In 2013, Charlamagne tha God criticized Kanye West, calling him "Kanye Kardashian," but his feelings about the rapper are not simple. As he explains to Larry Wilmore on the latest episode of Black on the Air, Kanye changed hip-hop and black culture — for the better. But Kanye’s recent legacy is much more complex.
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
Charlamagne tha God: I feel like Kanye used to stand for so much! Kanye was the guy that would go out there and speak about social issues. Kanye got on stage and said "George Bush doesn’t care about black people." Do you know how gangsta that was?
I don’t even know if Kanye realizes the power of his voice. Kanye had two presidents speak on him. Barack Obama called him a jackass, and embraced him a little bit. And George Bush was like, "That hurt my feelings." Do you know how powerful your voice has to be for you to be a rapper and you hurt the president’s feelings? As if he should give a fuck?
And it bothers me just to see Kanye walking around with blond hair, living in Hollywood, caring about fashion. "Do you still care about the people, my brother?"
Larry Wilmore: Well, when you think about his early music, too, Late Registration, The College Dropout, just the sound coming out of those records felt like he was speaking directly …
Charlamagne: Kanye changed black culture for the better.
Wilmore: In what way?
Charlamagne: Hip-hop was so geared toward gangsters, thugs — everyone wanted to be hood. Everyone wanted to be street. Kanye made it cool for you to just be yourself, bro. Like, be yourself. You don’t have to proclaim to be from the street, you don’t have to proclaim to be selling drugs and packing guns, you can just be yourself. Rock your pink polos and be cool.
Wilmore: It wasn’t really like nerd hip-hop. Not really. I guess maybe, in a sense, but everybody thought it was cool.
Charlamagne: It was regular, everyday hip-hop. And I remember the change. It might have been Kanye’s third album. And him and 50 [Cent] went heads up. They were like, "We’re going to put our albums out on the same day and see who sells more." And 50 was like, "If you sell more than me I’m going to retire." ’Cause at the time, Kanye was popping but he wasn’t where 50 was. And then Kanye came out and sold more than him. And Kanye really changed the course of black culture forever because Kanye, now you’ve got the J. Coles and Big Seans and Drakes and Kendricks — all these guys that aren’t afraid to just be themselves. None of those guys are trying to be hood. None of those guys are trying to be thugs.