Hip-hop has an unfortunate tendency to over-think and under-think at the wrong times. Many under-thought the whole Rick Ross/date rape issue, attempting to crucify the rapper vs. start a serious dialogue about how much our youth really know about rape (of the date variety and otherwise). Many over-thought the entire career of Tupac Shakur and will to this day call an influential musician a “revolutionary” without having a solid grasp of what that title really entails. There’s a difference between assassination and just getting shot, yet people are really holding dear to their hearts the idea that Tupac was a political target or a danger to the American government at any point in time. This is no different from Kanye West and his seemingly arbitrary forays into sociopolitical commentary.
During the New Orleans flooding, many were praising Kanye West for his outburst while my reaction was more similar to Mike Myers’ immediate shock and distancing. I saw it as no more than what it was…an outburst…and you can tell from the trembling in Kanye’s voice that it wasn’t a very well thought-out statement (“George Bush doesn’t care about Black people”). “Oh, he was just passionate” was a lot of people’s explanation. No, he was just being counterproductive, making what was going on an issue of race instead of an issue about class, dividing people where people should have been coming together. But that’s Kanye for you, making more of an issue of him jumping up to say something at all than drawing attention to the issue at hand and stepping aside so that those listening can make their own assessment. It’s all a show and I don’t think at that point in time that Kanye had the wherewithal to think “let me do this so I can bring more attention to the issue” but ultimately all it did was bring more attention to him and his biased and irrational opinions and need to over-emote.
The Taylor Swift incident was more up my alley and something I praised him for on this very website at the time it happened. If we’re talking music and not politics, then Kanye is probably one of the few people in the mainstream industry who are qualified to speak up, especially when a sub-par, disposable pop video is receiving an accolade over one that will go down in music history as a great video, whether you liked “Single Ladies” or not. While it’s almost impossible not to view the backlash from it as containing elements of the Black menace threatening middle America’s darling, delicate white flower, the issue itself was really at its heart more an issue of showing passion for the art of music in an environment where uninspired drivel was getting undue praise. The issue needed to be raised and luckily, Kanye did so…but on a topic as frivolous as music…which he’s qualified to speak on credibly.
I was basically unmoved by the new songs Kanye performed on Saturday Night Live, “New Slaves” and “Black Skinhead”. As if being a guest on SNL and daily coverage on TMZ isn’t enough, what better way to captivate white and/or mainstream America than making them uncomfortable with racial and sociopolitical commentary? While I’ve read many articles analyzing the bejeezus out of the songs and praising Kanye for using his voice or whatever, I think folks forget who we’re dealing with here. While he may be attempting to “say something” of substance, he’s also been praising and working with the likes of Chief Keef, a young man who could probably benefit from the knowledge he thinks he’s dropping on a jaded public and then some. I’m not saying Kanye should shut up because he’s contradictory, as the martyr-makers love to point out that all “great minds” contradict themselves and then pull a Tupac hologram out of nowhere as an example. What I’m saying is that sometimes musicians need to simply be musicians and stop trying to horn in on activist territory, particularly when the astute can see through the facade to the root of your cause: grandstanding and an absurd fear that you will be forgotten, a fear which I think many in this generation share. Many will sit and rail against the government and “the system”, tweeting and blogging away using tablets and $500 smartphones ironically to badmouth capitalism.
Kanye West has succeeded in becoming the caricature he’s been made out to be, spoiled rotten and caught up in his own hype machine. Nevertheless, while folks were trying to pick apart the perceived depth of Kanye’s words on his two new songs, I was listening for the production, which of course was top notch. All of this being said, I’m absolutely looking forward to Kanye’s album to drop in June (titled Yeezus, a title that’s yet another successful attempt to rile people and force his status as some sort of pop culture martyr). My only point is to avoid taking Kanye too seriously or thinking his outbursts on topics other than music (and even those) are anything more than showmanship, lest you too become part of the joke.