Not many people can get Kanye West to let his guard down like Charlamagne Tha God. The host of the nationally syndicated radio show The Breakfast Club proved that in a raw and revealing one-on-one interview that was released online Tuesday.
In the nearly two-hour-long sit-down — filmed just as West returned to Twitter, but before he got real messy politically — West discusses his infamous Taylor Swift feud, his fallout with Jay-Z and Beyoncé, his love for Donald Trump, and more. “It was just Kanye being human, vulnerable, and just having a real conversation,” Charlamagne tells Cosmopolitan.com in an exclusive interview. “[He’s] letting us know where he’s been and what he’s been through.”
Cosmopolitan.com spoke with Charlamagne Tuesday night — after West’s controversial appearance on TMZ, during which he said that slavery “was a choice” — and he shared his thoughts on West’s “love everybody” message, how he responded to being told he looked like a “damn fool” on TMZ, and why his praise for Trump is like “dancing with the devil.”
On how the big interview came about:
Kanye hit me up back in February, and he told me he was interested in sitting down and having a conversation — to show people what his mind state was. He finally felt like he was in a space to talk, because he had been going through so many things, as far as his mental breakdown or mental “breakthrough,” as he likes to call it.
Kanye hired the camera crew. He [edited and] put that whole thing together, 100 percent. I happened to be in LA for a couple of weeks, so we got it done then — [it was filmed] three weeks ago, on April 18.
We taped from like 11 a.m. to 11 at night, literally all day. I think we got the good side of the Gemini — Kanye being human, letting his guard down, being vulnerable. It was a great day all around.
On how its timing affected his line of Trump questions:
The interview happened before the MAGA hat photos, before he’d started really expressing his love for Donald Trump. So my Trump questions were based off the rant he did last year at a concert when he was saying how he would’ve voted for Trump, and his appearance at Trump Tower. Kanye, right now, expressing his love for Donald Trump — [I think] everyone telling him he can’t do it is making him double and triple down on it.
[Before they got politically driven,] I thought his tweets were very clear. They were spiritual, about intention and mindset. Kanye is always going to be Kanye. He is always going to be outspoken. He’s always going to say exactly how he feels. He’s always going to trust his gut. I think in a lot of ways, Kanye’s superpower is his weakness — if you tell him he can’t do something, he’s going to go hard at it.
My biggest hope is that Kanye is actually listening to what everybody is telling him, because we’re all telling him the same thing. Whether it’s me, Van [Lathan], T.I., John Legend, we’re all telling him the same exact thing just in different ways. I don’t like to see him dance with the devil and that’s what it seems like he’s doing by cuddling up with the Trump administration.
And on the impact of West’s endorsements:
You can have freedom of thought. You can have freedom of speech. But you need to be informed about what you’re cosigning. I don’t think that he’s informed about Trump’s policies and ideologies. Trump’s not a rapper, bro. He’s the President of the United States of America, and he’s suppressing and marginalizing a lot of the people that you claim to care about. If you care about those people the way that you say you do, then you wouldn’t be so quick to put your arm around him and say, “I love him. This is my brother.”
Black people are the only ones told to love our oppressors. I hate that. We’ve been loving our oppressors for a long time and nothing has changed — that love has to be reciprocated. I feel like right now this truce is one-sided. I don’t see [Trump] doing anything but using Kanye West to sell hats and normalize hate.
If Kanye does get a seat at that table, cool. I just want him to be armed with information. I want him to really speak up for the people who don’t have a voice. I’m not here to judge. I genuinely do feel empathy for the brother, but no ignorance will be tolerated either. Not when you have that kind of platform. You can’t be posting texts from friends telling you that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and Republicans are the only ones who did things for black people. Those are only half-truths.
On West’s “ridiculous” comments on TMZ about slavery:
Those comments about slavery were ridiculous. I don’t agree with that at all. Slavery was definitely not a choice in any way shape or form. I saw some follow-up tweets that he posted [Tuesday night] where he was trying to communicate that he wasn’t talking about physical slavery, he was talking about mental slavery now, but… Kanye’s into fashion, so this is what I tell Kanye all the time: when you’re in your factory and you have people in there cutting fabric, those people are measuring twice so that they only have to cut once, because you can’t waste fabric. That’s how I tell him he has to be with his thoughts. You have to measure twice, so you can cut once.
There’s a way to express people being in psychological bondage and not dismiss 400 years of literal, physical slavery. That’s just the truth of the matter, and it lets a lot of people down. Those 400 years of slavery and segregation are what got people into the position they’re in right now. We’re just starting to climb our way out of it, so don’t dismiss that.
And on TMZ staffer Van Lathan’s on-air response to West’s comments:
I’m glad Van was there in that moment to speak up, to 100 percent check that. Any black man with some balls in that moment is going to stand up and shut that all the way down. That’s why Van is a close friend of mine, because he don’t bite his tongue.
Van did what he was supposed to do. That’s not my moment. That’s Van’s moment. And, by the way, neither of us were looking for a moment. We’re just doing what we do.
On what he told West after seeing TMZ Live:
The first time I interviewed Kanye was on The Breakfast Club in 2013. [Since then,] every now and then, he would call me to ask my advice on something. We never were not cool, but we definitely got cooler on a personal level actually talking about kids, life, being married and getting older. That don’t mean I won’t hold his feet to the fire.
I told him he looked like a damn fool on TMZ and that Van was 100 percent correct. I told him to go take a nap. I’m dead serious. I told him to go take a nap, say a prayer, hug his wife, kiss his kids, disconnect. He took it. He wasn’t upset. He was like, “That’s what was supposed to happen. My spirit told me to go to TMZ.”
And on why he thinks West needs therapy:
I don’t think he’s in a sunken place, [but] it don’t feel good. This energy don’t feel right. Before TMZ Live, I was perplexed. But then that interview came out, and people were thinking, “I was feeling him with Charlamagne, but now…” You don’t want to label anyone incorrectly, but I suggested therapy to him in our interview. He said the world is his therapy, but there’s nothing wrong with getting a therapist. I go to a therapist every week.
I’m praying it’s a phase. It’s definitely not a publicity stunt. This man sold so many sneakers last year! Everybody’s like, “Oh, he’s just trying to sell something.” I’m, like, “Kanye has never stopped trying to sell y’all something.”
I think that Kanye is really challenging himself. He really believes this love campaign that he’s on. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that he’s still grieving the loss of his mother, and he’s trying to replace that hurt that he feels for that with love. I think his way of healing is to love everybody, but everybody is not worth your love. You’ve got to protect your heart.
This interview has been edited for clarity and condensed.