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Kanye West's first album since going MAGA isn't MAGA at all

Kanye West released his new album, Ye, at a live-streamed listening event in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Thursday...

Posted: Jun 2, 2018 9:18 AM
Updated: Jun 2, 2018 9:18 AM

Kanye West released his new album, Ye, at a live-streamed listening event in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Thursday night. The seven-track mini-album is no My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or The Life of Pablo, but it's good, a worthy addition to the Kanye canon. Missing from the album, though, is any trace of MAGA.

West's embrace of President Donald Trump defined the lead-up to his eighth studio album. He called Trump his dragon-energy brother, and got a Twitter shoutout from @realDonaldTrump himself ("Thank you Kanye, very cool!"). But the closest Ye comes to Trump is a line about Stormy Daniels, and even then, it's used not as a comment on or about the 45th president, but because it rhymes ("If I pull up with a Kerry Washington that's gonna be an enormous scandal / I could have a Naomi Campbell and still might want me a Stormy Daniels" he raps on "All Mine").

Like a good pop star, West has evolved both his sound and his style over the years, using fashion to mark album cycles. There was the pink polo of The College Dropout and the shutter shades of Graduation. Latter-day Yeezy is oversized, torn clothing in neutral colors, and graphics in Pablo Gothic font.

For his latest evolution, West tried on a signed, red MAGA hat. It's turned out to be less a political statement than a fashion one, meant by West as something punk rock, and not an endorsement of Trump's stance on things like anthem protests or trade wars.

During his pro-Trump tweetstorm in April, West said his wife called to make sure he let everyone know he doesn't agree with everything Trump does. But he likes how Trump represents "the ability to do what no one said you can do, to do the impossible," he told T.I.

Although aligning himself with Trump and claiming slavery was a choice did not make West completely toxic -- the CEO of Adidas said the company stood by him and Christina Aguilera released "Acceleration," a song produced by him, as the lead single to her forthcoming album -- it didn't serve him well in the court of public opinion or on the charts.

A CNN poll found 52% of Americans who were familiar with West's comments on politics and slavery thought he was doing it for publicity rather than because he really believed what he was saying, and "Ye Vs. the People," a pre-album single in which he defended his Trump support to T.I., peaked at No. 85 on the Billboard Hot 100 before falling off.

The song's failure to take hold came as other black artists have used their music to elevate and celebrate the black experience, like Janelle Monae's Dirty Computer, Childish Gambino's No. 1 hit "This Is America" and the "Black Panther" soundtrack, featuring and curated by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Kendrick Lamar. For a rapper who's defined musical trends, from sped-up soul samples to earnest autotune and emo rap, West suddenly felt out of step.

So MAGA Ye appears to have been quietly retired, and "Ye Vs. the People," which does not appear on the tracklist for Ye, forgotten. It joins other songs seemingly meant to launch albums that flop and are are demoted from would-be lead single to stand-alone "buzz" single, like Britney Spears' "Pretty Girls" and Ariana Grande's "Focus."

There were only a few reminders of West's recent foray into politics at the listening event. The comments section on the livestream had a few references, but they were largely outnumbered by follow requests and comments about the Cavs-Warriors game. And Candace Owens, the Turning Points USA communications director West catapulted to fame when he tweeted he liked "the way [she] thinks" (that makes her to Ye what Bon Iver was to MBDTF, no?), was there, posting photos of celebrities to her Instagram story less than a year after saying on YouTube no one cares what celebs think.

But there were no MAGA hats in sight. West wore to the event a neon yellow shirt that said "Following The Light" and orange "Wyoming" hoodie that's available for purchase for $85 and comes with a digital copy of the album. And for his hat, he wore one that read "Kanye West Album Listening May 31 2018 Jackson Hole."

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