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'Quite Something': Kanye West Makes A Statement In The Oval Office

Oct 11, 2018
Originally published on October 11, 2018 4:53 pm

Updated at 4:15 p.m. ET

It was surreal moment even for a White House accustomed to surreal moments.

During a meeting with President Trump, Kanye West delivered animated and wide-ranging remarks on issues from the 13th Amendment to U.S. manufacturing.

West spoke to reporters for nearly 10 minutes in the Oval Office. Wearing a red "Make America Great Again" hat, he repeatedly complimented Trump, who nodded in agreement.

West said he loved everyone — including Trump's former presidential rival, Hillary Clinton — but he said he could relate to Trump's "male energy."

"It was something about when I put this hat on, it made me feel like Superman," West said. "You made a Superman cape for me, also, as someone who looks up to you ... looks up to American industry guys."

West touched on many, many other issues as well, including his own mental health. He said he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but that "a neuropsychologist who works with athletes from the NBA and NFL" told him that he simply had sleep deprivation, "which could cause dementia 10 to 20 years from now."

West said that when he tells liberals that he likes Trump, they tell him, "Oh, but he's racist." His voice rising, West said, "You think racism can control me? That don't stop me, that's an invisible wall."

He told a reporter at the photo op that he doesn't answer questions "in simple soundbites," saying, "You are tasting a fine wine — it has multiple notes to it."

One of the subjects he said he was planning to discuss with the president is sentencing reform, saying stop and frisk "does not help relationships" in his home city of Chicago. Trump, who has called for police in the city to adopt the controversial practice, then said he is "open-minded" on the issue.

Trump was asked whether he thought West could be a future presidential candidate, and responded "could very well be."

"Only after 2024," West added.

West then said, "Let's stop worrying about the future, all we really have is today."

He said Trump is "on a hero's journey right now, and he might not have expected to have a crazy motherf***** like Kanye West" support him.

After West finished speaking, Trump, who is known for his own stream-of consciousness speaking style, said, "I tell you what — that was pretty impressive."

"That was quite something," Trump added.

West was joined in the Oval Office by legendary football player and activist Jim Brown.

The two men were at the White House for a working lunch with Trump that was supposed to be focused on clemency, crime in Chicago and economic investment in urban areas.

Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, also attended the lunch.

Kushner has taken the lead in pushing a White House initiative to better prepare prisoners to re-enter society.

Both Brown and West have been vocal supporters of the president. Trump has returned the favor by praising the two men on Twitter and at campaign rallies.

Trump, who has had low approval ratings from African-Americans, often links the support of West and Brown to his administration's relationship with the black community. He argues the two men back him because of low black unemployment and other economic gains that have happened on his watch.

He told Fox News on Thursday that he believes West has boosted his standing with African-Americans, although he offered no evidence.

"I have a lot of African-American support and a lot has developed over the last little while with Kanye coming out and Jim Brown's been there for a long time," Trump said.

West is not the first member of his family to meet with Trump. His wife, reality TV star Kim Kardashian West, has worked with the White House on criminal justice reform and clemency issues.

She visited the White House in May seeking clemency for Alice Marie Johnson, who was serving a life sentence in federal prison for a first-time drug offense. Shortly after the visit, Trump commuted Johnson's sentence.

Kardashian West also attended a White House roundtable discussion last month focused on the clemency process.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It was a surreal moment even for a White House used to surreal moments. There he was. Kanye West wearing a red Make America Great Again hat sitting across from President Trump in the Oval Office surrounded by reporters and cameras. West spoke in stream-of-consciousness fashion about everything from violence in his hometown of Chicago to prison reform to the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, to his love of President Trump. Let's give you a taste of what Kanye West had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KANYE WEST: There was something about - when I put this hat on, it made me feel like "Superman." You made a superman. I was - that's my favorite superhero.

CHANG: "Superman" is his favorite superhero. It went on like that for quite a while. All right, NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe joins us now from the White House to make complete total sense out of all of this. Hey, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hello.

CHANG: Let's start with the why. Why was Kanye even there today?

RASCOE: He was here because he is a big supporter of President Trump. He and Trump - they've been exchanging compliments for a while. It really picked up after West wore the Make America Great Again hat on "Saturday Night Live," which was controversial. And West had a lot of praise for Trump in the Oval Office. Here's some more of what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WEST: What I need "Saturday Night Live" to improve on or what I need the liberals to improve on is, if he don't look good, we don't look good. This is our president.

RASCOE: West was joined at that meeting by legendary football player Jim Brown. And Trump really - he talks about West and Brown on a regular basis because they are two of his highest profile African-American supporters.

CHANG: Sure.

RASCOE: and Trump claims that West coming out in support of him has boosted his standing in the African - with the African-American community. And now Trump hasn't offered any real evidence of that, but that's what he says. And what Trump usually does at rallies and on Twitter is he will mention Kanye West or Jim Brown. And then he will talk about how black unemployment is lower since he took office and these other economic indicators that are better for black people. And he basically says that people like West and Brown, quote, "get it," and they see the benefits of backing him.

CHANG: OK, so how about the conversation? Do we even know what they talked about today?

RASCOE: They were supposed to talk about a lot of things. And some of them very serious, like investing in urban communities, addressing crime and violence in Chicago and about clemency. And on the issue of clemency and criminal justice reform, those have been priorities for none other than Jared Kushner in the White House - and because of that focus, there's some overlap with some of West's interests. Kim Kardashian West, his wife, has already been working with the Trump administration on these issues. She's been to the White House on two occasions, and she successfully advocated for clemency for a woman who had been given a life sentence for a first-time drug offense.

CHANG: What was the main message that Kanye West wanted to bring on criminal justice reform?

RASCOE: A lot of what he seemed to talk about publicly was that - about the freeing of Larry Hoover, who was a leader and founder of the Chicago gang Gangster Disciples, who is now in a supermax prison serving multiple life sentences. This is a case that is different from usually the cases that prison reform advocates usually like to highlight. They like to look at people who are more - who have committed nonviolent offenses and who maybe got really extreme sentences. But we really don't know what's going to come out of this and whether this might just be more of a photo-op for West and Trump.

CHANG: All right. That's NPR's Ayesha Rascoe. Thank you, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ODDISEE SONG, "WANT SOMETHING DONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.