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Slavery was a “choice”? According to Kanye West, yes, in a way. Everyone from Roxane Gay to Chris Brown has been pointing out the foolishness of West’s statements, but it was TMZ senior producer Van Lathan who called West out during his controversial interview on Tuesday.
After West called 400 years of slavery a “choice,” he asked the room full of TMZ reporters, “Do you feel like I’m thinking free and feeling free?” It was Lathan who challenged West by responding, “I actually don’t think you’re thinking anything. I think what you’re doing right now is actually the absence of thought.”
What followed was a powerful, heartfelt explanation of just why West’s comments were extremely hurtful. But there’s a lot more to Lathan than his TMZ gig. Here are five fast facts about Lathan and the moment we all can’t stop talking about.
1. Lathan felt a sense of duty to stand up and speak out.
Kanye West is one of the most iconic, outspoken artists of our generation. With that in mind, it would make sense for anyone to hesitate to publicly challenge someone with such power behind their name, but Lathan felt that he had to speak up in defense of his heritage, he explained in an interview with Time.
“I am my ancestors, I am their survival, I am their will,” Lathan said. “I am the descendant of slaves who refused to die and we all are if you’re black and in America. Any speech that is used to weaken them and make them culpable for the wretched and putrid circumstances, I don’t feel like I could really tolerate that.”
2. It wasn’t his intention to “call out” Kanye.
While many are applauding Lathan for taking West to task, and doing it on such a public forum, the TMZ senior producer explained during a visit to ABC News’ Nightline that his intention wasn’t to call out anyone.
“My purpose wasn’t to call Kanye West out. It was to call Kanye West in and see maybe if I could get through to him,” he said, adding, “Part of the reason why I felt so inspired in the moment to talk to him and direct my thoughts towards him is because [of] the profound impact that his music has had on my life and the disappointment that I’ve been feeling. It seems like he’s fallen away from something that made him so powerful in the first place.”
3. Lathan has expressed concern about Kanye’s path before.
Described on his Instagram bio as “TMZ’s resident Moor, host of The Red Pill Podcast, and a pretty good writer,” Van Lathan regularly provides the world with a “weekly dose of truth” during his Red Pill podcast, where he discusses news, politics, and pop-culture. Prior to meeting West on the set of TMZ Live, Lathan recorded a “very special emergency edition” of The Red Pill, where he shared his thoughts not only on West’s recent controversial actions, but on celebrity culture as a whole.
“One thing that bothers me particularly about where we are as a society is sort of the reverence that we have for celebrities outside of the scope of what they do,” Lathan commented. He added, “But I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t say I was personally injured or personally disturbed by what Kanye West has been saying as far as his support for different people who I feel like are hatemongers.”
What has Kanye been saying exactly, when it comes to expressing his support for Trump? For starters, he believes that he and the president both have “dragon energy,” and even posted a photo of a signed “Makes America Great Again” hat on Twitter.
4. Lathan is (was?) a big Kanye West fan.
Lathan’s interaction with West was a mic drop moment for sure, but there was no joy for him during his exchange with Kanye, despite the accolades that have rolled in as a result.
“Meeting him and seeing him in here today, obviously there’s some sort of narrative or ministry that he’s trying to push, but it’s frustrating to see how in the world he fell so far in terms of relatability from where we are,” Lathan told Complex. “It’s shocking. When he said some of the things he said, it was almost like looking at everything that I looked up to and had influenced me so much, and wondered, was it all bullsh*t?”
If anything, the entire incident seems to have disappointed Lathan (and probably many other fans).
“I feel sad that I lost a hero,” Lathan said.
5. He’s done with Kanye’s music.
Separating the artist from the art? Whether or not such a thing is really possible or should even be encouraged has long been a source of debate. During his interview with Complex, Lathan made it clear where he stands on that topic, and explained why he can no longer enjoy Kanye’s music.
“I’m done with it. I can’t,” he said. “Right now, I feel like listening or supporting his music would make me complicit in some of the things that are going on right now, I can’t do it. I know the music is gonna be fire, every time he drops it’s a cultural moment, it’s an event. Everyone that wants to enjoy it, they should. I can’t be one of them.”
Lathan probably isn’t alone. Since Kanye’s comments — and his weak rebuttals –— it seems like everyone with a Twitter account has been chiming in on the debate. While some are defending the rapper and trying to explain what they think his point was, others are proclaiming West to be “cancelled.”
So whose side are you on?
(Photo: Taye Diggs and Van Lathan attend a basketball game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on April 28, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. By Noel Vasquez/GC Images, via Getty Images)