What would the MTV Video Music Awards be without Kanye West? Pedestrian? Safe? Sane?
Hip-hop's number one mad genius has been author of the some of the biggest stirs in VMA history: the epic 2008 Daft Punk neon pyramid performance, the infamous 2009 Taylor Swift incident, 2015's presidential announcement. The VMAs know that given the opportunity, Kanye will bring the heat, which is why they gave him four minutes of free reign to do whatever he wants (it went on well past four minutes.)
"I came here to present my new video," he told the crowd, "but before I do that, Imma talk" — to wild applause. But the enthusiasm quickly turned to head scratching as West's visionary stream of consciousness got more confused by the minute.
West started talking about his "Famous" video, addressing some of the decisions he made putting Ray J, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Anna Wintour all together in one bed.
"We came over in one boat, now we in the same bed," West said, before correcting himself. "Well maybe different boats."
He then moved into talking about police brutality in his hometown of Chicago, citing last week's death count.
"So I was speaking at the art institute last year and one kid came up to me and said three of my friends died and I don't know if I'm going to be next," West said. "If you feel like you see people dying next to you, like what's the point? Life might feel worthless in a way."
In moments like these, West said he turns to his role models, naming: "Truman, Ford, Hughes, Disney, Jobs," and of course: "West."
"Tonight, we're here to have fun," he said. "I'm standing in front of my idol, Puff Daddy. I'm standing in front of my wife, Kim Kardashian West. I'm standing in front of the future, Chance The Rapper."
"We are undeniably the influencers, the thought leaders," West said. "I'm going to play y'all a piece of my art, and I just hope ya'll have a good time."
That "art" was a new video for "Fade" featuring Teyana Taylor, where she appears as a cat woman posing with Iman Shumpert.
The speech comes with a heavy dose of irony, as West was highly critical of the VMAs during his last speech at the awards show in 2015.
"You know how many times MTV ran that footage again, because it got them more ratings?" he said. "You know how many times they announced Taylor was going to give me the award 'cause it got them more ratings? ... I still don't understand awards shows."
Award shows seem to understand Kanye: give him a mic and something — brilliant, confused, powerful, messy, sometimes all four at once — will happen.
Watch the full video and read a partial transcript of the speech below, courtesy of Esquire:
I came here to present my new video, but before I do that, Imma talk. Now, later tonight, "Famous" might lose to Beyonce, but I can't be mad, I'm always wishing for Beyonce to win, so...
But for people to understand just how blessed we are, it was an expression of our now. Our fame right now. Us on the inside of the TV. You know, just to put, the audacity to put Anna Wintour right next to Donald Trump. I put Ray J in there, bro! This is fame, bro! Like—I see you, Amber [Rose, West's ex.] My wife is a G, not many people's wives would let them say that. We came over in the same boat, now we all in the same bed. Well, maybe different boats.
But if you think about, last week it was 22 people murdered in Chicago. You know, like, people come up to me, like, 'yeah, that's right, Taylor this, Taylor that.' Bro, I love all y'all. That's why I called her.
I was speaking at the Art Institute last year, and one kid came up to me and said, 'Three of my friends died, and I don't know if I'm going to be the next.' You know if you're a senior and it's your last month and you don't feel like doing any more work? If you're seeing people die next to you, life might start to feel worthless in a way. I sit down and talk to older, rich people, a.k.a. "white," you know, and they tell me, 'Don't compare yourself to Steve Jobs, don't compare yourself to Walt Disney.' My friend told me, 'There are three keys to keeping people impoverished: taking away their esteem, taking away their resources, and taking away their role models.' My role models are artist-merchants. Less than 10 I can name in history. Truman, Ford, Hughes, Disney, Jobs, West.
Tonight, we're here to have fun. I'm standing in front of my idol, Puff Daddy. I'm standing here in front of my wife, Kim Kardashian West. I'm standing here in front of the future, Chance the Rapper. 2 Chainz, Jaden Smith. We are undeniably the influence, the thought leaders. I'm gonna play y'all a piece of my art, and I hope you just have a good time.
Aug. 29, 2016, 9:13 a.m.: This story has been updated.