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NPR 2018-10-12

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

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")


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