John Legend is setting the record straight: Donald Trump didn’t ruin his friendship with Kanye West.
But political differences certainly contributed to his fallout with West, the EGOT-winning singer says in a new interview with the The New Yorker. While Legend (real name: John Stephens) credits the rapper with popularizing his “lofty stage name,” the pair have clashed over politics in recent years. In April 2018 West famously shared Legend’s texts urging him to “reconsider aligning [himself] with Trump,” and last year accused him and fellow rapper Big Sean of “sellout s***” for supporting the Democrats rather than backing West’s own 2020 presidential bid.
It was the latter issue, not the disagreements about Trump, that bothered West more, Legend, 43, tells the The New Yorker. The singer says his remarks during an August episode of David Axelrod’s The Ax Files — in which he said, “I honestly think because we publicly disagreed on his running for office, his supporting Trump. I think it became too much for us to sustain our friendship.” — were misunderstood.
“Yeah, what it got described as was, we stopped being friends because he supported Trump, which was a mischaracterization of what I said,” Legend now says. “That was kind of the Rupert Murdoch version of the story — it was all over the New York Post and Fox News.
“What I was saying was that he was very upset with me that I didn’t support Him running for president, and that was the real impetus for us having a strain in our friendship,” the “All of Me” singer clarified. “I don’t know what will happen in the future, but he was very upset with me that I didn’t support him and I supported Joe Biden. It’s up to him whether he can get past that.”
While West, 45, made his feelings plain in an interview last November — “I don’t rock with either of them and I need my apologies,” he said of Legend and Big Sean, whom he described as “scared” — Legend says he’s tried to take a gentler approach.
“Everyone saw how I talked to him about it,” he said, referring to his 2018 texts to West. “I talked to him with love and with empathy, and tried to help him see another way of looking at things. And obviously he went the way he went with it. The most frustrating thing about his run for the presidency for me was how much it was an operation run by the Trump campaign. I don’t know how aware he was of the fact that there were so many Trump personnel throughout his campaign, raising money for him, getting petitions signed for him, getting him on the ballot. I saw their work on his behalf as a clear scam and an operation to try to siphon Black votes away from Biden, so there was no way I was going to support it. Kanye was upset with that, and we haven’t been friends since , really.”
Legend expressed his struggle to “penetrate” voters like West who sees things in a dramatically different way.
“Clearly, I haven’t been successful in that particular regard!” he said of trying to connect with his former producer. “Most of my political work has been about encouraging people who are already inclined to think close to where I am to go out and vote and get involved. I don’t know how you persuade someone who believes differently than you do. And some of those beliefs are really strongly held. I have a lot of religious people in my life, for instance, and it’s hard to know how to convince someone when it feels like you’re speaking in an entirely different language.”
He added, “I don’t want to live a life that’s so consumed by politics that it’s the sole determinant of who can be my friend and who can’t. But values matter and character matters and moral compass matters.”