simple African-American Studies, this is the basic shit. He doesn't mention redlining or white flight as the reasons why ghettoes exist in the first place, but then says that prison unites us as one race?
I don't even know how to make sense of the prison statement. We have to understand that Kanye doesn't know any of this stuff. I think the overall point and what I was trying to impart on Kanye West is that the most dangerous person you could give a gun to is a child and the reason why is because, in the child's innocence and ignorance, they don't know how dangerous the weapon is. They don't understand how cataclysmic things can become once the weapon is used. They'll accidentally shoot anybody. As minorities we can't be accidentally shot by Kanye West, we can't. If he's gonna shoot, we gotta at least make sure he's aiming, we gotta make sure he has an actual point, or else it's just at random and all these things get out here. We don't live in Calabasas, man. We don't get to hangout with Lucian Grainge and with Larry Page from Google. We don't know those people, we know each other. It doesn't matter how many five mic albums you got, you don't get to make cultural rules you don't adhere to, especially if you don't know what you're talking about.

You mentioned being a big fan and said you've defended him in the past, is the music going to feel different to you now? Are you looking forward to the new music?
I'm done with it. I can't. Right now, I feel like listening or supporting his music would make me complicit in some of the things that are going on right now, I can't do it. I know the music is gonna be fire, every time he drops it's a cultural moment, it's an event. Everyone that wants to enjoy it, they should. I can't be one of them.

How was Kanye when he wasn't on camera?
I didn't get a chance to talk to him that much. But I will say, to his credit, he was very polite, cordial, he spoke and talked to everybody in the office, he wanted to address the people in the office. So whatever message he thinks he's right about, he definitely wants people to get it.

What made you want to confront him?
The misinformation that's coming out his mouth can actually affect people and people need to have the opportunity to hear both sides of things. And if he's going to sit up there on a pulpit—he was up, raised above the rest of us sitting on the TMZ Live stage talking—it wasn't my job to destroy Kanye West or make a viral moment. It was to make sure what people heard doesn't resonate with us all. The point was to make sure the opposite method of thinking was represented and we do that every day here.

What do you think is going on with him?
I don't know, I have no clue. I think he's sincerely trying to get something across, I think he's going about it a wrong way, and I think literally what he's saying is wrong. As far as what's going on in his life, I would encourage everyone to watch the whole show because he goes into great detail about what his life has been like this past year and a half or so. It definitely hasn't been easy for him.

How do you feel now after all this?
I feel sad that I lost a hero.

Latest in Music