For the past two months, Kanye West has dominated headlines for a nonstop stream of reprehensible behavior. What started out as a controversy over the rapper’s ‘White Lives Matter’ T-shirts descended into a torrent of antisemitic remarks before he appeared on Alex Jones’ show in early December to praise Nazis and Hitler. “I see good things about Hitler,” West said during the bizarre three-hour interview where he falsely claimed Hitler had invented highways and microphones.
West’s remarks mirrored earlier claims former business and music industry sources had told CNN and NBC this fall — that the musician had praised Hitler and made several antisemitic comments within the past five years, paying at least two settlements to former employees who allege he made such remarks in the workplace.
But as nearly half a dozen sources who worked with West tell Rolling Stone, his alleged obsession with Hitler and Nazis dates back even further than previously reported. They claim that West has been discussing his admiration for Hitler and what he sees as positive achievements of Nazi Germany for nearly two decades, describing it as a well-known but well-kept secret within the rapper’s inner circle.
Beyond just fascination, two sources claim, West allegedly took inspiration from Nazi propaganda strategies and power-gaining tactics to achieve his own fame and success. “It’s not a stretch to now compare Kanye’s ‘by any means necessary’ methods and tactics with Adolf Hitler’s,” a former longtime collaborator says. “To know that a Hitler/[Joseph] Goebbels playbook has been a central inspiration to Kanye’s own media playbook helps bring a great deal of clarity to the exact types of moves he’s been making over his career.” (West did not reply to Rolling Stone‘s request for comment.)
“It’s not a stretch to now compare Kanye’s ‘by any means necessary’ methods and tactics with Adolf Hitler’s.”
Former Longtime Collaborator
In the years before the release of West’s 2004 Grammy-winning debut album The College Dropout, West’s success as a rapper was unclear. While he was a wonderkid producer, music label executives believed West’s semi-preppy look and suburban upbringing wasn’t a fit for the gangster rapper image of the early 2000s. West’s persistence won out when he was signed to Roc-A-Fella in 2002 and quickly began working on his first album. It was in those early studio sessions that the then-26-year-old frequently discussed Hitler and Nazis and quizzed others on their thoughts, according to a 2003 music industry source who claims to have witnessed the conversations firsthand. “It was like a daily thing,” the source says.
The topic wasn’t couched in general conversation, the music source says. Instead, West allegedly would approach collaborators and industry executives and ambush them with questions — seemingly trying to catch people off-guard. “Going up to somebody like, ‘So what do you think about the Holocaust?’ the music source explains.
Until West received an answer he was satisfied with — which allegedly included some form of acknowledgment of the “good” the Nazi leader had done — West would continue to press people until he felt his views were validated, the music industry source says. “It sometimes became heated depending on the person,” says the source.
West took a particular interest in Nazi marketing and propaganda techniques, according to a second former longtime collaborator, who estimates in the four-plus years of working with West that the rapper spoke positively of Hitler at least half a dozen times.
“[West’s] pattern of speaking on this in the studio [or] workplace was reasonably consistent,” the longtime former collaborator claims. “If he felt you were trustworthy… there was a reasonably high likelihood that he would attempt to engage with you and evangelize his beliefs about Hitler and the Nazis to you.”
A third longtime music collaborator recalls having a brief, tense conversation with West about Hitler around 2014, with West allegedly trying to explain the “good” Hitler had done. “I think my exact words were, ‘So what if Hitler did some good shit. So what?’”
“It’s almost unfathomable that anyone would call [Hitler] anything other than a murderer.”
Former Business Associate
Others didn’t feel so comfortable challenging West. Although the former longtime collaborator says they found conversations and mentions of Hitler extremely troubling, they felt there was “absolutely zero reasonable ability” to push back without risking being fired. “When these things happened, if you still wanted a place in this group, you stuffed down your concerns, kept a smile on your face, and moved forward as if nothing bad had happened,” the former collaborator explains.
West praising Hitler stunned a former business associate, who claims during a high-level meeting in fall 2015 that West called Hitler a “marketing genius” within the first 15 minutes of the call. “In my 25-plus years of being in the workforce, I’ve never heard anybody say that name out loud in a business meeting,” the associate says.
To salvage the meeting, the businessman recalls correcting West and attempting to shift the conversation, only for West to say, “No, [Hitler] really understood how to mobilize people in a way that no one ever has.” “Hearing that, it’s almost unfathomable that anyone would call [Hitler] anything other than a murderer,” the former business associate explains, adding it was “without question the most disgusting thing I’ve heard in my lifetime.”
The following year, West released “Famous,” a track that reignited his long-standing feud with Taylor Swift. An early version of the song that leaked online contained antisemitic lyrics and West gripes about not being able to talk about Hitler, The Wrap recently reported. “The world’s turning black slowly,” West raps. “Where you can call niggas ‘niggas,’ but you better not mention Hitler. So tell me who runs the labels, where the guns from?”
West’s Hitler comments again almost spilled out into the public forum in May 2018 during a trainwreck interview with TMZ where West crassly said that America’s painful history of the enslavement of Black people “sounds like a choice.”
During this rant, West allegedly spoke about loving Hitler and Nazis, former TMZ staffer Van Lathan Jr. claimed on his podcast “Higher Learning” in October. However, Lathan said, TMZ removed the offending remarks from the video. (Two people with knowledge of the incident told Rolling Stone they had also heard about West’s remarks at TMZ’s offices.)
Behind closed doors, two sources say, West continued to talk about Hitler and Nazis with his inner circle at the time — escalating when the rapper told his team that he wanted to name his eighth studio album Hitler. (CNN first reported on West wanting to name the album after the Nazi leader.)
“If you give a maniac a big audience — like Hitler — bad things happen. There are people listening who are buying into it because Kanye said it and what he’s saying is garbage.”
Former Business Associate
But two industry sources allege that West’s admiration of Hitler and Nazis is beyond shock-value or talking points; rather, they claim West has tried to mimic Nazi techniques — such as demanding ultimate control, dominating a press narrative and propaganda strategies — for his own personal and career gain.
“I feel like he used those techniques to get to where he is, to be honest,” explains the music industry source from 2003. “He was just so fascinated by [Hitler] — someone who can have complete control over people and how he did it. I think it was maybe the understanding of who Hitler was and how he created his army… I think [West] started to almost correlate how he could manipulate things to be, not the same level, but how he could try to get people to be his ‘army.'”
The former longtime collaborator recalls West frequently talking about “building an army,” and would pump up his team by referring to them as “assassins,” equating the “work we were doing as war.”
Those who have watched West lavish praise on Hitler on podcasts and interviews are concerned that he could wind up influencing even the smallest number of his fans. To them, it’s not an eccentric and provocative entertainer gaining headlines — it’s amplification of harmful and dangerous beliefs.
“No one should be writing off his behavior as merely “Kanye being Kanye,” the former collaborator adds. “This is a person who purposely deployed nuanced manipulation and propaganda inspired by Nazi and fascist playbooks as a means of galvanizing himself for the purposes of accumulating power and influence and then attempted to convert that — with complete seriousness — into a run for the US presidency .”
“Between his fame, social media and traditional media, he has a very big microphone,” the former business associate adds. “It’s reckless and dangerous because in some ways he’s legitimizing the fact that there was some justification [for Hitler’s actions] … If you give a maniac a big audience — like Hitler — bad things happen. There are people listening who are buying into it because Kanye said it and what he’s saying is garbage.”