Cancel culture is not done with Kanye

OPINION: Cancel culture or the idea that Kanye should be held accountable for his antisemitism has become a strong headwind holding him back.

Kanye West is seen on October 21, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rachpoot/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Right now, Kanye is experiencing both the limitations of cancel culture and impact of it. His new album, “Vultures 1,” debuted at No. 1 on Apple Music and iTunes. (What cancel culture? Lots of fans still want to hear his music!) Then Apple Music and iTunes dropped the album. (Oh, you mean that cancel culture.) But then Spotify began streaming it, and he became the most streamed artist of the moment on Spotify. That said, the album is on pace to sell about 140,000 units this week making it one of the worst opening weeks Kanye has ever had.  

Kanye has become even more polarizing than he was before. One former Spotify employee told Billboard, “There’s going to be a difference of opinion within those places [streaming companies] on how to handle it. Some people in leadership positions will want to be harsh on Kanye for the nasty antisemitic things he has said. There will also be another side, the hip-hop teams who will say… We don’t care.” 

I’ve asked if it’s even OK to listen to a new Kanye album and that sentiment is spreading. Recently, the internet’s favorite music reviewer Anthony Fantano said “Vultures 1” was “unreviewable trash” — but at least he listened to it and didn’t just dismiss it because of Kanye’s comments, right? Nope. In Fantano’s “review,” he started with a long discussion of how Kanye’s antisemitism makes it impossible to deal with him purely as a musician. “What am I supposed to do?” Fantano said. “Tell the Jews in my audience, ‘Aw c’mon man, he didn’t mean it. It’s not so bad. He’s just a little crazy. Especially since he’s not doing anything to gain forgiveness?” It’s true that his apology was superlame. (That’s the part that makes it unreviewable, but Fantano does get around to actually reviewing the music and declares it wack.)

Kanye still has thousands of fans who will pay $140 to attend a listening session for his new album. There are lots of people — mostly young men — who continue to support him, and l argue that Kanye didn’t really, really mean those things, he’s just trying to get attention, or that they really don’t care what he said and we all should just separate the art from the artist. 

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Because of them, Kanye still has thousands of fans who will jump at the chance to buy his clothes. He said he generated $19 million in sales of merchandise in the hours after the Super Bowl and used that as proof that he cannot be canceled — look, enough people still love me that I can make millions whenever I want. David Salinas, a branding expert, pointed out on TikTok that Kanye likely made little to no profit from the millions he grossed but let’s not get bogged down in the details. Kanye now believes that he can’t be canceled as long as he has the ability to create great things and thousands of devoted fans. Also, recently, he said he was just two months away from going bankrupt, but again, that’s just details.

Cancel culture or the idea that Kanye should be held accountable for his antisemitism has become a strong headwind holding him back. “Vultures 1” could have been much bigger. The world of opportunities that was once available to him is no longer there. Major corporations from Apple Music to Adidas have decided that they would not work with him no matter how much it costs them. He can’t get multinational entities to do what he wants the way he once did. Another major national stadium tour may be out of reach. Major endorsement deals will never again come his way. He’ll never host the Super Bowl halftime show. 

But I can’t help but think he’s also getting some help from the backlash to cancel culture. Some people think it’s fine to separate the art and the artist. Some think it’s fun to rally around an attacked person. Some say no one can tell me who to hate. 

To me, it seems quite lazy to try to separate the art from the artist in a situation like this where Kanye’s offenses are so grave and his response to the collective anger has been so pathetic. Also, in his lyrics, Kanye is talking about and making fun of the idea that he’s antisemitic so how do you separate? It’s hard to separate the art and the artist when the artist’s personality is so deeply woven into the art and the artist’s personality has led to him saying many, many horrific and hurtful things. 

It’s never been truly clear what being canceled really means. Sometimes it means lots of people are mad at someone for a little while. Other times, it means someone gets forced out of an industry they worked in for decades. For Kanye, it has been something else entirely. He now thinks, “We survived through the cancellation,” but that’s because he’s blind. Kanye is not past cancellation. He has changed the way people think about him forever. Yes, he’s still wealthy (as of now) and there are still doors in entertainment that are not closed to him, but many important doors are closed to him. He will pay a heavy price for the things he said for a very long time. 


Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of Masters of the Game on theGrioTV. He is also the host and creator of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s” and the animated show “Star Stories with Toure” which you can find at He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.

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