John Legend Talks Broken Relationship With Kanye West During Presidential Run: ‘We Really Haven’t Been Close Since Then’

Kanye WestThe 2020 presidential election was divisive. It caused some fans to question the judgment of the rapper (who now goes by Ye), and it even caused a breakup with one of his oldest collaborators, John Legend. In an interview with CNN’s David Axelrod for his “Ax files” podcast, Legend discussed how his former musical compatriot and producer went from a friend and studio confidant to a more distant acquaintance following West’s disastrous White House bid.

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“Well, you know, we’re not as much friends as we used to be, because I honestly think because we disagreed publicly about his campaign, his support for Trump, I think it became too much for us to maintain our friendship, honestly,” Legend said of Donna the rapper, who warmly embraced disgraced former President Trump and proudly displayed No. 45’s red MAGA hat on social media during the 2020 race. “He was upset that I didn’t support his candidacy for the presidency of the United States for understandable reasons.”

And while Legend knows he wasn’t alone in shunning West’s goof campaign — which garnered an anemic 60,000 votes out of more than 158 million cast — he said Kanye “wasn’t happy about it… 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 issues and being “very real” and upfront with his opinions and his challenges.

“I think with him, what you see is pretty much what you get,” Legend said. “I don’t feel like he’s a completely separate person in private than he is in public. I think you pretty much see the real Kanye in public.”

Before the legend talks about their broken relationship, he delves into how he first met ‘Ye when they were both up-and-comers in New York trying to get a demo off the ground. “He was in a position to really help me as a producer and he started making more and more connections in the industry,” he said of West, who at the time wrote Legend for his production company, Good Music, which eventually helped the singer got a deal with Columbia Records in 2004.

Legend also discussed his FREE AMERICA project that talks about mass incarceration, as well as his racial equality-focused Human level organization and how his mother’s struggles with self-medication may have inspired his career-long interest in social justice and criminal justice reform. “Sometimes, especially when you’re younger, you don’t see the macro view of things. You just see what’s going on in your life. And so as someone who avoided getting in trouble with the police, I saw that I was capable of it,” he said.

“And you start to see everything through the lens of individual responsibility. You think, well, my mom made mistakes. She dealt with her trauma and her tragedy in the wrong way, and it had consequences for her. And then I had more friends , you know, who got in trouble with the law. You know, some of them were busy, they were dealing drugs. 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 on the fact that the laws they were sanctioned under “were written by men and women of frailty and with political views.” Those perspectives, he said, helped place the United States 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 mother’s individual trauma and struggle to all the other millions of people who have gone through substance abuse, mental health issues, all these other struggles that they’ve gone through, and how we as a nation has decided to treat these problems with almost the same solution all the time, locking up more and more people,” he said.

In one of the more emotional segments, Axelrod asked for Legend’s opinion on the recent Supreme Court Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade and how the devastation he and wife Chrissy Teigen face in 2020 when they lost a child to an abortion can counter the notion that people make “random decisions” about pregnancy.

“Anyone who has dealt with pregnancy knows that none of this is random. None of this is frivolous. And it’s so intimate and so personal,” he 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 dealing with their pregnancy? Why do we want our government involved in these decisions?

“If you decide that they weren’t allowed to have an abortion, then everybody who had an abortion after all the trauma, after all the pain, after all the tears we went through to get the local police department or a local law enforcement . do an investigation and make sure abortion was state-sanctioned and not just a run-of-the-mill abortion,” he continued. “To have the government decide whether the mother’s life was sufficiently at risk for them to make this intimate decision that they make between themselves and their doctor, to have the government get involved in that conversation in any way is so offensive to me. It’s ugly. It’s evil. It shouldn’t even be a discussion. The government shouldn’t be involved.”

And although he has many burning opinions on the issues of the day – which he often expresses in passionate tweets – Legend is happy to let his advocacy live online and on stage, and that’s it. “I’m not going to run for office. I’m certainly not going to do it now,” he said.

“I don’t imagine that I will do it in the future. I did that when I was a kid. I wanted 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 am good. I don’t need that in my life. You know I love what I do. I love my daily work. But I also love the work we do politically and philanthropically.”

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