“Can’t Tell Me Nothing” -- the most quintessential Kanye West single, as the clearest example of his world-beating confidence -- is a go-to song for Eric Bowler, as it is for many other DJs. He found out that would no longer be the case during a Cinco De Mayo set at the Portland bar Fortune. When he threw on the song close to midnight, Bowler barely got past the intro’s anthemic la-la-la’s before he saw the small crowd’s gestures: a thumb dragging across a throat, indignant grimaces and aggressive boos.
“Some chick came up to me and was like, ‘Why the hell are you playing Kanye right now?’” recalls Bowler, who professionally goes by DJ Evil One. “I said, ‘Aw man, I gotta get out of this shit really quick.’”
Other DJs have been hit with similar reactions following a line of comments and tweets from West that included a Donald Trump endorsement, a picture of him posing with a Make America Great Again hat, and a TMZ video in which he claimed that 400 years of slavery “sounds like a choice.” Brooklyn DJ Olivia Dope says playing “New Slaves” during a late April gig spurred some attendees to “look at me, like, ‘Trick, what are you doing right now?’” Darling Chuck, a DJ from Queens, had a quick discussion with two others about whether to play West during another gig in Brooklyn. Chuck and another DJ decided not to; the performer who did saw that "the dance floor pretty much cleared," Chuck says.