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Candace Owens and Kanye West’s provocative friendship, explained

Both wore “White Lives Matter” shirts at a recent fashion show, and Ye is buying Parler, whose CEO is Owens’s husband

Ye and Candace Owens attend the premiere of Owens's documentary “The Greatest Lie Ever Sold” Wednesday in Nashville. (Jason Davis/Getty Images)

The story of Kanye West’s nearly two decades of fame is punctuated by news-making partnerships. Back in the old days there was Kanye and Jay-Z, Kanye and Cudi. For a time, there was Kanye and Virgil — as in Abloh, the fashion designer who was his fellow intern at Fendi and later became creative director of his agency, Donda. And of course, for nearly a decade, Americans were inundated with Kanye and Kim (and their brood of eccentrically named kids).

Now, a newer partnership gets its moment of scrutiny: Kanye and Candace.

Candace Owens, the 33-year-old conservative activist, talk show host and provocateur, has lurked around the margins of Ye’s stardom for a few years now. Recently she has stepped in to share the spotlight. Earlier this month, the Chicago-born, 45-year-old rapper and designer formerly known as Kanye West — who has legally changed his name to Ye — hosted a fashion show in Paris at which he and Owens both sported long-sleeved shirts with “White Lives Matter” emblazoned on the back. Soon afterward, when Ye was suspended by Instagram and Twitter for an antisemitic post, Owens came to Ye’s defense, insisting that “no honest person” would really find his words antisemitic. And finally, on Monday, Ye announced his plans to purchase Parler, a social network popular among conservatives. Its CEO is George Farmer — whom Owens married in 2019 at Trump Winery in Charlottesville.

It’s tricky to disentangle Ye’s friendship with Owens from his hard pivot into conservative politics. In late November of 2016, he said onstage that he would have voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, had he actually voted. He met with the then-president-elect in December 2016 to discuss “multicultural issues,” and the two seemed at the time to have established a friendly rapport.

It was 2018, though, that marked the public launch of Ye’s mutual-admiration relationship with Owens. In April of that year, Ye tweeted that he loved “the way Candace Owens thinks.” At the time, Owens was the communications director for the student-focused conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA. Days later, Owens and a MAGA-hat-wearing Ye paid a visit to TMZ headquarters together — where the latter made his incendiary, now-infamous off-the-cuff remark that slavery was “a choice.”

“When all of this happened, the immediate reaction coming from most of his loyal Black fans — and coming from many non-Black fans who happen to be liberal or Democratic — was a lot of people were hurt by it,” says Joshua Wright, who teaches history at Trinity Washington University and wrote the recent book “ ‘Wake Up, Mr. West’: Kanye West and the Double Consciousness of Black Celebrity.”

“There was a lot of talk about Kanye West and ‘the sunken place,’ and people were comparing it to the movie ‘Get Out,’ ” which depicts a world in which a Black person’s consciousness can be sent into limbo while their body is inhabited by a White person. Multiple prominent Black radio hosts, Wright notes, said at the time that they would stop playing Ye’s music.

Of course, at the same time, “The comments turned off one segment of the population who loves him, but brought him a brand-new crowd of fans who may not have paid attention to him in the past,” Wright says. “In recent years Kanye has been more in the Christian circles, and really tight with the southern Evangelical church base. A lot of those people tend to be Trump supporters. They tend to be conservative.”

That fall, things briefly soured between Ye and Owens. Many outlets reported that Ye had designed T-shirts for Owens’s “Blexit” campaign urging Black voters to leave the Democratic Party. Owens herself told Page Six, “I am blessed to say that this logo, these colors, were created by my dear friend and fellow superhero Kanye West.” Ye, however, denied his involvement in a tweet: “I introduced Candace to the person who made the logo and they didn’t want their name on it so she used mine,” he wrote. “I never wanted any association with Blexit. I have nothing to do with it.”

“Kanye has had this pattern I’ve noticed in recent years: being close with people, falling out with those people, sometimes having really bad public spats with those people, and then — maybe he wants to say it’s his Christianity or whatever — he makes up with these people,” Wright says. “He and Jay-Z had a famous falling-out. He and Drake had a famous falling-out. But they patched everything up.”

Indeed, Owens apologized in a statement. (“I never once said that Kanye designed the T-shirts for BLEXIT,” she wrote. “I would like to publicly apologize to him for any undue stress or pain the effort to correct that rumor has caused him, his business relationships, or his family.”) The following month, Ye tweeted a photo of a copy of Owens’s new book.

This year, nearly 12 months into Ye’s process of becoming legally divorced from Kim Kardashian West, Ye once again made headlines when he claimed Kardashian West was keeping him from seeing their four children and accused her of putting their eldest daughter on social media against his will. (Kardashian West responded in a post immediately afterward that “as the parent who is the main provider and caregiver for our children, I am doing my best to protect our daughter while also allowing her to express her creativity in the medium that she wishes with adult supervision — because it brings her happiness.”)

Owens came to Ye’s defense, tweeting: “Kim is wrong on this one. … It’s actually Kanye that is trying to protect his daughter in this regard and Kim is spinning this as ‘obsession’ and ‘control.’ ” And on Wednesday, two days after the social media posts that got his account banned from Twitter, Ye attended the Nashville premiere of Owens’s documentary project “The Greatest Lie Ever Sold: George Floyd and the Rise of BLM.” A few days afterward, discussing the film on a podcast, Ye declared that Floyd had died in 2020 from fentanyl use, not police brutality.

(Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of Floyd’s murder, and though autopsies showed that Floyd had a large amount of fentanyl in his system, medical experts and witnesses testified that Floyd was the victim of a homicide, not an overdose. Floyd’s family is considering suing Ye over his claims.)

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Of course, Ye’s recent spate of controversial headlines are just the latest in a career more or less made out of them — and his recent cozying-up to far-right figures such as Owens and Trump himself perhaps could have been predicted. The way Wright sees it, Ye’s conservative politics were hiding in plain sight from early on. “Going all the way back to his first album, ‘The College Dropout,’ there are things he says on pretty much every album that have some conservatism in it,” Wright says. “Now we can look … and say, ‘Oh,’ but back then we didn’t see it.” (Indeed, like many of today’s Republican elected officials, “The College Dropout” casts a skeptical eye toward the importance of higher education in America.)

Plus, Wright says, Ye’s outspokenly contrarian, against-the-grain opinions are in part what’s made him successful since the beginning — making Owens a sort of kindred spirit in the moment. “If everybody says it’s raining or cold outside, Kanye says no, it’s sunny,” Wright says. “Everybody loved Kanye when he said ‘George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.’ He had everybody cheering him on,” amid the then-president’s much-criticized handling of the Hurricane Katrina recovery. But then, after a palpable shift in cultural and political power, “everybody loved Obama, so he had to love Trump.” (The Washington Post has put in a request for comment to representatives for both Owens and Ye.)

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Owens is also known for her provocative stances: She has stated her opposition to coronavirus protocols such as mask and vaccination mandates and promoted a variety of conspiracy theories — including that the protests after Floyd’s death were funded by George Soros and that the 2020 election was “rigged.”

“Candace always says things that a large majority of the Black masses — as well as young liberals, White liberals, everyone else who may love Kanye — would disagree with,” Wright adds. “Kanye is a contrarian, and she’s a contrarian. They’re both controversial. Lightning rods.”

Still, Wright disagrees with those who prophesize that Ye’s close relationship with Owens will permanently knock him out of the good graces of the American public. “If enough time passes — and maybe he makes another good album, some good fashion, whatever — I think there will be excitement,” Wright says. “A pretty large segment of the population probably will forgive him and get over it.”