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OpEd: Kanye West and the Myth of "Separating the Art from the Artist"

Kanye West's "Vultures" released last Saturday, and in the same breath, received aplomb from his rabid fanbase and the 46-year-old's worst ever reviews. It's probably going to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Albums, Kanye has been the most streamed artist on Spotify every day since the project's release, and I care about none of that.

I have not listened to Vultures, and I probably never will, because Kanye West is a Nazi. If that sentence makes you angry, you probably shouldn't read this article.

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. In a 2022 interview on "InfoWars," an alt-right podcast hosted by prominent conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Kanye West denied the Holocaust. Jones, who was once forced to pay the parents of a Sandy Hook shooting victim $4 million in compensatory damages, was taken aback by the rapper's comments. Normally, when Alex Jones thinks you're wrong, it's a dead-on indicator you're on the right track, but Kanye somehow broke that axiom.

Kanye West pictured on Alex Jones' show InfoWars, on which he expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler

If any of this is news to you, welcome to 2024, thanks for coming out from the Stonehenge-sized rock you've been living under. The most prominent rapper of the last 20 years hates Jewish people, and he hasn't even had the tact to be subtle about it.

Why, then, are so many people insistent on supporting him? Well, for starters, at this point, most of Kanye's fans are white, and, among that group, they tend to lean Republican, perhaps unsurprisingly, given the views he's adopted as of late. I'm not saying all Republicans support Nazis, but it's not shocking to me that the group most in support of him is the one that faces the least discrimination in their everyday lives.

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Caravaggio, one of the most famous Italian painters of all time, went to trial no less than 11 times for everything from libel to assault. Eventually, in 1606, Caravaggio was condemned as an outlaw by Pope Paul V after killing and castrating Ranuccio Tomassoni, a wealthy young Roman who may have been involved with the subject of one of the artist's paintings. Caravaggio died at the age of 38 and was buried in an unmarked grave.

The impacts of Caravaggio's works are legendary. His emotive portrayal of the human condition influenced a generation of artists: everyone from Rembrandt to Diego Velázquez drew greatly from the Italian. Despite this, Caravaggio's legacy has yet to be separated from his violence. His work cannot be addressed without the caveat that he is a murderer.

Much of this can be traced back to the fact that, at their core, Caravaggio's paintings are deeply violent, unhinged works. His magnum opus, "Judith Beheading Holofernes," is an intense examination of human cruelty and brutality. Caravaggio was so adept at this portrayal because he was a cruel and brutish man.

Caravaggio's 1599 Work "Judith Beheading Holofernes"

The raw intensity of the violence Caravaggio perpetrated throughout his life appears in his art. Only an artist who had encounters with humanity's darkest aspects, from drunken loss of temperament to his undeniable uncaring for the feelings of others, could have created such a bitingly realistic expression of depravity. Caravaggio's art reflects his life to such an accurate degree because his art was his life.

An artist who turns inwards for inspiration cannot be separated from their art, because the art is simply a mirror that reflects them.

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It is no longer relevant to consider whether or not Kanye West is a Nazi, because he no long tries to conceal it in his music itself. The man who once advocated for Black liberation on tracks such as "New Slaves" and "Saint Pablo" has let his hatred infect his work like a disease.

The line “I ain’t anti-Semitic, I just f***ed a Jewish b****" appears on the title track of "Vultures." Ask yourselves, Kanye fans, or at least those among you still brazen enough to declare yourselves as such, are these the lines of someone who even cares about their art being separated from themselves?

Kanye's art has long been introspective, whether on the 9-minute long "Runaway" or the tear-jerking "Hey Mama," but when the self that he is pulling from his now filled with hatred for an ethnic group, one of the most persecuted ones in history, at that, is its existence even morally justifiable? For quite some time, Kanye's fans could hide under the fact that the man's support of Donald Trump or overt sexism didn't appear in his music (that second one I disagree with regardless, have you heard "Famous"?), but they no longer have that proverbial shelter from shame.

Kanye may at one point have made innovative, groundbreaking music, but that era has long since passed, and his fans who still support him are either hanging on to the vestiges of that bygone time or are so deluded that they simply don't care about his deplorable commentary on Jewish people. Worse, there are certainly those among his fanbase who fall into neither of those categories, who flat-out agree with his recent tirades.

For those of you who have read this far into an article containing a tangent about a 17th century Italian painter, my point is this: the "separate the art from the artist" argument fails to hold weight when the art is entirely indistinguishable from the artist, and Kanye has long since passed that line. I suppose I can't go into Spotify itself to force all of you to never listen to him again, but take pause to consider that you are directly funding a man who expresses views reprehensible enough for him to go to jail in 18 different countries.

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