Kanye West has been widely mocked and ridiculed for his recent visit/publicity stunt to the White House, especially for the now infamous 10 minute monologue he delivered in front of the White House Press Corps while seated across from President Donald Trump. While Kanye’s stream of consciousness speech was unfocused, at times pandering, and bordered on incoherent at times, the spectacle has obscured several valid, or at least thought-provoking, points made by West. Below I attempt to sort out the content from the rhetoric in Kanye’s speech. Wish me luck!
1. Here we have Larry Hoover’s lawyer with us today and it’s a prisoner that we’re focused on.
[Chicagoan Larry Hoover is the co-founder of the “Gangster Disciples”, or GDs, one of America’s most notorious street gangs. He’s currently serving six life sentences at the supermax prison in Florence, Colorado].
3. He started showing that he actually had power, he wasn’t just one of a monolithic voice but he could wrap people around.
[Prior to his most recent conviction, Hoover publicly sought to transform his gang into a political and community-service organization, rebranded “Growth and Development”].
4. So there’s theories that there’s infinite amounts of universe, and there’s alternate universe, so it’s very important for me to get Hoover out because in an alternate universe, I am him.
[Given the generally similar backgrounds of Hoover and West – black men from Chicago – West believes he could have conceivably ended up in Hoover’s situation if circumstances had been slightly different. Although couched in a distracting setup about alternate universes, this statement is more or less a take on the old Christian saying, “But for the grace of God go I.”]
5. And I have to go and get him free because he was doing positive inside of Chicago, just like how I’m moving back to Chicago and it’s not just about, you know, getting on stage and being an entertainer, and having a monolithic voice that’s forced to be a specific party.
6. You know, people expect that if you’re black you have to be Democrat.
[Despite ideological diversity within the black American population, African American support for the Democratic Party consistently remains around 88% in national elections]
7. I have conversations that basically said that welfare is the reason why a lot of black people end up being Democrat they say – you know first of all, it’s a limit to amount of jobs, so the fathers lose the job and they say, ‘We’ll give you more money for having more kids in your home.’
[While there is a belief that means tested welfare programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) incentivize single mothers to have more children, a belief that caused many states to implement family cap rules to counter this alleged problem, data shows that average size of families using government assistance is the same as those not receiving benefits.]
8. And then we got rid of the mental health institutes in the 80s and the 90s and the prison rates just shot up.
[Reforms begun in the 1960s to “deinstitutionalize” America’s mental health infrastructure, with an increased focus on local providers and on psychiatric medication, led to significant underprovision of mental health services in much of the country. As these services declined, large numbers of mentally ill individuals have ended up in the jail and prison systems of Chicago and America, as detailed in a great Atlantic article on the subject].
10. I just talked to the superintendent, met with Michael Sacks, that’s Rahm’s right hand man.
11. So, I think it’s the bravery that helps you beat this game called life.
12. You know they tried to scare me to not wear this hat, my own friends, but this hat, it gives me power in a way.
14. And also I’m married now into a family that, you know, not a lot of male energy going on, it’s beautiful though.
[Kanye married reality TV star Kim Kardashian, the most famous of the Kardashian-Jenner family, in 2014]
15. But there’s times where, you know, it’s something about, I love Hillary, I love everyone, right, but the campaign “I’m With Her” just didn’t make me feel as a guy that didn’t get to see my dad all the time, like a guy that could play catch with his son.
[Hillary Clinton’s election lost to Donald Trump was marked by the biggest voting gender gap – 13% – since the metric was first measured in 1972]
16. It was something about when I put this hat on, it made me feel like Superman.
[This is somewhat ironic, as Superman’s arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor, was revamped in the 1980s to be an evil businessman modeled after Donald Trump.]
17. You made us Superman, that’s my favorite superhero, and you made a Superman cape for me.
18. Also as a guy that looks up to you, looks up to Ralph Lauren, looks up to American industry guys.
19. Non-political, no bullshit – put the beep on it, however you want to do it, five seconds delay – and just goes in and gets it done.
20. Right now, you gave me the heart to go to Adidas.
21. When I went in, in 2015, we were a $14 billion company losing $2 billion a year.
22. Now, we have $38 billion market cap. It’s called “The Yeezy Effect.”
23. And went and I said, “You have to bring manufacturing on-shore.
24. Not even on-shore, into the core.
25. It’s not about the borders.
26. The core of Adidas, and Chicago, is the core of middle America, and we have to make middle America strong.
[Under new leadership since 2014, Adidas has quadrupled its stock price in four years. His has largely been accomplished by shifting the company’s focus, and the physical location of many of its top employees and important facilities, from Europe to the United States. The refocus on the American market was accompanied by a spate of endorsement deals for American celebrities, with West’s deal being described by some as comparable to Michael Jordan signing with Nike]
27. So, I had the balls, because I have enough balls to put on this hat.
28. I mean, this Adidas thing made me a billionaire.
[West’s Yeezy collaboration with Adidas is on pace to reach a valuation of over $1 billion according to a recent report]
29. And I could have lost $200 million walking away from that deal.
[Although the specific details of Kanye’s most recent deal with Adidas were not immediately publicized, Adidas did sign $200 million dollar deals with basketball stars such as James Harden and Derrick Rose during this time period]
32. We never had anyone who taught us, they didn’t teach us.
33. Then any specific deal, anything, that we bring jobs into America.
[While shoemakers such as Adidas are moving manufacturing back to the United States, automation means that this may not create nearly as many jobs as many had hoped.]
34. And that we provide a transition with mental health and the Amer-i-Can education curriculum that Jim has worked on.
35. Larry Hoover also has a curriculum that he’s worked on.
36.We have Montessori curriculums that we worked on.
37. WeWorks has beautiful curriculum.
38. The Waldorf establishment has a curriculum.
39. We have meditation.
[West is thematically grouping several different things here under the concept of “curriculum,” with a common theme of promoting individuality and/or impacting at risk communities. He references several schools or approaches to education, such as the Montessori method, a popular model of semi-independent and self-guided learning that has been the basis of thousands of schools around the country and worldwide (West is apparently a big fan of Montessori schools, as he’s rapped in the past about starting his own). WeWork, a highly successful real estate company offering shared office spaces targeting startup and tech entrepreneurs, has recently launched a WeGrow school in New York City based on the Montessori model. The Waldorf model of education, an alternative method to Montessori but one that also prioritizes student creativity and independence, has also spawned thousands of schools. Jim Brown’s Amer-I-Can Foundation, started in LA to reach out to community members including gang members, offers “a 15 chapter, 60 hour self esteem and life management course” known as the Amer-I-Can Curriculum. Although Larry Hoover has not been formally involved in education, his rebranding of GD as a community organization was coupled with the release of an “idealistic and often abstruse 45-page manifesto known as ‘The Blueprint’” that Hoover wrote during the 1990s while he was in state prison. ]
40. There’s a lot of things affecting our mental health that makes us do crazy things, that puts us back into that trap door that’s called the 13th Amendment.
41. I did say, “abolish,” with the hat on, because why would you keep something around that’s a trap door.
42. If you building a floor, the constitution is the base of our industry, of our country, of our company.
43. Would you build a trap door that if you mess up and accidentally something happens, you fall and you end up next to the Unabomber, you gotta remove all that trapdoor out of the relationship.
45. You know, the four gentleman that wrote the 13th amendment didn’t look like the people they were amending.
[The legislators who authored the 13th Amendment, such as Illinois Senator Lyman Trumbull, were, unsurprisingly, all white men].
46. Also, at that point, it was illegal for blacks to read, or African Americans, to read.
[Most southern states had laws banning slaves, or sometimes all blacks, from learning to read.]
47. So, that meant if you actually read the Amendment, you’d get locked up! And turned into a slave.
[Although these anti-literacy laws were not officially repealed by the states at the end of the Civil War, the war, the 13h Amendment and federally-controlled Reconstruction rendered them moot]
48. Again, so what I think is, we don’t need sentences, we need pardons.
[West and his wife, Kim Kardashian West, have advocated for pardons or commutations for several prisoners, including Alice Johnson (who, at Kardashian West’s urging, was freed by President Trump from a lifetime sentence for a first-time drug offense), Chris Young and Kevin Cooper, as well as more general advocacy for prison reform.]
49. We need to talk to people.
[Though West has been far from clear in his call to “abolish” and/or “amend” the 13th Amendment, his issue with the law seems to stem from the little-known “punishment clause” (possibly the “trap door” to which West refers), which excludes incarcerated individuals from the overall protection against enslavement. The argument that mass incarceration is equivalent to modern day slavery (disproportionately affecting people of color) is thus more literal than many people realize, and opposing this enduring system of forced labor is consistent with the activism of West and his wife.]
50. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
51. I was connected with a neuropsychologist that works with the athletes in the NBA and NFL.
[The mental health of professional athletes has become an increasing concern within professional sports leagues and among sportswriters and some fans.]
52. He looked at my brain, it’s equal on three parts.
[Disclaimer: I don’t really know what West is talking about here.]
53. I’m gonna go ahead, drop some bombs for you.
56. So, he said that I actually wasn’t bipolar, I had sleep deprivation, which could cause dementia 10-20 years from now, where I wouldn’t even remember my sons name.
[West has recently opened up, in his music and in interviews, about recently-diagnosed mental issues, specifically a recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder]
57. So, all this power that I’ve got, and I’m taking my son to the Sox game and all that, I wouldn’t be able to remember his name, from a misdiagnosis.
58. What we need is, we can empower the pharmaceuticals and make more money.
[Do pharmaceutical companies need to make more profit, as West implies? Despite some high-profile examples of price gouging, there is debate over pharmaceutical profits; some argue that pharma companies make excessive profits compared to their R&D costs and that they place profits ahead of patients’ wellbeing (with costs continuing to rise), while others hold that, in the last several years have, in general, been significant but not astronomical compared to other industries]
59. That’s one thing, I’ve never stepped into a situation where I didn’t make people more money.
[Kanye’s music and fashion endeavors have generally been money-making endeavors, although his overall financial situation is a bit complicated to discern.]
60. So, we can empower pharmaceuticals, we can empower our industries, we can empower our factories, we can bring, not only Adidas on shore, we could bring Foxconn and set up a factory in, I think, Minnesota [corrected by Trump that it’s Wisconsin]…yeah, Wisconsin.
[I believe West is advocating for relocating more pharmaceutical manufacturing to the US, a position supported by President Trump, as well, as part of a general policy of increasing US manufacturing as a way of achieving domestic job growth. The 2017 announcement by Foxxconn, a Taiwanese electronics manufacturer that produces Apple products among other devices, that it is building a $10 billion LCD plant in Wisconsin was viewed as a victory for Trump’s strategy.]
61. They have 4,000 jobs, people making $53,000 a year. [Foxxconn’s announcement stated that the new factory would initially employ 3000 workers making an average salary of $53,900/year, but that total employment could expand to 13,000 workers]
62. And one of the things we gotta set is, Ford to have the highest designs.
63. The dopest cars, the most amazing.
64. I don’t really say, “dope,” I don’t say negative words and try to flip ‘em. We just say positive, lovely, divine, universal words.
66. And what we start with, is – I brought a GIF with me right here… [Scrolls through iPhone to show Trump.] this right here is the iPlane 1.
67. It’s a hydrogen powered airplane, and this is what our president should be flying in; Look at this, Jared.
68. We’re gonna have Apple, an American company, work on this plane.
[The picture West showed President Trump was of an aircraft designed by Shabtai Hirshberg, who created the design while finishing his master’s degree and subsequently posted it to the internet. The project was not envisioned to be a hydrogen powered aircraft and currently has no connection to Apple, although Hirshberg has said he hopes Apple catches wind of the idea now.]
69. What I need Saturday Night Live to improve on, or what I need the liberals to improve on is, if he don’t look good [pointing to Trump], we don’t look good.
[Despite controversially granting then-candidate Trump a hosting spot during the 2016 election season, SNL has viciously mocked President Trump, mostly through Alec Baldwin’s impersonations. Earlier this year, Kanye West appeared as musical guest on SNL and came out after the end of the live broadcast to deliver a surprising pro-Trump monologue while wearing a MAGA hat, to the chagrin of many of the SNL cast, crew and audience.]
70. This is our President.
[#notmypresident has been one of the most popular politically-themed hashtags since Trump’s election].
72. And we have to make our core be empowered.
73. We have to bring jobs into America, because our best export is entertainment and ideas.
74. But when we make everything in China and not America, then we’re cheating on our country, and we’re putting people in positions to have to do illegal things to end up in the cheapest factory every, the prison system.
[Earlier this year, prisoners across the United States staged a multi-state, multi-week strike over prison conditions, including dismally low wages for prison labor, which can be as low as 4 cents per hour of work.]
Phew, that was a lot to get through. Thank you for bearing with me through part 1 of this project. In Part 2, I look at Kanye West’s back and forth with reporters during his White House visit.