“Oh God, I’m scared,” David Letterman says. He’s pacing backstage before his interview with Kanye West for the first episode of his Netflix show’s second season. The first season of My Next Guest Needs No Introduction kicked off with President Barack Obama, but Letterman seems genuinely more nervous about sitting down with Kanye.
The hour-long conversation that follows—this episode and four others all start streaming next Friday, May 31—is not only one of the best interviews Letterman has ever conducted, it’s also one of the most coherent and engaging interviews Kanye has ever given, even if it does go off the rails at times.
Over the course of the episode, the two men cover many subjects including music, fashion and Kanye’s relationships with his mother, who passed more than a decade ago, and his father, who is still alive. Throughout the episode, Kim Kardashian West can be seen in the audience smiling or nodding thoughtfully depending on the topic.
Midway through, there is an excursion to the couple’s house, where Letterman spends several minutes trying on pieces from the Yeezy collection—and goes home looking pretty fantastic in his new ensemble. “You look really good,” Kim tells him.
At one point, during a discussion about his lyrics, Kanye begins to say, “An artist which I will not mention, because I’m not allowed to mention him or any of his family members…” This of course piques the interest of Letterman, who says, “That’s fairly provocative.”
“Well, we had a little beef last year,” Kanye says, before revealing that he is referring to Drake. “He has this line that I love that says, ‘I told my story and made history’—like made his story and made history. That’s what we do, we tell our story and then people relate to that story.” But then, he adds, people latch onto that story and get mad when it goes in a direction they don’t expect.
“I have a friend who told me that my power is my influence,” Kanye continues. “And I said my power is my ability to not be influenced.”
All Letterman can say in response is, “Wow, this is pretty good.”
The meat of the interview comes in the second half of the episode when Letterman digs in on Kanye’s struggles with mental health. “When you’re bipolar, you have the potential to ramp up and it can take you to a point where you start acting erratic, as TMZ would put it,” the rapper says, referencing his on-air meltdown at that outlet’s offices last year.
Kanye, who has been off medication for nearly a year, also acknowledges the reality that his disease may help fuel his creativity. “If you guys want these crazy ideas and these crazy stages and this crazy music and this crazy way of thinking,” he says, “there’s a chance if might come from a crazy person.”
Then, of course, there is Kanye’s bizarre love affair with President Donald Trump. When Letterman had Obama on his show last year, he pointedly did not ask him to address his successor directly and again here he does not bring up Trump. But thankfully, Kanye does it for him.
In the midst of a somewhat confusing argument about his “fear” as a man during the #MeToo movement, Kanye says, “This is like my thing with Trump—we don’t have to feel the same way, but we have the right to feel what we feel.” When he wears his “Make America Great Again” hat, he says it’s “not about politics” but rather an attempt to break the stigma around showing support for Trump.
“Did you vote for Trump?” Letterman asks him.
“I’ve never voted in my life,” Kanye answers.
“Then you don’t have a say in this,” Letterman shoots back to cheers from the audience.
After a brief pause, Kanye comes back with a comical, “Well you got me, you got me,” before going on his anti-13th Amendment rant that drew Trump’s praise and may or may not have been inspired by conservative activist Candace Owens.
From there, Letterman tries to get Kanye to condemn the Republican-led voter suppression efforts during the most recent midterm elections. “So if I see a person that I admire talking about Donald Trump can think whatever he does,” he says, “I wonder if those thoughts, indirectly, aren’t hurting people who are already being hurt.”
Instead of addressing Letterman’s point, Kanye turns around and expresses sympathy for Trump voters who are “treated like enemies of America because that’s what they felt.” After Letterman makes his forceful case against the idea that Trump is some sort of savior to those who voted for him, Kanye takes a long pause.
“Have you ever been beat up in your high school for wearing the wrong hat?” he asks eventually. Asked who is doing the bulk of the bullying in America right now, he replies, “Liberals bully people who are Trump supporters!”
As tense as it get towards the end of the hour, Letterman manages to smooth things over by going back to church—specifically Kanye’s James Turrell-inspired Sunday Service project. The Netflix cameras capture some of the first high-quality footage out there of the performance he has been putting on every weekend. And despite everything that came before it, it is undeniably beautiful.
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