Kanye West tells TMZ that slavery was a 'choice'; staffer fires back

- The tempers flared inside the TMZ newsroom on Tuesday when rapper Kanye West, who had come to shoot "TMZ Live," suggested that Africans brought to North America in chains chose to remain enslaved.

West, who recently raised eyebrows with his love-fest tweets for President Donald Trump, defended his controversial statements by addressing the concepts of freedom and free thought.

"When you hear about slavery for 400 years. For 400 years? That sounds like a choice. Like, you were there for 400 years and it's all of you all? Like, we're mentally in prison," West said. "Slavery goes to direct to the idea of blacks. So prison is something that unites us as one race, blacks and whites being one race. We're the human race."

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TMZ staffer Van Lathan was having none of West's barely coherent sentences and confronted him on his take on slavery.

West shouted in the newsroom, "Do you feel that I'm being free and thinking free?"

Lathan slammed West, saying his words actually show an "absence of thought."

"And the reason that I feel like that is, Kanye, you're entitled to your opinion. You're entitled to believe whatever you want, but there's fact and real-life consequence behind everything you just said," Lathan said. "While you are making music and being an artist and living the life that you've earned by being a genius, the rest of us in society have to deal with these threats to our lives. We have to deal with the marginalization that has come from the 400 years of slavery that you said, for our people, was 'a choice.'"

West appeared to want to make peace, but Lathan said he was "disappointed" and "appalled" that West had become something "not real."

TMZ founder Harvey Levin told Fox 5 that he is "very proud" of Lathan for "going after" West.

"Van was poetic—I'm so proud of him, he was great," Levin said. "It was a comment Kanye made that really upset a lot of people."

But Levin also said that West is trying to speak his mind.

"We have lost free thought in this country," Levin said. "If you say anything that the majority of people in a media organization or social media don't agree with, they will bully you, they will blackball you, they will try to destroy you."

A few hours after the live showdown, West used Twitter to address his slavery comments and lamented "being attacked for presenting new ideas."

"the reason why I brought up the 400 years point is because we can't be mentally imprisoned for another 400 years. We need free thought now," West tweeted. "Even the statement was an example of free thought It was just an idea"

He then tweeted a quotation attributed to 19th-century abolitionist Harriet Tubman. But historians have debunked the quote.

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