Australian musician Nick Cave acknowledged that Kanye West’s recent anti-Semitic comments were “disgraceful” but argued the superstar rapper’s musical genius far exceeds the “worst aspect of his character”.
The rocker was at the annual London Literature Festival on Thursday to discuss “Faith, Hope and Carnage”, his new book created from more than 40 hours of interviews conducted by journalist Sean O’Hagan.
“He’s for me the greatest artist of our generation. I love his music,” Cave said during a Q&A session.
The 45-year-old rapper has long been a contrarian, having half-heartedly run for US president in 2020 before throwing his weight behind Donald Trump. West also infamously said slavery was a “choice”.
But West’s lean into white supremacist messaging went a step too far for his business partners this month, when he showed up at a Paris fashion show with a “White Lives Matter” shirt, then went on an anti-Semitic rant on Twitter.
The rapper and fashion mogul on Thursday said he had lost $2 billion in a single day after Adidas severed ties with him and Gap said they would remove his Yeezy Gap merchandise from their stores.
“It’s deeply disappointing to me, and for some time it might be difficult for me to listen to a Kanye record,” said Cave. “But I value the output more … I think it’s a personal choice.”
The Aussie cult artist added that Kanye “won’t forever be trapped in the worst aspect of his character … his music is a journey away from his character”.
Cave pointed to another beloved artist, English singer and Smiths frontman Morrissey, who has faced accusations of racism over his rhetoric on immigration and his embrace of Britain’s far-right party.
“I think Morrissey has done an enormous amount of good work, he’s written some of the most beautiful songs of my generation … he has views that I guess are unacceptable,” Cave said.
“I think it’s a personal choice. I get impatient about how self-righteous people seem (to have) a kind of superior position,” he added.
Cave, dressed in his signature black suit, also joked earlier that, for his generation, “it was our duty to be offensive”.
He used to feel “a free flow of contempt for every institution, our government, people around me, other musicians”.
But that position “was obliterated by the loss of my son”, Cave said, an event that makes for harrowing reading in his new book.
Cave’s macabre lyrics have long been influenced by the loss of one of his twins, Arthur. The 15-year-old fell off a cliff in 2015 near Brighton, England, where the family lives.
Cave also lost a half-brother of Arthur, Jethro Lazenby, aged 31, this year. The cause of death was not disclosed.