A Conversation About Kanye West, Twitter Philosopher

Apr 20, 2018
Originally published on April 20, 2018 7:52 pm

Earlier this week Kanye West ended his social media hiatus and hopped on Twitter to share anecdotes about life, existence and the universe. West announced that he is writing a book on philosophy. He also tweeted that he will release two new albums later this spring (he'd been spotted around Jackson Hole, Wyo. over the last few months, where many believe he is working on his new albums with some of hip-hop's finest).

NPR's Ailsa Chang talks to Sam Sanders, host of NPR's It's Been a Minute about the philosophy of Kanye West, as discerned from his tweets.

Sanders, a self-described "Kanye enthusiast, apologist and defender," says that in many ways, Kanye's zen, self-help tweets seem out of form in a forum as loud and brash as Twitter, and for an artist with West's reputation, but that's what makes it so interesting. To see an artist who's always seemed to have more to say than his mouth, mind, or music could keep up with, seeing 'Ye so clearly find his voice this week through tweets — albeit as veiled promotion for new music — is refreshing.

"I think with Kanye, a lot of people have seen him through the lens of pop culture as inherently broken," Sanders says. "But as someone much smarter than me said, 'Even a broken clock is right twice a day.' Some of these tweets are just right."

Hear the full conversation at the audio link above. Alyssa Edes and Jolie Myers produced and edited the audio version of this story.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


Kanye West is writing a philosophy book on Twitter, according to Kanye West on Twitter. And the tweets - his chapters, if you will - are pretty sunny. The superstar rapper is talking about being present in his own life, about sharing ideas, about the nature of time and space, which is not Kanye's usual tone. In fact, he quit Twitter in what seemed like a pretty low point for him last year. So what can we glean from Kanye's triumphant return?

Sam Sanders is the host of NPR's podcast It's Been A Minute. It's a podcast about the news and culture of the week. And he is basically a Kanye scholar, which is exactly why he's joining me now. Sam, welcome to the program.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me. You're being too kind.

CHANG: (Laughter).

SANDERS: I wouldn't say Kanye scholar, perhaps just Kanye enthusiast, apologist and defender.

CHANG: Oh, that's...

SANDERS: Forever and for always.

CHANG: That's a lot, all right.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

CHANG: I want to hear some of that. All right, so just to be clear, when we say philosophy, we're not talking, like, Immanuel Kant or Aristotle. I mean, we're talking about Kanye giving life advice.

SANDERS: Giving life advice - I've been...

CHANG: Why would I want life advice from Kanye West?

SANDERS: Because it's actually good. Let me tell you what happened. So Kanye West - all of a sudden this week, he began to tweet out these really inspirational quips on Twitter. And actually, you know, if you want, I can read some for.

CHANG: Yeah. I want a dramatic reading, Sam.

SANDERS: OK. Here's one of the latest that he tweeted. The beauty is in the imperfection. This one's my favorite. Be transparent as possible. Stop setting plays. Stop playing chess with life. Make decisions based on love, not fear - inspirational Kanye.


SANDERS: Do you like it?

CHANG: It's all right.


SANDERS: It just really stuck out to me this week because, like, Kanye is not known for being that Zen...

CHANG: Uh-huh.

SANDERS: ...and that serene. And I've just enjoyed it.

CHANG: Yeah. Can we talk about how he's not that Zen? Like, go through some of the highlights with us right now, all of the years-long public controversies that led up to this moment.

SANDERS: Oh, do we have the time, Ailsa? I don't know.

CHANG: Oh, we do. We do. Unpack it.

SANDERS: Let me try to do it really quickly, you know? So since the release of his first album "The College Dropout" in 2004, everyone knew he was really good at this stuff, but he already came out of the gate with kind of a reputation as being braggadocios and kind of brash. But he really kind of became this darker character in the culture after he crashed the stage at the VMAs on MTV in 2009 and interrupted Taylor Swift when she won her award.


KANYE WEST: Yo, Taylor. I'm really happy for you. I'm going to let you finish. But Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time.


SANDERS: But there were some other things that led people to really question his mental health in the last few years. He released an album in 2016 called "The Life Of Pablo" unfinished. Then he had a tour for the same album. And in November 2016, he had to cancel the tour. There was a lawsuit over it, and it was said in the lawsuit that he was facing, quote, "serious debilitating medical conditions." Then he popped up. He showed up at Trump Tower. It was just after he had been released from a psychiatric hospital.

CHANG: Yeah.

SANDERS: So if you were a believer in Kanye, you were kind of worried about him.

CHANG: OK, you are obviously a true believer.


CHANG: I can hear that all over. But Kanye's a brand. Maybe this is just a way of capitalizing on his brand. It's - I know I sound a little jaded, but he's getting all this attention now. We're all falling into his lap.

SANDERS: You know, I can see it as that, but it's not focused enough for me to say that it's actually that intentional. I think it's just Kanye having a good week.

CHANG: It's not done well done enough to be intentional.

SANDERS: I think Kanye's just having a good week. And I think with Kanye, a lot of people have seen him through the lens of popular culture as inherently broken. But as someone much smarter than me once said, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

CHANG: (Laughter).

SANDERS: And some of these tweets are just right. And I think if I can find some time to celebrate someone finding a bit of happiness, even if it's Kanye West, I'll take it.

CHANG: Sam Sanders - he's the host of NPRs It's Been A Minute, a podcast where he catches listeners up on the news and culture of the week. And I guess this week, you guys are obviously going to talk about Kanye.

SANDERS: We're talking about all the news that's fit to talk about, but also it is a very special Kanye-themed episode.


CHANG: Thanks so much, Sam.

SANDERS: Thanks, Ailsa.


WEST: (Rapping) I'm living in that 21st century, doing something mean to it, do it better than anybody you ever seen do it. Screams from the haters got... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.