The Kanye West Guide To Getting Canceled And Forgiven

Why some Complex writers refuse to succumb to the new Ye album hype train.

Kevin Mazur / Getty Images for Universal Music Group

Artists get canceled every day for saying something offensive, but no one is better at doing self-destructive shit—and rising from the ashes shortly after—than Kanye West. And despite Kanye being one of the most unpredictable artists of all time when it comes to his creativity, when it comes to how he acts outside of music, his comeback process is, unfortunately, easy to forecast.

For a little over a decade, Kanye has outraged the general public with offensive and outlandish comments about race, religion, and everything in between. From storming the stage at the 2009 MTV Music Video Awards to calling slavery a “choice” in the TMZ office, and several erratic Twitter rants along the way, Ye forever flirts with controversy. Yet somehow he has always managed to return to his fans’ good graces. Even now, just over a year after tweeting that he’d be going “death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE,” he’s preparing to release a new joint album with Ty Dolla Sign, which is being celebrated on the same timeline that his inflammatory remarks were posted. 

Kanye’s return cycle is defined as follows:  (1) He says something offensive; (2) He briefly apologizes for said comment shortly after; (3) He disappears from the public eye for an amount of time ranging anywhere from a month to a year; and (4) He then returns with a body of music that makes most of his enduring fans shift their focus as if his wild statement(s) never happened. 

I believe this systematic approach has been true for Kanye since his incident with Taylor Swift in 2009. He apologized to Swift, disappeared for nearly a year, and returned with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Since then, he’s dropped other projects in a similar way, including Ye, Jesus Is King, and soon, Vultures. The  album will mark the first batch of new music from the Chicago artist since he was shunned from social media a year ago for his posts that were littered with hate speech. 

Kanye’s process of getting canceled and using the release of new music to win back public favor is the most predictable thing about the unpredictable rapper. Here is my step-by-step breakdown of how he does it.

Step 1: Kanye says/does something offensive.  

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Most artists will get into trouble for doing or saying something offensive or damaging once, maybe twice, before they learn their lesson (or realize that the money is stopping) and rectify their actions—but not Kanye. Ye has to be the best at whatever he does, and that includes pissing off the general public for being irresponsible with his platform. He’ll always say what’s on his mind. Sometimes that results in moments of necessary honesty like 2005’s “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people,” but over the last decade, there have been more dangerous fallacies like “Slavery was a choice.” A recent timeline on his outbursts and more, below:

Taylor Swift VMA moment (2009): It was a major inflection point of the late aughts when Kanye stormed the stage during Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for the Video of the Year and asserted that Beyonce was more deserving. (I’ll note here that this was the least heinous of his offenses, in my opinion, and he didn’t deserve the level of backlash he received.) 

"Slavery was a choice"/The MAGA hat  (2018): That’s what Kanye said during his visit to TMZ in 2018 amidst his Trump era of wearing Make America Great Again caps, an act which, again, caused public outrage.

Kanye’s antisemitic comments (2022): We’re a little over a year out since his antisemitic rants on social media culminated into a visit to alt-right, Sandy Hook-denying, morally and financially bankrupt, unhinged conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on his InfoWars radio show where Ye empathized with Hitler. It’s also worth noting that during a visit to Drink Champs in this same year, he asserted that George Floyd died from Fentanyl. So it’s safe to say that Kanye is a master at step 1: royally pissing people off.  

Step 2: Kanye immediately apologizes for the offensive comment, but does not change his behavior.  

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Even though Kanye is the type of person to stand on business in most situations when it comes to something he believes in, he’s also quick to send an immediate apology for the wild shit that he’s prone to do. Whether it was immediately calling Taylor Swift after their VMA debacle and apologizing for his Hennessey-fueled interruption (despite doubling down a few years later), or walking back his comments on slavery being a choice, Kanye is also the king of back-peddling. The “I’m sorry but I’m not really sorry” step of the Kanye Cancel guide is outlined below:

Taylor Swift apology (2009): Literally a day after the VMAs, on Sept. 14, 2009, Kanye went on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and apologized for “taking the moment” away from Swift, and expressed he wanted to also apologize to her in person. Swift would later reveal that same week that she and Ye had a phone conversation where he apologized again. This, of course, was an empty apology because West continued to take shots at Swift over the next decade, but regardless West said sorry then dropped off the map. 

The "Slavery was a choice"/MAGA hat apology (2018): Three months after saying 400 years of slavery was a choice, Kanye apologized for his comments and for wearing a MAGA hat with Trump at the White House on a Chicago radio station. "I don't know if I properly apologized for how that slave comment made people feel, so I want to take this moment right now to say that I'm sorry, I'm sorry for the one-two effect of the MAGA hat into the slave comment,” he said at the time. He never said he wouldn’t wear the cap again, and eight months later Ye was spotted wearing another MAGA hat.

Antisemitic rant apology (2022): This one barely counts, because while Ye did go on Piers Morgan Uncensored to say he was “sorry for the people that I hurt with the confusion that I caused” and to “the families of the people that had nothing to do with the trauma that I have been through,” his hateful social media rants would continue until he was literally banned from both Twitter and Instagram. (He’s been since unbanned.)  

Step 3: Kanye disappears from the public eye for an indefinite amount of time. 
Dropping off the map is a common tactic for celebrities when they're at risk of being canceled, but few do it like Kanye. In the year that he was off the grid following the Taylor Swift incident, he camped out in Hawaii for six months to work on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. After he dropped Ye amidst his MAGA moment in 2018, he started traveling with his Sunday Service choir before dropping Jesus Is King at the tail end of 2019. Now, after being banned on every major social media app (and the Venetian boat service), Kanye has begun the rollout for his next project, Vultures, with Ty Dolla Sign.  

Step 4: Kanye returns with a new album that shifts fans’ focus. 

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This step is key, and what separates an artist like Kanye. As good as he is at pissing people off and tarnishing his legacy, he’s even better at making timeless records. Like that really toxic ex that you keep giving a second (or third or fourth) chance, Ye uses his music to make his fans remember the better days (you know, before he was questioning the legitimacy of 400 years of oppression).

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is released in 2010: After he stormed the VMA stage in 2009, Kanye West disappeared for nearly a year and came back with a slew of G.O.O.D. Fridays releases and then this project—arguably his best album and undoubtedly one of the best albums of that decade. It was so impactful in the 2010s that it helped people overlook him spoiling the night of America’s pop sweetheart. 

Ye and Jesus Is King are released in 2018 and 2019: After he went full MAGA in 2018, Kanye dropped Ye a month later, and Jesus Is King the following year to quell public outrage by saying that he found God. The musical quality was at an all-time low, but his fans wanted something, and he obliged.

Vultures rollout begins in 2023: And now, after losing nearly every significant brand deal and alienating some of his most die-hard fans, Kanye is returning with his  Ty Dolla Sign project, featuring Playboi Carti, Kodak Black, and many more. Word of new music spread through social media like wildfire starting last week, with stan accounts returning to business as usual, as if the official cover art isn’t also linked to Nazism. At this point, as long as the music sounds good, his loyal fans couldn’t care less about what he’s saying or doing.

Step 5: Kanye says something offensive again, and the cycle repeats.

Kanye West mentions Jay-Z, Drake, Zionists, Hitler, Bernard Arnault, Alexandre Arnault, François Pinault, Demna, Jesus Christ and more during a heated rant in Las Vegas at his VULTURES RAVE event.

“Jesus Christ, Hitler, Ye. Third party, sponsor that…”

— Complex Music (@ComplexMusic) December 15, 2023
Twitter: @ComplexMusic

Just as the seasons turn, so is Kanye West finding new and unique ways to self-sabotage his legacy. Over the last 10 or so years, with every new album and potentially redemptive moment, a Twitter rant or Drink Champs episode or shared text thread or questionable fashion choice is sure to follow. Call it a part of his album rollout, an elaborate long-con marketing play, or just general mental issues, but regardless I see the cycle continuing. The only variable is how many people from the before-times will stick around for the next circuit, and how much they’ll tolerate the next time. A wise man once forewarned in 2018: “highly recommend getting off the Kanye train before it inevitably reaches the ‘Hitler was a good guy’ stop.” You don’t have to forsake your favorite artist who has clearly gone through several very public mental episodes over the past few years. But you don’t have to reward his bad behavior either. The next time he offends an entire group of people, remember it. Don’t let his next chart-topping song make you forget that he harassed his ex-wife on social media for weeks, or aligned himself with an accused rapist for the sake of the music. And if you remember these things and still choose to ride the wave, consider asking yourself why.

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