WASHINGTON - Donald Trump hosts lunch Thursday for star rapper Kanye West in the latest push to portray his presidency as being on the side of blacks, rather than only the overwhelmingly white voter block behind his surprise election.
West -- best known as Kanye but recently stating that he wants to be known as Ye -- is one of the mold-breaking president's more unusual supporters.
"I like him a lot," Trump said Thursday in an interview on the TV show Fox and Friends. "A genius."
Kanye has returned the love, bucking left-leaning showbiz trends to come out as a Trump supporter, complete with the red Make America Great Again baseball cap most often seen at the president's rowdy election campaign rallies -- where blacks are often hard to spot.
Trump not only relies on a heavily white political base but is locked in an ugly dispute with several black NFL football players who have knelt down during the playing of the US national anthem to protest racial inequality.
Last year, Trump was heavily criticized for what appeared to be his lukewarm condemnation of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
But he's working hard to flip that narrative ahead of congressional midterm elections next month.
His stump speech includes repeated boasts about record low unemployment for African Americans and he is touting the need for reform of the prison system, where blacks are about 38 percent of inmates, despite being only 13 percent of the US population.
At the lunch, "topics of discussions will include manufacturing resurgence in America, prison reform, how to prevent gang violence," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
Reducing soaring crime in Chicago, where Kanye grew up, is also on the menu.
Getting in with the Kardashians
As recently as August, Trump seemed to be digging himself a large hole among African Americans when he got into a Twitter war with basketball great and black icon LeBron James.
But in his Fox interview, Trump said that Kanye's support had transformed blacks' view of his presidency.
"When Kanye came out a couple months ago, something happened," Trump said. "Nobody (has) ever seen it. He has a big following in the African-American community, a big, big following ... The polls went through the roof."
At the lunch, Kanye will be accompanied by black NFL legend Jim Brown.
Previously, Kanye's reality TV star wife Kim Kardashian has visited the White House to press, successfully, for Trump to grant clemency to Alice Johnson, a woman who was sentenced to life in prison for nonviolent drug crimes.
Trump raised her case again Thursday as an example of why the prison system needs urgent change.
Kanye's "terrific" wife opened his eyes, Trump said.
"We do need reform. That doesn't mean easy. We're going to make certain categories tougher when it comes to drug dealing and other things, but there has to be a reform because it is very unfair right now," he said.
"It is very unfair to African-Americans."