“I’ve never heard a story of anybody saying Kanye turned them into a Christian, or turned them into a Trump supporter,” Brandon Gastinell, a 27-year-old artist who co-hosts the podcast YeezusTalks, told me. “He doesn’t have the power.” Gastinell and his co-host, Austin Segovia, have followed West since they were kids, and their podcast has the amusing, rowdy vibe of two friends yelling at each other over video games. When I spoke with them on Zoom, Gastinell was wearing a Yeezus sweatshirt and Segovia had set his background to be a meme of West and Kardashian as normies. Both were exasperated by West in 2020. “I go from being a fan to not a fan, depending on the week,” Gastinell said.
To hear them tell it, West’s run for president is serious in the way that Trump’s pre-2016 presidential runs were: as a way to test the waters and build a movement that could eventually pay off. They also peg West’s run, and his anti-Democratic bent, to him taking offense at Obama calling him a “jackass” when he was in office, thereby sending the rapper into a contrarianism spiral. “He’s always looking for the next challenge,” Gastinell said. “He conquered music, fashion—what’s next? Politics. He’s always the person who tries to do what people tell him he cannot do, and now he’s just moving on to the next thing that people say he cannot do.”
The two podcasters said they weren’t going to vote for West unless he paid them in sneakers. But they did see some support for the presidential bid among West’s other fans, who can be “cult-like,” and they didn’t think it was impossible that West could convert followers to new beliefs. “He’s such a big person that it goes beyond the music at this point—they’re fans of him as a person, which you could argue is even more dangerous,” Segovia said. Even the two of them, who groan and giggle through many of West’s political antics, often find themselves contorting to justify the things he says. “Because we’ve known him for so long, we know there’s good in him,” Segovia said. “He’s just not the best at expressing his views.”
Gastinell broke in with a laugh. “We literally sound like Trump supporters right now!” he said. “We don’t agree with everything he does, blah, blah, blah. We sound terrible! Kanye is ruining us.”
West wouldn’t be surprised by comparisons to Trump. When the rapper praised the president’s “very futuristic” “nonpolitical methods to speaking” back in 2016, he was noting the similarities with his own speaking style—a style that will be both an asset and a liability in his campaign.
Take for example the footage of West’s South Carolina rally, which is both difficult to sit through—it reignited questions about West’s mental health—and strangely transfixing. West stands eye-level with the crowd, and he spends a lot of time managing their behavior by asking them to quiet down or stop recording, creating a feeling of tension and brewing conflict. Discussing reproductive rights, West wails and cries at the memory of Kardashian and him discussing whether to abort their first pregnancy. He also says he thinks abortion should be legal and that the government should heavily subsidize childbirth. The topic is excruciatingly sensitive and West is fuzzy on policy details, and yet there is a horror-film intensity—Should I be watching this?—as he works out his logic on camera. (Kardashian was reportedly furious with him for sharing her story without permission.)