Kanye West Is Not This Generation’s Gil Scott Heron

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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.

KANYE POWER

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.

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7 Comments

  1. To insinuate he only brings up legitimate topics only for showmanship makes 0 sense because anybody with a general pulse of music knows that talking about private prisons isn’t going to get you millions of new fans. Now he may not articulate his self the best on these subjects but you’re basically saying he shouldn’t even try to have depth and if he does it’s for show. That’s like saying “blood diamonds” didnt mean anything and he didn’t have any genuine thought towards it after he clearly expressed his view. Seems like you fell for what his image is in your head over what he does in his music.

    and you must be white or from under a rock to think race wasnt the main reason people were stranded for days after a natural disaster in new orleans

  2. *”Articulate his self the best” – the pure irony here made me chuckle.
    *”You must be white” – Actually I’m not, but the idea that everyone who’s Black should fall in line with everything that comes out of Kanye’s mouth is insulting. As Black people, we are not a monolith, yet politicians tend to pander to us as one because of this ignorant line of thinking…not to mention the fact that me saying Kanye’s statement was irrational and selfish isn’t saying that race was not a factor in the situation. “George Bush hates Black people” is a far cry from saying we need to take a look at how race and class are looked at in situations like these. If he knew Bush personally, maybe it would make sense, but to me it sounded like a petulant child looking to stir something up. But clearly you read what you wanted to read and responded based on that.
    * I never said that he ONLY speaks up on topics to get attention, but he IS a person who’s used to getting attention and must have it to feel relevant and I think that speaks to an immense sense of insecurity inside of him. I’m not saying he’s right or wrong at every turn, just that I don’t take much of what he says seriously at THIS point (I emphasize THIS point in time since you felt a need to go all the way back to “Diamonds”). But since you want to bring up “Diamonds”, what’s the point of bringing up all of this information about Blood Diamonds if you’re just going to continue to wear them? That’s the shit I’m talking about. A whole lot of hot air from this one…on MOST if not all occasions.

  3. I put the “or” for a reason, don’t selectively read. As for putting my last statement aside something you said about his outburst. I didn’t speak on that or disagree with you about it initially. But in the writing you said it that disaster wasnt about race you’re wrong, but we can disagree on that forever, although it’s obvious.

    To say he(let alone anyone) speaks on social issues in his music out of insecurity really just isn’t that intelligent. Being socially conscious isn’t a byproduct of insecurity, ever. It’s not a product of his showmanship either.

    You could have just said “I don’t like Kanye talking about things outside of typical rapper stuff because I don’t think he knows what he’s talking about or feel it’s genuine, oh and I like his beats.” instead of pushing a hollow reasoning behind it.

    good read tho I don’t want to come off as a hater, and I have zero idea what type of diamonds ye got on my man they might be legit………lmao!

  4. Sorry, but you assuming I was white for having a different opinion also keeps your argument from attaining any sort of validity…not to mention the “articulate his self the best” bit, which is still funny. But the assumption I was white lets me further know where your logic comes from…the biased “Team Black” view of the New Orleans situation, as if there weren’t also whites, Latinos, and others who suffered from the floods and are still suffering through the economic fallout from it to this day. Read a little instead of being offended at every perceived slight to Black people that a rapper tells you to be mad about.
    And I think I did actually say that Kanye should avoid talking about things that are deeper than his understanding if he’s going to be one type of rapper and not put more actual depth behind his words as opposed to perceived depth and raw passion. His heart is in it, but his mind isn’t. I don’t expect for all rappers to stay away from tough topics…Talib Kweli does it quite well, actually, and comes across as both well-read and genuine and not like someone who wants his face onscreen for as long as possible. Kanye’s a proven attention whore, which at times is entertaining, but other times, he just needs to sit the hell down. I didn’t say he speaks on sociopolitical issues ONLY out of insecurity, so your assessment of my points is what’s not intelligent. You say “being socially conscious isn’t a byproduct of insecurity” but who said he’s actually socially conscious? You don’t know him just like I don’t, so really it’s all speculation…people ABSOLUTELY use the facade of social consciousness to garner attention and praise for themselves, so it’s the ruse I’m talking about and not the actually being socially conscious. I think you’re the one reading selectively, though. Keep stanning.

  5. Apologies but I had to cut this dialogue short, readers. This clown started embarrassing himself and it no longer was interesting to read. There’s only so long I’m going to allow you to be a disrespectful stan in the space that I pay for lol.

  6. For the most part, I agree with you. I have long since felt like most of Kanye’s rants have been him just working out his inner angst and drawing attention to himself. I’d like to see him express himself more responsibly- because he has a platform that reaches people. While it’s not my or anyone else’s place to judge his social conscious- I do think that Kanye needs to realize that moving into that activist forum comes with the responsibility of practicing what you preach- and measuring your words carefully- and I don’t think that he does either of those things on a consistent basis.

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