Chika Oranika, 21, summed up the present views of many black Americans regarding Kanye West in a video that has been viewed more than 6m times on Twitter. She sang her own song to the tune of Jesus Walks by the rap singer.
How can you call yourself Jesus yet not try to fix us? You back the ruling elite who abort us, she raps directly into the camera. When your check clears, don’t lose sight of the fact that your kids are still black, no matter how much money you have or don’t have.
The criticism has come not only from activists and Hollywood celebrities but also from fellow musicians and biting online freestyles. Over the course of the past two weeks, West, arguably the most influential, complicated, and famous rapper in the United States, has used a stream of consciousness spanning 350 tweets to publicly declare his support for Donald Trump.
But in an interview with TMZ Wednesday, he went much beyond party politics, using poor vocabulary such as this: “You hear about slavery for 400 years. 400 years?! It sounds like you’re being given a decision.
After he insulted the host, Van Lathan snapped back, “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.” Twitter user Roxane Gay responded by calling his statements “dangerous” and “trite, superficial” and claiming that “he is not a free thinker. A free idiot, he is.
The Disappointment of Black Americans in the West is a Building Trend.
He surprised many when he appeared for images with Trump in December 2016, making him one of the first celebrities to apparently endorse the new president. But his recent tweets left no space for debate. He shared a picture of himself wearing the Trump campaign’s Make America Great Again cap, and tweeted:
“You don’t have to agree with Trump but the mob can’t make me not love him. Dragon energy is in both of us. My brother.
“My wife just called and she wanted me to make this clear to everyone,” West said, implying that Kim Kardashian had intervened after becoming tired of his incessant tweeting. Not everything Trump does is acceptable in my book. I don’t agree 100% with anyone but myself.”
Frank Ocean, an R&B singer, responded by coming out of hiding and posting a screenshot of a moment in 2005 when West deviated from his prepared remarks during an appeal for Hurricane Katrina victims by saying, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” with the sarcastic implication that West now lacks compassion.
Director Jordan Peele has previously linked “the sunken place” from his horror film Get Out to Trump’s America, and actor Samuel L. Jackson recently suggested that this audience was West’s intended target.
“So many people who love you feel so betrayed right know because they know the pain that Trump’s policies inflict, especially to people of colour,” West’s pal John Legend wrote in a text message that West uploaded on Twitter.
You bringing up my fans or my legacy is a strategy based on fear intended to influence my free thought,” the rap singer replied.
Meanwhile, ordinary Americans were boiling with rage at West for standing by a man who has been quoted as saying “laziness is a trait in blacks,” who advocated for the death penalty for the black teenagers who were later found to be innocent in the Central Park Five case, and who said there were some “very fine people” marching alongside neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville.
Reacting to – or having possibly foreseen – all this, West released a new track, Ye Vs the People, the first music from two new albums being released in June. “Wearin’ the hat’ll show people that we equal,” he raps, pushing for a why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along humanism, as part of a conversation with the American people (voiced by rapper T.I.) in which Kanye attempts to cleanse the Trump brand and recover his Make America Great Again tagline. In the end, he summarises the disagreement as follows: “You on some choosin’ side crap, I’m on some unified shit.”
This Event is Only the Most Recent One in Kanye’s Unyielding Professional History.
As a producer for Jay-Z and others at the turn of the millennium, he appeared to be on “some united shit,” fusing the spliced-up soul samples of “backpack” hip-hop with the blockbuster cliches of popular rap production.
He then made a smooth transition into being a unified producer-rapper. As a stand-up comedian, he riffed on slow-jam love ballads and social climbers, two staples of black culture, and his first two albums were a hit with listeners across the rap spectrum.
Graduation sampled Daft Punk and delved into an electronic sound; 808s & Heartbreak utilised Auto-Tune to brilliantly reflect and enact emotional dissonance; and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was as operatic as the title suggests, demonstrating how his albums grew more ambitious with each new release.
He started designing his own clothing lines and collaborating with Adidas as his passion in visual art expanded and he commissioned artists like Takashi Murakami and George Condo to create album covers.
According to what he claimed in 2013, “Creative genius, that’s my title. No longer do people refer to me as a rapper.
West presented himself on Twitter as a well-rounded aesthete, one who is deeply interested in form and the social influence of the arts (his recent tweets have covered topics as diverse as technological advances in water desalination and the work of artists Joseph Beuys and David Hammons).
His admiration for Kardashian seems to stem in part from her iconic status; in the 2012 track Clique, he ponders, “My lady a superstar all from a home movie.”
His Dissection of Black life in the United States Continues.
You know white people get money, don’t spend it / Or maybe they get money, purchase a business / I’d rather buy 80 gold chains and go ig’nant, he raps on the same track. West views himself as a celebrator of the economic independence that black Americans were denied for decades and to which they remain substantially less entitled than whites.
It’s an expansion of a pivotal Jay-Z lyric from Kanye’s production of Izzo (HOVA), “I do this for my culture, to let ’em know what a nigga look like, when a nigga in a roadster.”
Meanwhile, West conveyed a more nuanced version of his slavery views this week on New Slaves, off his 2013 album Yeezus. He said that black Americans were subject to a new sort of slavery, the insatiable consumerism for Maybach automobiles and Alexander Wang outfits that binds them in economic bondage.
Philosophy professor at Ohio’s Wittenberg University Julius Bailey, who edited a book of essays titled The Cultural Impact of Kanye West, argues that West should be criticised for his TMZ interview “on the basis that he didn’t speak to the material implications of post-chattel slavery,” as he has on New Slaves and Clique.
To paraphrase what Van Lathan said about Kanye’s apologies on TMZ: “Kanye’s emotional apology [to Van Lathan on TMZ following his statements] was a way of realising that his words, when not qualified or contextualised, cause more damage than the emancipatory good he wants.”
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident for West; some of his other lyrics are awkward and even rude. Blood on the Leaves is a song about the damaging force of celebrity, and it samples Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit, a song about lynching, in which the protagonist’s wife and mistress are separated at a basketball game and likened to apartheid.
And Ever Since Yeezus, His Inward Focus has been Suffocating.
I Love Kanye is a hilarious sketch from his 2016 album The Life of Pablo, where he wonders, “What if Kanye made a song about Kanye called I Miss the Old Kanye? That’s so Kanye!
After his comments on slavery, the sketch lost its humour; black folks do miss the old, empathetic Kanye. In an Instagram post yesterday, rapper Meek Mill summed up the feelings of many by echoing Kanye’s own songs back to him, writing, “I feel the pressure, under more scrutiny / And what I do? More naive behaviour is encouraged.
The trouble is, Kanye’s self-reflection has progressed so far that he is starting to view the world through his own lens, rather than through the lens of black America. That’s bad for him personally, and it could also set back the ongoing civil rights movement for African Americans in a still-racist United States by giving the alt-right and those who want to reduce their status ammunition.
It’s difficult to situate Kanye on a left-right political binary, much like the men he admires, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. The alt-right loved him when he defended Trump, but abandoned him after he defended Parkland massacre survivor and activist Emma Gonzalez over the weekend. This is evidence that his personal political ideology doesn’t easily mesh with current belief systems.
Trump’s acceptance by him is apolitical, as was his acceptance of Candace Owens, a black conservative broadcaster, whom he met with after tweeting “I adore the way [she] thinks.” Not agreeing with Trump on immigration, urban policy, or militarization is “just being contrarian and a bit arrogant,” as Bailey puts it. He is a materialistic snob.
Like other successful, wealthy libertarians (today’s being “Most fear is learnt”), Kanye has gotten detached from reality and believes that all you need to make it is willpower, maybe helped along by his inspiring bromides on Twitter (today’s being “All strength comes from inside”). Insulated by his money and cultural clout, West is exempt from the draining power of Trump’s energy and the legacies of slavery, and is free to enjoy or challenge them.
The racism he has encountered – being ostracised by pop radio and high fashion – is real and evidently painful, as he returns to the subject in another interview this week with radio personality Charlamagne the God.
West, who did finally gain entry to the fashion industry, seems to think that all black people can achieve the same level of autonomy if they only believe it for themselves. It’s the kind of illusion that makes Trumpism so alluring.
West’s two-week hospitalisation in 2016 for a mental breakdown after exhausting touring and a robbery of Kardashian in Paris further complicates any interpretation. He now portrays the incident as a “breakthrough” and claims to be taking medication that “helps calm me down”; Kardashian has voiced her displeasure at how Kanye is portrayed as mentally ill when he is “just being himself when he has always been outspoken.” Of course, there’s a lot of history of writing off black people’s sanity because of this stereotype.
Another, more charitable interpretation is that Kanye still deeply cares about the plight of black Americans and is merely a victim of the increasingly dogmatic and polarised culture that he and Trump have helped to build with the help of their preferred medium of communication, Twitter.
“So the era of slavery in the United States lasted from 1618 to 1865?” Bailey queries. If this is the case, then we have arrived in 2018, which is in line with the demands of black nationalists, anti-colonialists, some academics, and even George Clinton for “mental freedom.”
Kanye is dissatisfied by the societal homogeneity he perceives: His rap in Ye Vs. the People, “See that’s the problem with this damn nation / All blacks gotta be Democrats, dude, we ain’t made it off the plantation,” essentially implies that voting Republican is a symbol of black autonomy.
For Bailey, “Kanye has shown his bona fides in black freedom and black love,” thus the “sunken place” analogy irritates him deeply. “We know, by his own words on his albums and interviews, that he stands against racism in all its forms. Kanye may be arrogant, mentally unstable, narcissistic and callous but, for him, he is free.”