His behaviour would be considered appalling anywhere, but the fact Kanye West committed his latest and lewdest publicity stunt in Venice – a city synonymous with elegance and beauty – somehow made it so much worse.
Sitting in the back of a water taxi, his trousers ridden down so far that onlookers caught a glimpse of his bare posterior, he appeared to be engaged in a very public sex act in broad daylight with his Australian wife Bianca Censori, who was on her knees with her head between his legs.
It’s hard to imagine that even a rapper who loves to shock as much as West had genuinely sunk to this, but the incident nevertheless represented a new low for a man who in recent years has repeatedly shown that he considers caring about public opinion beneath him.
The rapper and fashion designer has described slavery as a ‘choice’; declared that he was preparing to go to war with Jewish people; and even spoke approvingly of Hitler and the Nazis.
West’s apologists have blamed all this on mental illness – he was diagnosed as bipolar in 2016 – but others see his antics as the terrible hubris of a superstar who believes he has a god-like right to do and say as he pleases… especially when it keeps him in the headlines.
Controversial rapper Kanye West is seen with his wife Bianca Censori who rocks a see-through outfit while out in Tuscany
While almost anyone else would have been ‘cancelled’ long ago, West continues to flourish, with 53 million monthly listeners on Spotify and 32 million followers on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
And Censori, an ex-model who is now described as an architectural designer, appears to have become the latest casualty of West’s lust for the limelight.
The 28-year-old has trailed around Italy – spiritual home of ‘la bella figura’ – sporting a selection of bizarre skin-tight outfits, frequently translucent and often worn without underwear, that leave nothing to the imagination.
These have not gone down well in what is still, after all, a conservative Roman Catholic country. There have even been calls for her to be arrested for ‘public indecency’.
That said, Censori often looks miserable, sometimes crossing her arms over her chest or using her shoulder bag to protect her modesty, as though she is an unwilling participant in an exercise that is beginning to look as exploitative as it is distasteful.
West’s ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, has spoken emotionally about how controlling West was during their marriage.
She has claimed the rapper, who fancies himself as God’s gift to fashion as well as the music business, threw out most of her clothes early in their relationship, replacing them with outfits of his choice.
And Kardashian was a woman of independent means who was a reality TV superstar in her own right.
Censori, on the other hand, was working for West’s fashion brand, Yeezy, when they were first romantically linked in early January this year, just two months after his divorce had been finalised.
The couple are said to have tied the knot in a private ceremony in Beverly Hills less than two weeks after that first public outing, but the legality of the union is in question, since they have never filed a marriage certificate.
Sitting in the back of a water taxi, his trousers ridden down so far that onlookers caught a glimpse of his bare posterior, he appeared to be engaged in a very public sex act in broad daylight with his Australian wife Bianca Censori
Kardashian – who has four children with the rapper – is reportedly ‘desperately embarrassed and worried’ by her ex-husband’s behaviour in Italy and believes ‘something clearly isn’t right’. In truth, something ‘hasn’t been right’ with Kanye West for years.
So how did the artist, whose distasteful freak show this summer comes only three years after he announced he’d run for U.S. president, go so drastically off the rails?
Many date the start of West’s decline to the death of his beloved mother, Donda, in 2007.
He had relied heavily on his mother, an English professor who raised him on her own in Chicago, for advice and support during his rise to international stardom.
Donda always tried her best to imbue the young Kanye with a pride in his skin colour and a confidence in what he could achieve in life.
He was writing poetry by the age of five, and his mother had high hopes of him following her into academia.
‘My parenting of Kanye was strategic,’ she said, describing how, from a young age, she surrounded him with images of powerful and successful black men: ‘I began teaching him to love himself.’
West rewarded her devotion by enrolling in her university, Chicago State, to study her subject, English. But, at the age of 20, he dropped out to become a rapper.
At first, Donda was deeply upset, but she later relented and became his manager, offering him rock-like support till the day she died.
West admits his devastation at her loss was compounded by a sense of guilt that he was responsible: she died from a heart attack during major cosmetic surgery that he believes she would never have had if she hadn’t joined him in Los Angeles.
Censori, an ex-model who is now described as an architectural designer, appears to have become the latest casualty of West’s lust for the limelight
West’s debut album, The College Dropout, was released in 2004, and he began exhibiting early signs of a planet-sized ego when he complained that he had been ‘definitely robbed’ when he was passed over for ‘New Artist of the Year’ at the American Music Awards.
His narcissism only got worse as his fanbase grew and the media fawned. Crediting his creative imagination to being bipolar, a condition West calls a ‘superpower’, he has compared himself with Picasso, Shakespeare, Apple creator Steve Jobs and — despite claiming to be a devout Christian – even Jesus.
Comically, West has said his biggest regret is that he’ll never be able to see himself perform live.
His mega-celebrity was magnified further in 2012 when he started a romantic relationship with reality TV star Kim Kardashian.
The couple went on to marry two years later in Florence and had four children – North, Saint, Chicago and Psalm – the last two of whom were born by surrogate.
Like so many celebrity couplings, it was a union that helped both their careers, especially as they were each intent on building fashion empires.
West released the Nike Air Yeezy trainer in 2009, before defecting four years later to Nike’s rival, Adidas, where he would boast that the deal to produce Yeezy shoes had made him a billionaire.
When he staged his first Yeezy runway show in 2015 during New York Fashion Week, Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour sat with Kardashian, Beyonce and Jay-Z in the front row, watching a range of military-inspired £925 vest tops, £620 suede backpacks and £460 boots which – despite the high price tags – attracted long queues at the shops.
Kim Kardashian – who has four children with the rapper – is reportedly ‘desperately embarrassed and worried’ by her ex-husband’s behaviour in Italy and believes ‘something clearly isn’t right’
West seemed to have the Midas touch, and even the most objectionable behaviour from the golden boy was overlooked, perhaps on the grounds of his increasingly well-publicised mental health issues.
He spent time in a psychiatric hospital in 2016, the same year that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
America’s liberal media and showbusiness worlds are willing to forgive a lot of stars who stay ‘on message’ politically by, say, publicly decrying racism and turning out for the Democrats.
But West, who’d previously donated to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, spectacularly broke ranks during his 2016 concert tour when he told his audience he hadn’t voted in the presidential election that year, but if he had, it would have been for Donald Trump.
Then he went much further, donning a red ‘Make America Great Again’ hat for a boisterous meeting with Trump in the Oval Office in 2018, at which – as the president smiled on benignly – West delivered an outlandish ten-minute monologue in which he touched on the existence of alternative universes and hydrogen-powered planes, and claimed he and Trump were both ‘dragon energy’.
In the same speech, he claimed he’d been misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder, but offered no supporting evidence.
However, in June 2020, he announced he was standing for the U.S. presidency himself, running as an independent for the so-called Birthday Party. He no longer supported Trump, he said, because he ‘hid in [a] bunker’ during the Covid-19 pandemic.
But West’s campaign got off to a bad start when he admitted in an interview that he knew nothing about taxation or foreign policy and had never voted in his life.
No wonder many pundits dismissed it as a publicity stunt to promote album sales.
He won a miserly 60,000 votes despite the fact it was later reported Republicans had secretly contributed millions of dollars to West’s campaign in a bid to split the Democrat vote.
Since 2019, when he claimed to have undergone what he called a ‘spiritual awakening’ and committed himself to Jesus, critics have questioned whether he isn’t so much celebrating Christ as imitating him.
West’s ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, has spoken emotionally about how controlling West was during their marriage
He wrote a Christian opera, and started staging ‘Sunday Services’, over which he presided in monk-like robes and Yeezy trainers, accompanied by a 120-strong choir.
How does all this religiosity sit with his degraded behaviour in Venice? As with so much about West, it’s hard to separate genuine conviction from the desire to shock and get noticed.
That certainly applies to his deranged utterances on social media — where he has promoted a string of often anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, including the idea that Jews are behind a plot to use vaccination to inject us all with microchips.
His increasingly strident opposition to abortion – he boorishly told one political rally that he and his wife had once discussed aborting their daughter – was reportedly a key factor in his split from Kardashian and led to her filing for divorce in February 2021.
Free from her restraining influence, his behaviour only became more maniacal and distasteful.
In October 2022, exactly a year after he legally changed his name to ‘Ye’ – saying it was the most commonly used word in the Bible – he and a handful of associates wore shirts he’d designed with ‘White Lives Matter’ written on them, a popular slogan among far-Right groups.
Three days later he wore an ultrasound picture of a foetus around his neck in an interview to demonstrate his pro-life views. Shortly after that, he was locked out of Twitter after he told his followers he was ‘going death con 3 on Jewish people’ – an apparent misreading of the U.S. nuclear alert status ‘Defcon’.
Hip hop has a nasty history of sporadic anti-Semitism, but West took it to new extremes. CNN reported later that month that he had wanted to name his 2018 album after Adolf Hitler and claimed he was obsessed with the Nazi leader.
By the end of October, West’s diatribes against Jews had prompted Adidas to terminate its partnership over Yeezy shoes, a relationship that Forbes estimated had been worth $200 million a year to West.
Undaunted, he gave an interview to the notorious conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, in which he claimed he ‘loves Jewish people’ but also ‘likes Nazis’ and can see ‘good things about Hitler’. Even Jones was taken aback.
And it was too much for several other companies with which he’d had commercial deals, including Gap and fashion house Balenciaga.
The various cancelled deals have cut his net worth — according to the financial magazine Forbes — from $2 billion (£1.7 billion) to $400 million (£346 million). He was also dropped by his law firm and his agent.
Others, tragically, are deeply impressed by his vitriol. Last December, a man attacked a 63-year-old Jewish male in New York’s Central Park, shouting ‘Kanye 2024’ – a reference to the rapper’s potential next run at the U.S. presidency.
For all but the most blinkered fans, his music and artistic accomplishments – which have seen him sell more than 160 million records and win 24 Grammy Awards – have been completely over-shadowed by his outlandish and abhorrent behaviour.
Following the mockery and disgust West and his ‘wife’ have provoked in Italy, perhaps even they will begin to fall away.