Kanye West‘s 2020 presidential run was divisive. It caused some fans to question the judgement of the rapper (who now goes by Ye), and it even caused a rift with one of his oldest collaborators, John Legend. In an interview with CNN’s David Axelrod for his Axe Files podcast, Legend discussed how his one-time musical compatriot and producer went from a friend and studio confidant to a more distant acquaintance after West’s disastrous White House bid.
“Well, you know, we aren’t friends as much as we used to be, because 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, honestly,” Legend said of the Donda rapper who heartily embraced disgraced former president Trump and proudly displayed No. 45’s signature red MAGA hat on social media during the 2020 race. “He was upset that I didn’t support his run for presidency of the United States of America for understandable reasons.”
And while Legend knows he was not alone in shunning West’s fool’s errand campaign — which garnered an anemic 60,000 votes out of more than 158 million cast — he said that Kanye was “not happy about that … we really haven’t been close since then.”
When asked what people might not get about Ye, Legend praised the MC for being very open about his mental health struggles and being “very real” and upfront with his opinions and his challenges. “I think what you see with him is pretty much what you get,” Legend said. “I don’t feel like he’s a whole separate person in private than he is in public. I think you’re pretty much seeing the real Kanye publicly.”
Before chronicling their fractured relationship, Legend dove into how he first met Ye — when both were music strivers new to New York and trying to hustle up a demo to break through. “He was in a position to really help me as a producer, and he began to have more and more connections in the business,” he said of West, who at the time signed Legend to his production company, Good Music, which eventually helped the singer get a deal with Columbia Records in 2004.
Legend also discussed his FREEAMERICA project talking on mass incarceration, as well as his racial equality-focused Human Level organization, and how his mother’ struggles with self-medicating may have inspired his career-long interest in social justice and criminal justice reform. “Sometimes, particularly when you’re younger, you don’t see the macro view of things. You’re just seeing what’s happening in your life. And then as someone who avoided getting in trouble with the police, I saw that I was able to do that,” he said. “And you start to see everything through the lens of individual responsibility. You’re thinking, ‘Well, my mother made mistakes. She coped with her trauma and her tragedy in the wrong way, and this caused consequences for her.’ And then I had multiple friends, you know, who got in trouble with the law. You know, some of them were hustling, they were drug dealing. They were involved in situations they shouldn’t have been in.”
So, as a younger man, he focused on the mistakes his friends made, not about the fact that the laws they were sanctioned under “were written by men and women with frailties and with political points of view.” Those perspectives, he said, helped to put the U.S. in a place where we have the most incarcerated citizens of any country in the world. After reading up on the issues that fueled his interest, Legend said he tried to find a way to apply all that knowledge.
“And so as an older person, I was able to relate my mom’s individual trauma and struggle to all those other millions of people who have gone through substance abuse, mental health struggles, all these other struggles that they’ve gone through and how we as a nation have decided to treat those issues almost with the same solution all the time, which is lock more and more people up,” he said.
In one of the more emotional segments, Axelrod asked for Legend’s opinion on the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, and how the devastation he and wife Chrissy Teigen faced in 2020 when they lost a child to a miscarriage might counter the notion that people are making “casual decisions” about pregnancy.
“Anyone who’s dealt with pregnancy knows none of this is casual. None of this is is frivolous. And it’s so intimate and it’s so personal,” Legend said. “How do we want our governors and our legislators — most of whom are men — in this room with a doctor and with this person who’s dealing with their pregnancy? Why do we want our government involved in those decisions?
“If you decide they weren’t allowed to have an abortion, then anyone who had a miscarriage after all of that trauma, after all of that pain, after all those tears we went through to then have the local D.A. or a local law enforcement do an investigation and make sure the miscarriage was approved by the state and not just a regular run of the mill abortion,” he continued. “To have the government decide whether or not the life of the mother was sufficiently in danger for them to make this intimate decision that they make between themselves and their doctor, to have the government involved in that conversation in any way is so offensive to me. It’s nasty. It’s evil. It should not be even a discussion. The government should not be involved.”
And though he has many fervent opinions on the issues of the day — which he often expresses in impassioned tweets — Legend is happy to let his advocacy live online and on the stage, and that’s about it. “I do not want to run for office,” he insisted. “I definitely don’t want to do it now.”
“I don’t envision myself wanting to do it in the future. I did when I was a kid. I did want to be president and I wanted to be a few things … I know enough people to have been president, one in particular [Barack Obama] that I’m good. I don’t need that in my life. You know, I love what I do. I love my day job. But I also love the work we do politically and philanthropically.”