The new gold rush: profiting off Kanye West’s pain

LEVEL Editors
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7 min readJul 10, 2020


Welcome to Minority Report, a weekly newsletter from the LEVEL team that packs an entire week into a single email. From Kanye being Kanye to the week in racism, from pop-culture picks to a must-read LEVEL story, it’s everything you need and nothing you don’t. If you’re loving what you’re reading, tell a friend to tell a friend.

In an age of surprise albums, never let it be said that you don’t know a Kanye West project is coming. His Twitter account ramps back up — slowly at first, then picking up speed. He starts calling journalists. Inevitably, he starts saying things that make you worry about Kanye West.

The week before The Life of Pablo dropped, it was “BILL COSBY INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!!” (That one came on the heels of a 17-point screed/apology combo aimed at Wiz Khalifa and various other Ye-typical behavior.) Before Ye — in fact, probably during the recording of Ye — it was him announcing his Candace Owens fandom, that Donald Trump had “dragon energy,” and that slavery “sounds like a choice to me.” Right before Yandhi was supposed to drop, it was his infamous SNL Trump tirade. (That one was followed by an actual White House visit to see his red-hat bestie.)

And now, before God’s Country, it’s been … well, it’s been a lot.

The POTUS pronouncement was followed by a four hours-long call to Forbes in which Kanye called vaccines “the mark of the beast,” described Black History Month as “torture porn,” and dropped a sentence that’s straight-up Trumpian in its incoherence: “This is not going to be some Nipsey Hussle being murdered, they’re doing a documentary, we have so many soldiers that die for our freedom, our freedom of information, that there is a cure for AIDS out there, there is going to be a mix of big pharma and holistic.” June might have been #WESTDAYEVER, but July is starting to feel like #AWESTOFTALENT.

As easy as it is to chalk this all up to Kanye entering a manic state, as TMZ has reported — in the past, he’s said that he stopped taking medication for his bipolar disorder after it dulled his creative drive — that’s not the whole story. Kanye’s a singularly talented musical artist, but he’s also the victim of two drives that push him to these legacy-destroying decisions. One is a yawning insecurity; the other is a media complex that both enables and profits off his worst impulses.

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The first time I met Kanye West, a few months before Graduation, everything was great until it wasn’t. He played me the rough cut of the video for “Stronger”; we talked about Akira and sneakers and porn. Very 2007 conversation. But at one point we changed locations, and wound up walking down a busy SoHo block looking for the building he was supposed to meet people in. I noticed the elusive address number only after he’d hurried by it, so called out to him: “I think this is it.” That was it, but that was also it for our rapport; as soon as we got upstairs, he told people that I’d laughed at him like he was a fool for walking past. (Just to be clear: I hadn’t.) In his mind, I’d humiliated him.

Graduation, of course, turned Kanye West from Kanye Tudda, a backpacker with luxury dreams, into a global phenomenon. But it didn’t wipe away whatever internal processes had led him to that cognitive leap. The bigger Ye got, the more he was convinced that the worlds of media and design and tech were mocking him — and the more he gave them to mock. Megalomaniacal statements, half-cocked and ill-considered tantrums.

Outlets didn’t take long to learn that there was traffic in the trainwreck. When Forbes triumphantly posted its story about that four-hour interview, did they give any context? Did they print any of the questions they’d asked him? No. That’s too much like nuance. Instead, they plunked his unfiltered thinking bare on the page and reveled in the glow of being relevant. (It wasn’t the first time; in another Forbes article verifying West’s billion-dollar net worth, the writer gleefully claimed that West had become obsessed, texting him for months about the fact that the magazine had underestimated his fortune.)

So yeah, Kanye’s got an album coming. Yeah, Kanye’s clearly going through some shit. But this isn’t about missing the old Kanye. It’s about a man who’s always had something to prove — and a system that proves him right by profiting off his pain. Guess he had #2020VISION after all.

Peter Rubin, executive editor

This Week in Racism

🗑 (Campaigning) Florida Man Claims Beyoncé Ain’t Black, Will Probably Become President Now

Kanye West’s aforementioned verbal vomit in Forbes wasn’t the only bizarre stream-of-consciousness rant to spill this week. Aspiring Florida congressman KW Miller, perhaps taking cues from Joe Biden, flexed his #Qanon-believing Twitter fingers to claim that Beyoncé is not African-American, but rather [peers at notes] an Italian devil worshipper whose real name is Ann Marie Lastrassi. Furthermore, Miller suggested that the megastar is [does double-take at notes] in cahoots with billionaire George Soros in an effort to advance the Black Lives Matter movement, and [rips up notes] is “faking this for exposure.” After putting Bey “ON NOTICE”, he went on to extend that treatment to “BIG TIME SOCIALISTS” and “MUCH OF THE ILLUMINATI.” Hopefully, he’ll do the same with his DERMATOLOGIST — because homie, SUN DAMAGE is REAL. (Mic)

🗑 MAGA Duo Caught Red-Hatted Vandalizing BLM Mural, Charged With Hate Crime

The fight against systemic racism in America is taking form as a battle of arts and crafts, with Black Lives Matter street murals in Chicago, Vermont, and the Bay Area all getting defaced this week. In Martinez, California, a woman covered over a BLM slogan with — ironically enough — black paint, while her partner urged her on, saying, “The narrative of police brutality, the narrative of oppression, the narrative of racism, it’s a lie.” The Trump-touting Cali vandals, who had the brilliant idea to film themselves in the act, have been charged with a hate crime. And hopefully an IQ test. (Forbes)

🗑 Country Band Changes Name in Support of Black Lives Matter, Decides Black Intellectual Property Doesn’t

In a classic act of performative allyship, country band Lady Antebellum truncated its name to “Lady A” last month to distance itself from the term’s slavery subtext. And now they’re back in the news for — you guessed it! — a lawsuit that reeks of White entitlement. The band is seeking trademark rights to its newly chosen name — which is weird, because it happens to already belong to a Black soul singer named Anita White, who’s been performing under said moniker for years. Makes you wonder whether the name Jim Crow was taken, too. (The Hollywood Reporter)

The LEVEL Up: Culture Picks From the Editors

🎥 Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado

There are three deities in Latinx households: Jesus, Bustelo, and Walter Mercado. Netflix’s new documentary about the famous Puerto Rican astrologer feels like a virtual transport to your abuelita’s living room, plastic couch covers and all. The documentary, filmed before Mercado’s 2019 death, doesn’t shy away from some of the complicated issues surrounding the caped and coiffed icon — and turns his oft-repeated phrase, “Sobre todo, mucho, mucho amor,” from a tagline into a lifestyle. (Netflix)

📖 An Oral History of Pop Smoke’s Posthumous Debut Album, Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon

Pop Smoke was on track to be a pop star before his murder in February — for which five people were recently arrested — a sad truth made crystal-clear by his posthumous debut album, Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon. With that glossy, star-studded release set for a №1 chart placement, Complex rounded up the protectors of the late drill rapper’s musical legacy to tell the story of its creation. In a comprehensive cover story, everyone from friend/collaborator Quavo to executive producer/idol 50 Cent to manager/label head Steven Victor shares insights on Pop’s incredible life after death. (Complex)

📺 Hannibal Buress: Miami Nights

With Netflix throwing mountains of cash at standup legends like Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock, Chi-town’s finest went another way for his latest special: YouTube. And the result is as dry and askew as Buress’ best work. From some wildly creative editing to a stellar retelling of his 2018 Miami arrest, it’s a solid reminder that sometimes the best comedy is found in the strangest places. (YouTube)

LEVEL Read of the Week

To Learn How Racism Lives in Design, Just Cross the Street

“Wait for the little white man before we can cross the street,” a woman tells her young daughter while waiting at a crosswalk — and a writer goes down a rabbit hole to find out why. Just because something doesn’t use an offensive mascot, it turns out, doesn’t mean it can’t reinforce a broken system. Read the story.

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