“I can say antisemitic things and Adidas can’t drop me,” the artist formerly known as Kanye West proclaimed on Drink Champs just over a week ago. “Now what?” he rhetorically asked, with the sneering audacity of a man whose millions of dollars, millions of fans, and substantial high-powered connections have carried him through numerous instances of public backlash over the past 20 years. But that day is over.
Today, Adidas dropped him after a month in which he’s consistently asserted that he’s up against a cabal of Jewish people who control the world. His Yeezy partnership with Adidas was the core of his reported $2 billion net worth; without that deal, his billionaire status has reportedly been “obliterated.” Kanye’s musical and entrepreneurial endeavors have always been fueled by him foregrounding a barrier, imaginary or real, to stride beyond. That defining trait was endearing until his crosshairs veered from those doubting his musical chops into Black people who criticized his MAGA ties, and now to Jewish people. His recent antisemitic comments, coming after a long stretch of constantly escalating spectacle-chasing, have finally made him too radioactive for his influential allies.
Adidas joins a long list of high-powered brands like JP Morgan Chase, CAA, Balenciaga, and Vogue that have severed ties from Ye in the past month. MRC has shelved a previously-filmed documentary about him. Ari Emanuel, CEO of William Morris Endeavor, wrote an op-ed calling for companies to stop working with Ye. UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer also implored his partners to “please support the boycott of Kanye West” because “powerful voices spewing hatred have frequently driven people to do hateful things.”
This latest torrent of controversy began with the strong negative response elicited by the “White Lives Matter” T-shirts that Ye wore alongside conservative pundit Candace Owens at his Yeezy Season 9 fashion show earlier this month. His friend Diddy defended him in public at first, telling the Breakfast Club that “a lot of times, what he means is, like, misconstrued.” Privately, the Bad Boy founder contacted Ye to offer some advice — only for Ye to rebuff him, post their texts on Instagram, and warn, “Never call me with no bulls— like that again unless you ready to green light me cause anybody who got on that tee is me.” Ye then commenced social media dustups with Supreme creative director Tremaine Emory, Boosie, and Meek Mill, all of whom criticized the shirt and railed at Ye for a variety of reasons. The whole incident might have seemed at first like another instance of Ye’s personal struggles with mental health, and/or his longtime habit of seeking headlines to promote his latest venture.
But then, Kanye theorized that the people who came out against him weren’t simply upset at his anti-Blackness, but that they were agents “sent” by Jewish people. On Oct. 9, he infamously tweeted his plans to “go death con 3 ON JEWISH PEOPLE,” blaming Jewish people for “starting cancel culture,” expressing that “the funny thing is I actually can’t be Anti Semitic because black people are actually Jew also,” and adding, “you guys have toyed with me and tried to black ball anyone whoever opposes your agenda.”
His Twitter and Instagram accounts were immediately suspended. Days later, he did a since-deleted interview on N.O.R.E.’s Drink Champs podcast where he falsely alleged that former Minnesota cop Derek Chauvin’s knee “wasn’t even on [George Floyd’s] neck like that,” and continued his assault on the so-called “Jewish media.” The interview was taken down after widespread backlash (and the late George Floyd’s family is planning to file a $250 million lawsuit against Ye) — but it was soon followed with even more conversations with Tucker Carlson and Piers Morgan, in which Ye kept the same hateful tenor going. He told Morgan that he was “sorry for the people that I hurt with the ‘Death Con’” tweet,” but never explicitly took back any of what he said about his plans to “#MeToo the Jewish culture.”
Ye’s stated views seem to fall in line with those of the most extreme Black Hebrew Israelite sects, who believe that they’re the original descendants of the ancient Israelites, or the “true Jews.” These groups are known for their stubborn conservatism and the fiery espousal of their beliefs that white Jews represent the “synagogue of Satan.” Kodak Black is a self-admitted Hebrew Israeilite, and Kendrick Lamar has referenced their thinking in his music, though neither artist has expressed a belief that Jewish people are inherently evil or run the world. But Ye isn’t the only entertainer to make explicitly antisemitic comments in recent years, either. In 2021, Nick Cannon apologized for implying that “Jewish people, white people, Europeans” have a “deficiency” that caused them to be “savages” on his podcast. Ice Cube has a lengthy history of dabbling in antisemitism, rapping “They said I could sing like a jaybird/But nigga, don’t say the J-word” in 1992 after earlier lyrics about Jewish people drew criticism, and tweeting various antisemitic memes decades later in 2020. Ye told Drink Champs that Ice Cube inspired his “antisemite vibe,” but Ice Cube distanced himself from the implication, tweeting, “I’m not antisemitic and never have been.”
Entertainers who have been lambasted for antisemitic comments have usually apologized after being called out, but Ye is adamantly refusing to back down, repeatedly stating that he’s willing to die for his beliefs. Those who’ve previously chalked up his controversial comments to his mental health challenges can’t overlook how lucidly and calmly he’s been expressing his hate speech across multiple interviews, dating back several years now. Former TMZ staffer Van Lathan has alleged that Ye said something to the effect of “I love Hitler” during his 2018 “slavery was a choice” interview, but that it didn’t make the final clip “for whatever reason.”
It’s worth noting that while Ye’s alleged Hitler support (which he hasn’t denied) was seemingly the third rail that TMZ wouldn’t air, him trivializing 400 years of American chattel slavery made the final cut. Perhaps that wasn’t offensive enough in a world that subsists on anti-Blackness. Many Black people were upset at his comments, but our mere outrage wasn’t enough to push him off his pedestal. Too many of us found validity in Ye’s MAGA rhetoric; too few were ready to organize and hurt him with a mass boycott. Many entertainers, entrepreneurs, and athletes within the so-called Black elite are his peers. Not only did they not publicly denounce him in 2018, they’ve since collaborated with him and, in the case of Revolt, offered him a platform to project harmful ideas. His fans have continued to buy Yeezy apparel, attend his Sunday Service events, and stream his Donda listening sessions to record-breaking effect. His corporate ties and cultural influence made him too powerful to be held accountable for throwing Black people under the bus. As much as this saga is a glimpse at one man’s endless self-sabotage, it’s also a glimpse of how little weight Black people’s grievances seem to hold in this country.
Before Adidas dropped him, Ye proudly claimed that he’s the richest Black person on earth. Even if one believed that, it should also be noted that net worth is just a loose estimate of a portfolio’s value. The more Ye alienates himself from the world’s biggest brands and turns off the general public, the less value his businesses will have, and that estimation will continue to plummet. If he refuses to apologize for his comments, that will likely make it even harder for many touring companies, management firms, fashion retailers, and media outlets to partner with him. The hypothetical CEO who’d want to support him would have to worry about the repercussions from partners who may back away from them. He claims to have the funds to float his own operation, and that’s what he may have to do after this wave of divestment.
Last weekend, Axios ran a column that suggested “America is on the verge of the first truly parallel universe presidential campaign — where the parties speak to distinct groups of voters, in distinct media ecosystems, pushing distinct realities.” This country has long been ideologically siloed, and that dynamic is tangibly manifesting with conservative media outlets and social media platforms like Parler, which Ye recently moved to purchase. He has about 40 thousand followers on the platform, which is a far cry from his 31.5 million followers back on Twitter, but he can be assured that Parler is his soapbox, and he can say what he wants to his base with few consequences. That ostracized existence may be the new normal for Ye after this month.
He’s become so submerged in his ego that he’s essentially deciding to trade off his cultural ubiquity to be a beacon of hate for a small minority of conservatives who desire Black people as lapdogs for their beliefs. He’s also galvanizing Nazis like the ones in L.A. who said he “was right” last weekend. It’s questionable if these people have any interest in buying his clothes, listening to his music, or coming to his shows for the foreseeable future. But these Nazis do want to kill Jewish people, and his recent comments helped push their hateful perspective into the mainstream. In 2010, Ye rhymed “no one man should have all that power,” and he’s spent the next decade plus proving it. Now, his self-sabotage has stripped a good deal of that power away.