Kanye West isn’t your typical musical genius/billionaire entrepreneur/fashion designer/Wyoming rancher/presidential candidate.
There will never be anyone else like him. If West didn’t exist, someone would have to invent him, and the only person with enough talent, creativity and unparalleled self-promotional ability to pull that off is West himself.
Trying to keep up with his exploits in just the past week has been dizzying. First, the rap artist announced a 10-year mega-partnership with The Gap to sell his Yeezy streetwear line. By the end of the year West plans to produce over 1 million pairs of shoes near Cody, where he owns two ranches totaling about 10,000 acres.
Then, on Thursday, West made news again. His wife, the reality TV star and makeup mogul Kim Kardashian-West, shared a video on Instagram of her bathroom, which West had lavishly decorated with plants. To celebrate her recent membership in the billionaire’s club, West transformed it into what she described as “like an enchanted forest.”
For the record, Forbes says Kardashian-West’s net worth is now $900 million, which means she’s not technically a billionaire yet. But why quibble over a mere $100 million?
OK, so he has a growing shoe empire and is a serious contender for “husband of the year.” What did he do for an encore?
On the Fourth of July, West posted a tweet heard ‘round the world: “We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future. I am running for president of the United States! #@2020VISION.
It was an OMG [oh my god] moment for the media, which devoted a large chunk of the following 24-hour TV news cycle to West’s announcement. Who could blame them?
Until that moment, cable news shows spent most of Independence Day airing clips of empty beaches in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Anchorpersons seemed to relish the chance to break the monotony by discussing the most bizarre presidential bid since Donald Trump descended a Trump Tower escalator five years ago and labeled many Mexican immigrants criminals.
When you think about it, West’s announcement — which comes less than a year after he and his family bought land in Cody — was a landmark day for Wyoming. The Cowboy State is widely known as the home of Dick Cheney, the Nebraska transplant and Jackson Hole resident who became George W. Bush’s vice president in 2000. Now, here comes the Atlanta-born West, making his first foray into politics by leapfrogging Cheney’s achievement and seeking the nation’s top elected office.
It may be the oddest political pair of “adopted sons” any state has seen.
West’s presidential announcement was instant fodder for fans and critics alike. Few celebrities enthrall and enrage like West. While his musical output is considered some of the modern era’s best, his statements and actions have long confounded the public. Statements like this: “I am God’s vessel. But my greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live.”
Or this inspired bit of braggadocio: “I am Warhol. I am the No. 1 most impactful artist of our generation. I am Shakespeare in the flesh.”
Naturally, many immediately questioned West’s motives in launching an independent presidential bid. Is it an attempt to call attention to “Wash Us in the Blood,” his latest song? Paris Hilton, a socialite whose own attempts at fame pale compared to West’s stellar 16-year musical career, mocked him by tweeting, “PARIS FOR PRESIDENT.”
Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, meanwhile, gushed in a tweet, “You have my full support!”
West’s latest move shouldn’t have come as such a surprise to the world. After all, at the end of his acceptance speech at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards ceremony, West blurted out that he would run for president in 2020.
The musical artist seemed to put that thought on hold in 2018, when he paid a bizarre visit to Trump in the Oval Office, wearing a red MAGA hat and heaping praise on the president. Although he didn’t vote for Trump in 2016, West intimated earlier this year that he will cast his ballot for the incumbent even if it angers his fans.
West can be a walking contradiction. Now he’s apparently running against his idol.
But is he? Several pundits speculated to the New York Daily News that West’s upstart candidacy might just be a ploy to return Trump to the White House. Everyone seems to have a conspiracy theory.
West poses a threat to Democrat Joe Biden as a write-in candidate, according to Rachel Bitecofer of Christopher Newport University, because “young people are stupid as hell. Not a lot will do it — but it wouldn’t take much.”
“[He] is one of the world’s most famous people whose announcement just got a million ‘likes’ and half-million retweets in less than a day,” noted Politico’s Tim Alberta.
X Strategies CEO Derek Utley tweeted that West “will single handedly expose the Democrats and Joe Biden to the black community. After he has accomplished this mission, he will endorse @realDonaldTrump.”
I have no idea whether the 43-year-old West is serious about wanting to be president. However, I do think it’s worth contrasting one of Wyoming’s newest billionaire businessmen with the current White House occupant.
Trump famously once referred to himself as “a very stable genius,” which became the title of a current best seller about his terrible, turbulent presidency. Whether he was kidding or not, West once expressed his intention to legally change his name to “Christian Genius Billionaire.”
Who’s the truth-teller? After nearly four years of Trump’s narcissistic leadership and an approval rating that’s below 40% and sinking, I think it’s safe to conclude that most Americans find the president to be the antithesis of his self-description.
West, though, scores a bull’s-eye on all three of his self-appointed labels. He’s a Christian who frequently addresses his faith in lyrics and interviews. West even flew an 80-member gospel choir from Los Angeles to Cody last year to perform for free at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
West is indeed a musical and business genius who is worth at least a billion dollars. His 21 Grammy Awards speak for themselves, and even before West’s recent Gap designer deal, Forbes pegged his net worth at $1.3 billion.
West’s wealth can enrich Wyoming, too. Jason Kintzler, a Wyoming Business Council board member, told Oil City News that West’s apparel factories “reinforce what I’ve been saying for quite some time — we don’t need to bring new industries here, which is nearly impossible. We need to make this a place where industry leaders want to live.”
The Wests seem to genuinely want to live in Wyoming, where they have marveled about its beauty and the friendliness of their new Cody neighbors.
To critics who think both Trump and West are insufferable egotists, it may be strange to consider the mercurial musician the more genuine of the two. But that appears to be the way the evidence stacks up.
Which is one reason why I would hate to see West’s presidential aspirations succeed. He belongs in Wyoming, not Washington. West can continue recording his music in Jackson and make his own brand of apparel in Cody, serving as a breath of fresh air in the Equality State and an inspiration to youth — all while helping the economy.
West’s career in music and fashion has seldom stumbled, but as a political novice, the D.C Beltway is likely to chew him up and spit him out.
I can think of someone far more deserving of that fate.
WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.
Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and can be reached at [email protected]