Though much of Kanye West’s latest album rollout was torpedoed long before it ever began, his offhand comment to TMZ that slavery was a choice proved most damaging. But in a new extended interview with the New York Times, he now says he technically never said that. “I said the idea of sitting in something for 400 years sounds — sounds — like a choice to me, I never said it’s a choice. I never said slavery itself — like being shackled in chains — was a choice,” he says. “That’s why I went from slave to 400 years to mental prison to this and that. If you look at the clip you see the way my mind works.” Asked how he would’ve spoken differently, Kanye stands by his words, but says he would’ve altered the context in which they were presented:
I wouldn’t frame a one-liner or a headline. What I would say is actually it’s literally like I feel like I’m in court having to justify a robbery that I didn’t actually commit, where I’m having to somehow reframe something that I never said. I feel stupid to have to say out loud that I know that being put on the boat was — but also I’m not backing down, bro. What I will do is I’ll take responsibility for the fact that I allowed my voice to be used back to back in ways that were not protective of it when my voice means too much.
Wearing the [Trump] hat, because my voice is unprotected, and I believe that the black community wants to protect my voice. By me saying slave in any way at TMZ left my voice unprotected. So it’s not a matter of the facts of if I said that exact line or not, it’s the fact that I put myself in a position to be unprotected by my tribe.
Kanye also confirms there was genuine concern that his wife, Kim Kardashian West, might leave him because of his slavery comments: “There was a moment where I felt like after TMZ, maybe a week after that, I felt like the energy levels were low, and I called different family members and was asking, you know, ‘Was Kim thinking about leaving me after TMZ?’” he says. “So that was a real conversation.”
On the subject of supporting Donald Trump, Kanye says he has done so because he knows famous people who aren’t being transparent about their allegiance to Trump because it’s unpopular. “I felt that I knew people who voted for Trump that were celebrities that were scared to say that they liked him. But they told me, and I liked him, and I’m not scared to say what I like,” he says. “Let me come over here and get in this fight with you.” He says he also felt pressure to vote for Hillary Clinton because he’s black: “Man, I had my [expletive] [expletive] castrated: ‘You have to like Hillary.’ That’s got to be your choice … And I’m like, that’s not who I want to marry. I don’t feel that.”
Kanye adds that artists should be allowed to operate like children, simply reactionary. “Having a political opinion that’s overly informed, it’s like knowing how to dress, as opposed to being a child — ‘I like this,’” he says. “We need to be able to be in situations where you can be irresponsible. That’s one of the great privileges of an artist. An artist should be irresponsible in a way — a 3-year-old.”
Elsewhere in the interview, it’s revealed that Kim brought in motivational speaker Tony Robbins for an intervention early last year when Kanye was seriously contemplating suicide. Kanye says of that dark period: “Oh yeah, I’ve thought about killing myself all the time. It’s always a option and [expletive]. Like Louis C.K. said: I flip through the manual. I weigh all the options.”
Kanye ends the interview reflecting on the idea that he has seemingly managed to dodge cancel culture, which he doesn’t believe in, because his album still debuted at No 1. “Half that audience that was there last night, half the people that are listening to the album are supposed to not listen to the album right now,” he says. “I’m canceled. I’m canceled because I didn’t cancel Trump.” He adds that he’ll never lose support of black people: “Like I said, wouldn’t leave. Like yes, got a bunch of different opinions. You’re not always going to agree, but they’re not going to leave.”