It was the tweetstorm heard ’round the world: Wednesday night, Kanye West unleashed a barrage of tweets at Wiz Khalifa. The incident started after Kanye took to the Twittersphere to announce that he had renamed his forthcoming album Waves, rather than the previously announced Swish. Wiz responded to the news, asking Kanye to respect the legacy of imprisoned rapper Max B, who is credited with bringing waviness to hip hop. (Max B has also responded to West in a track called “My Wave (A Message to Kanye West).”) Finally, Wiz tweeted this, which triggered Kanye’s protectiveness of his wife, Kim (kk), big time:
And so began Kanye’s bizarre string of tweets discussing Wiz’s pants, Kanye’s image issues, and the fact that Wiz allegedly owes his whole shtick to Kid Cudi. The kicker, though, was when Kanye brought up the sex work of his ex Amber Rose, who is also Wiz’s ex and the mother of Wiz’s child. And she responded, which is when things truly got interesting, because suddenly we were all thinking about ass-play.
Masterful use of hashtags aside, there are a few ways to look at Rose’s tweet:
The first is that all political correctness was off the table once Kanye’s just-below-the-surface misogyny reared its head and he shamed Rose for her past as a sex worker, and so she was completely in the right to evoke ass-play as a diss.
The second way to look at her tweet is to praise it for its subversiveness, and to bow to Rose for her ability to so efficiently undermine the über-masculine identity Kanye supposedly wants to embody. She knew that all she had to do to emasculate someone so (seemingly) concerned with being viewed as a mainstream symbol of the all-powerful phallus was mention a pretty standard heterosexual sex act. Some form of this thinking is the most popular, and the one responsible for all of the celebratory blog posts out there. (From Fox Sports: “Kanye West Gets Killed By A Stripper On Twitter”? Really?)
This is, ahem, problematic, though, because the entire purpose of the tweet has to have been to make Kanye look gay. That is to say, celebrating Rose’s tweet gives power to the idea that it’s belittling, or an insult, to saddle a straight man with a predilection for butt stuff that is perceived to be gay. In 2016, this shouldn’t be the case, especially among the progressive media set. But it especially shouldn’t be the case for Kanye West, who has spoken out against the rampant homophobia in the rap world. Apparently Rose did get to him, though, because Kanye felt the need to say this:
Like most of Kanye’s controversies, this whole discussion is more complicated than it would seem. Arguments about his layered misogyny — ones supported by his tweets about Rose — are grounded in, at the very least, the content of his songs. Arguments about Kanye’s obsession with masculinity, on the other hand, are unfounded, based only on our own perception of blackness and homophobia in black communities, particularly the hip-hop community. So it might seem safe to assume that Kanye falls in line with the perceived norm in that community. But there’s proof that, for most of his adult life, Kanye has been, at the very least, accepting of gay people.
Take, for instance, the above MTV News clip from 2005, in which Kanye discusses how his need for a masculine figure in his life led him to an initial embrace of his community’s homophobia, only to later learn that his own cousin was gay, forcing him to confront his bias. There’s also his longtime obsession with fashion — an interest that has, however inaccurately, historically been associated with gayness — which has only recently translated to Kanye being an actual fashion designer. For a straight man like West to participate so openly in fashion, to fawn over things like design and wearing “skinny jeans,” you’d assume that the dude was secure in his identity. But if Kanye is so comfortable in his manhood, as he told Sway in 2009, why buy into Rose’s ploy by responding to her tweets? Because Kanye has to have the last word, and he’s actually insecure as hell. And he also knows that the public, and more importantly his fans, are not as progressive as he is.
I have a bad habit of giving Kanye the benefit of the doubt, so I won’t do that here. I don’t believe Kanye was immune to Rose’s tweet and yet consciously defended himself because he was afraid of the way his fans might perceive him if they were left to think that he was cool with being “accused” of being down with ass-play. Because, throughout this entire three-day Twitter tirade, Kanye has only been defending what he sees as his integrity. He is a master planner, but he is also an intense defender of himself, and of his family. It’s why Kanye didn’t go off on Wiz’s initial criticism of the name of Waves — he only went off when he misinterpreted a tweet to mean that Wiz was making a public pass at Kim. And it’s also why, unfortunately, Kanye was forced to respond to Amber Rose, who brought the most personal part of Kanye — his ass — into the public conversation.
The hashtag, the blog posts, the currently trending #KanyeAnalPlaylist: to Kanye, he had no choice, he had to defend himself. And so he did, in his own neurotic, rambling way.
To write further on this, and on Kanye’s motivation throughout, would be pure speculation. Rose’s motivation is clear, though: she wanted to humiliate Kanye, her ex-boyfriend, in the public sphere. He deserved some humiliation. But it says so much about how pernicious a force homophobia remains that an artist so outwardly secure in his sexuality can be so publicly shamed for a sex act that doesn’t even qualify as gay. (I repeat: ass-play is not only for gay men.) And his tweets are still there, among the other 296 highly curated tweets in his feed, none of which address his private life outside of his love for his wife and children. So, suddenly, the man who has made what he says will be the “album of the life” has deemed necessary this defense of his asshole, of his presumed straightness.
I won’t charge Rose with making a homophobic remark, because she’s obviously smarter than that. She didn’t simply come out and call Kanye gay. Instead, she mobilized the hip-hop community’s continued association of gayness with femininity and weakness. This isn’t any better or worse than Kanye’s tweet, and yet somehow it is being honored as a stupendous roast. It shouldn’t be. There didn’t have to be a winner in this beef, but Kanye went ahead and made himself the loser by responding to Rose’s tweet and validating its underlying message, which is that it isn’t OK to be gay. Or to even like butt stuff.