‘I Don’t Want to Defend Him’

by AryanArtnews
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‘I Don’t Want to Defend Him’
Kanye West in a hoodie next to a Ye tattoo

Photo: Rachpoot/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images and courtesy of subject

You thought Kanye West’s views – on slavery, abortion, Jewish people; take your pick – couldn’t get any worse, but then he went and said bluntly “I like Hitler” on Alex Jones’s Infowars Show. “Everybody has something of value that they brought to the table,” he told the sometimes visibly uncomfortable right-wing conspiracy theorist, “especially Hitler.”

Ye’s spiraling behavior, including public harassment his ex-wife Kim Kardashian and fraternize with Trumphas caused many fans to give up on the once acclaimed rapper and producer. Still, his music has inspired millions of young people, and it’s not unusual to have a Kanye tattoo – though people understandably now feel significantly differently about inking the rapper’s face on their body. London-based tattoo removal company NAAMA Studios even went viral after they offered to remove Ye tats free, or, in their words, “Yeezy come, Yeezy go”.

VICE spoke to some of Kanye’s biggest tattooed fans and biggest ex-fans to see how they now feel about having the rapper permanently etched on their skin.

Chance, 20

I got my tattoo about a year ago, I was a Life of Pablo fan and the higher tattoo is art of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I watched all his interviews. I just liked that he hasn’t taken no for an answer in a long time, but now he’s definitely taken it way too far.

An arm of a Kanye West fan showing off My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy tattoo art

Photo: Courtesy of Chance

He was really a visionary to me, started a church and a school, even though many people told him he couldn’t. But when I heard the comments he made on the Alex Jones show, I was just like, damn. There aren’t many different perspectives on mass genocide. There is really only one right side. Personally, I wouldn’t get it covered because the album is deeper than the person. If I had a tattoo of Kanye’s face [though]I would be tempted to get rid of it.

An arm showing a Kanye West face tattoo

Zee, 23

I got my tattoo almost six years ago in 2017. I was just 18 and this was my first tattoo. I was obviously a big Kanye fan, but three months after I got it, he said slavery was a choice and my fucking jaw dropped. That’s when it all started.

I’ve been looking for ways to cover it for the past three years, but the only option seemed to be a black rectangle. I got this because I thought it was funny but now it’s getting quite serious – it’s not funny [anymore]i don’t enjoy it

I don’t wear waistcoats much, I wear baggy shirts. If it’s visible, I get a lot of questions about it. Since 2017 it has been just constant [from Ye], his words are not a one-off. There’s no fucking way I’m getting a person tattooed again – only inanimate objects. I started removing it this week. It will take a number of sessions, but it already feels like massive relief. I took advantage of these free sessions offered by NAAMA Studios, otherwise I couldn’t afford it – I wouldn’t be able to shell out four rand to get it removed.

Side by side photo of Kanye West leg tattoo art

Liam, 31

The first one I got was Kanye’s name tattooed on me in 2012. I have another on my leg and then a Donda piece most recently, two months ago. I don’t think anything he said is going to ruin my opinion of him and his legacy, but I can understand other people’s frustrations. I think some people jump on the bandwagon without reading the full details. He usually explains after a while what he really meant. Things are a bit more extreme right now – like, can we appreciate Hitler and Putin? In what sense? But I don’t believe that’s what he really thinks.

Leg tattoo of Kanye West's face as a tattoo next to Graduation bear

I’ve been listening to Kanye all day. I think download his music from streaming services is ridiculous when there are many people who have committed real crimes who are still around. I get a lot of people questioning my tattoos, but I take it with a grain of salt. I had many discussions and almost arguments about it.

Arm Showing My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Ballerina Tattoo

Photo: courtesy of Arthur

Arthur, 30

I have a ballerina tattoo of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – I got it in 2020 because he is a genius, I love how he puts jazz and soul music into rap songs.

For me, it is especially difficult to see his current behavior as a black person. It’s hard to see him being friends with Marilyn Manson. He has health problems, but that’s no excuse – since the pandemic, his mental problems have kind of gotten worse. I don’t agree with his politics.

Ever since that Alex Jones video I stopped listening to him. It’s the only thing I can do, unfortunately. Right now I don’t think I’ll listen to the song I have tattooed on me. In ten years I don’t know, but not now. I like the cartoon of the art – if someone asks me, I’ll just say it was a random ballerina from Google.

Arm Showing Kanye West Fan Tattoo Art

Jack, 37

I have this tattoo on [Kanye’s] 40th birthday, it was an impulsive decision and I got comments on social media like “Well that’s a waste of a very good arm”. I didn’t care, all I cared about was the world knowing that this is what I love about music. I thought it was no different from your Metallica wrist logo, your John Lennon “Imagine” shoulder sketch.

I’m not sure what to think now – has he taken it too far? Absolutely, his comments lately are those of someone who hasn’t fully experienced the effects of what it’s really like to be completely abandoned by your previous forms of support and income. We as a society have always just written the whole thing off as “oh that’s just Kanye being Kanye” and he’s certainly self-aware enough to know that he’s still got a few of those cards in his hand.

Arm tattoo of Kanye West's Graduation bear

Photo: Courtesy of Parker

Parker, 23

I have the Graduation ceremony tattoo about a year ago. I can separate art and artist but when the artist [is spreading] this level of hate, it’s very difficult. The album is from 2007 – it wasn’t the same Kanye in 2007. It’s a nice visual thing, but I don’t support him as a person. I don’t follow a celebrity too much, so for years I didn’t have much of an opinion, but more recently what he said touched me more. I probably wouldn’t get that tattoo again or have it so clearly on my forearm. I’m more detached from his music now – it has a huge feel to it now.

Forearm tattoo of Kanye West's Graduation bear

Jay, 23

I was 18 years old, had just graduated. I won’t deny that he was a musical genius for the 20 years he produced. I loved that he was outspoken about the bigotry in the design industry and music industry. Within the past years and months, it has become much more difficult to defend him.

I don’t want to defend him. There is no reason for him to continue the hate that he is. I wouldn’t say it’s absolute regret [for the tat] because I know what it means to me personally, but I do feel that it might leave a bad first impression on someone. If I could go back and not find it I probably would or if I could remove it completely I probably would. Usually when people ask I say I enjoy the music and it was a while ago – but a lot of the time people think it’s a teddy bear or a care bear so I let them think so.


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