October 27, 2022 - 10:10am

Ye, the artist formerly known as Kanye West, has seen his financial fortunes take a downturn since he made a number of anti-Semitic remarks. As is de rigueur in the risk-averse corporate world of 2022, many companies terminated their relationships with Ye. Some, like the design house Balenciaga, could simply erase all mention of the rapper from their websites. Others, such as Adidas and Foot Locker, had to act quickly to remove Ye’s Yeezy apparel line from production as well as the retail stores where these products were sold. West had already ended his relationship with Gap prior to this controversy, but the company shut down YeezyGap.com and removed all Yeezy products from its store after his remarks had circulated widely. 

West’s exodus — some might term it an expulsion — from the mainstream economy also occurred in the financial, legal, and media service sectors. Creative Artists Agency, the talent agency that has represented Ye since 2016, swiftly ended their relationship. MRC studio executives announced they were shelving a completed documentary about Ye. Cohen Clair Lans Greifer Thorpe & Rottenstreich, the law firm that represented Ye in his divorce from Kim Kardashian, dropped him as a client. Although some have tried to connect Ye’s severing of ties with JPMorgan Chase to the controversy, Ye told CNBC a month earlier he was planning to move his assets to Bank of America — though who can say what future indignities await him in the world of banking. 

Unlike other recent cancellations tied to politically sensitive language, Ye’s ostracism due to anti-Semitism has a much longer lineage. Many of us can recall Mel Gibson’s 2006 driving under the influence arrest and his resulting rant about how “the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.” This, along with a recorded use of a racial slur directed at black people, precipitated a decade-long blacklist from Hollywood before re-emerging in 2016 due to the critical success of the film Hacksaw Ridge. In 1996, Marlon Brando — already in the twilight of his prolific career — drew criticism for stating that Hollywood was “run by Jews,” prompting the late comedian Norm MacDonald to joke on Saturday Night Live that “the Jewish leaders accepted the actor’s apology and announced that Brando is now free to work again.” 

Ye, who following the loss of his Adidas deal showed up unannounced at one of athletic shoe company Skechers’ Los Angeles buildings only to find himself escorted off the premises, now faces a stark choice. Like Brando, Gibson, and others before him, he has accumulated enough critical goodwill to possibly return to the mainstream if he performs a sufficient amount of penance. 

It is possible, however, that Ye no longer wishes to be part of that world. His decision to purchase the Parler social media platform — which has been hemorrhaging users but has always had an overwhelmingly Right-wing user base — indicates a desire to part company with the mainstream. And there are certainly numerous stories of companies and individuals who have made fortunes targeting Right-wing audiences, from Evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham to businesses such as bedding giant MyPillow and leading dietary supplement distributor REDCON1. 

Actors such as Kevin Sorbo, Kirk Cameron, and Jim Caviezel — all mainstream leading men at one time — now work mainly outside the Hollywood studio system, focusing on faith-based media projects directed at a conservative audience. Others, like 1980s action star Steven Seagal and mixed martial arts pioneer Jeff Monson, have travelled so far from the American mainstream that the pair now find themselves working on different propaganda projects in support of Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. 

For Ye, this is a time of choosing. The financial rewards of life in the boutique Right-wing economy are nowhere near what he could once access. Billionaire Donald Trump, unlike most former presidents whose assets greatly increased after their time in office, has instead seen his net worth decline by over a billion dollars, from a peak of $4.5 billion in 2016 to Forbes’ current estimate of $3 billion. This decline, which was due primarily to the pandemic, came in spite of Trump’s involvement in a number of Right-wing business ventures, like the Truth Social social media platform. 

But Ye, like Trump, may no longer wish to be part of a club where he never felt entirely comfortable. He might seek to win his fortune and secure his legacy elsewhere, though whether he can succeed remains an open question.

Oliver Bateman is a historian and journalist based in Pittsburgh. He blogs, vlogs, and podcasts at his Substack, Oliver Bateman Does the Work