If Elon Musk has a hero, it’s Kanye West. As far as the Tesla and SpaceX founder is concerned, this news shouldn’t take anyone by surprise.
“Kanye West, obviously,” Musk said this weekend at SXSW when asked who inspired him, before throwing in another choice. “And Fred Astaire. You should see my dance moves.”
Musk didn’t elaborate on just why West inspires him during his surprise appearance at HBO’s Westworld panel, but perhaps that’s because he laid out the case for West’s inspirational qualities three years ago. In 2015, Musk wrote the blurb for the rapper’s entry in Time’s 100 Most Influential People list.
Here’s the key section, in which Musk discusses West’s use of hip-hop for social commentary before moving into a more general description of the artist’s qualities. They sound more than a little Musk-like.
In his debut album, over a decade ago, Kanye issued what amounted to a social critique and a call to arms (with a beat): “We rappers is role models: we rap, we don’t think.” But Kanye does think. Constantly. About everything. And he wants everybody else to do the same: to engage, question, push boundaries. Now that he’s a pop-culture juggernaut, he has the platform to achieve just that. He’s not afraid of being judged or ridiculed in the process. Kanye’s been playing the long game all along, and we’re only just beginning to see why.
Musk doesn’t explicitly say that those last few sentences are a pretty good description of him as well — even a billionaire’s sense of decorum would forbid that in someone else’s Time 100 write-up — but it’s not hard to see the ways in which Musk would see himself in West.
Both SpaceX and Tesla are where they are today because of Musk’s willingness to play the long game. He frequently mentions that he was laughed out of the room by rocket experts in the early days of SpaceX, and Tesla’s entire business model very much remains a long-term bet that electric cars — and the company’s lithium-ion batteries — will eventually win out over conventional vehicles and power sources. Even the point about wanting people to engage and push boundaries recalls how Musk talks about his dreams of Mars as an effort to redefine humanity as a multi-planetary species.
As for Fred Astaire… well, we suppose we do still need to see Musk’s dance moves before we can pass judgment on that one.