Kanye West on His Music Career: "My Power Is My Ability to Not Be Influenced"

Tyler Golden/Netflix
Kanye West

The rapper candidly spoke about his childhood, parents and kids during an interview with David Letterman.

Season two of David Letterman's Netflix show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction kicked off Friday with Kanye West, who talked about his family, memories of his mother, struggles with mental health issues and bipolar disorder and his musical career.

West shared that when his father was in town for cancer treatment, he raised the topic of "power versus force." Thinking about what this means, West said, "I think about that in all my interactions, where you don't have to start screaming. It's like, what do you have the power to do and what don't you have to force?"

West's parents divorced when he was a child and he would see his dad on spring breaks and during summers. Discussing the relationship he has with his father now, West identified that he's becoming more like him, but also suggested that he has a firmer understanding of how to harness certain behavioral tendencies. 

Diving further into West's family life, Letterman brought up the death of West's mother, referring to it as "a crushing, suffocating, unavoidable life change ... did it inspire work for you?" Answered West, "Definitely. It was a piece of my story." He went on to say, "Everything is meant to be and everything happens at the time that ... it's planned."

The host continued on the subject. "The memory of your mother, you carry with you each day," said Letterman, who went on to mention her grandchildren. West replied, "This would have been the funnest time of her life, to have those kids running around that house and being able to go and buy them toys." 

The rapper went on to recall a specific memory from his childhood: "I remember my mother bought me a bear that was multi-colored, and I was very into [artist] Takashi Murakami at the time." He continued, "She said, 'It feels like Takashi Murakami,' and I was like, 'I don't want that, that ain't no Takashi Murakami bear.'"

West shared that his mother passed away a few weeks later. "I did everything I could to find that bear and place it on top of all the Takashi Murakami stuff I had in the house," he said. 

Of his mother, he said, "She's here, and she's guiding us."

Speaking about West's music, Letterman said that a friend of his suggested that Jay-Z is the "narrator" of his music, while West is the "character" in his. Commenting on whether this is a fair comparison, West said, "I think we're both pretty self-centered in our music." He went on to mention an unnamed artist with whom he had a "little beef" last year, and a line that artist said: "I told my story and made his story, [as in] made history."

West mentioned a negative aspect of having such a direction in music, which is that it sparks backlash in some people: "I have a friend that told me my power was my influence, and I said, 'My power is my ability to not be influenced.'"

West and Letterman moved onto the subject of art, which West said he uses as a "superpower" to protect himself in a capitalistic world: "I give it as a gift [to other people] and use it to make money." 

Later in the interview, Letterman was outfitted in West's Yeezy label. "You don't have to agree, but you know I look great now," said the host in his new get-up. "'Howard Hughes in the desert' — that's sort of what we have going on."

Referencing West's mental health diagnosis of bipolar disorder, which the rapper received two years ago, Letterman brought up something he said once: "I hate being bipolar — it's awesome." Of the phrase, West said, "It was an image I saw written on the side of a garage in an Instagram post, and I thought it was a lighthearted take on it."

Elaborating on his health, West pointed out, "When you're bipolar, if you don't take medication every day, you have the potential to ramp up and it could take you to a point where you start acting erratic, as TMZ would put it." (The reference was to when West suggested slavery was a "choice" on TMZ Live. He subsequently apologized.)

West explained that "bipolar," because it has the word "bi" in it, people think of a split-personality: "Well, that works for me because I'm a Gemini, but when you ramp up, it expresses your personality more. You can become more adolescent in your expression. ... " He recognized that there is still a lot not understood about mental health, and that "we're all" dealing with it in some form or another. 

Regarding politics and President Donald Trump, West said, "We don't have to feel the same way, but we have the right to feel what we feel and we have the right to have a conversation about it." He explained that he works with Trump supporters who are "scared for life" to tell anyone their political preferences. West then revealed that he has never voted in a presidential election.

The rapper capped off the episode with a performance of "Ghost Town."