So Appalled: A Reflection on Kanye West
“In this white man’s world, we the ones chosen…”
I’m sure at some point, many of us who have closely followed the career of Kanye West, with his award show grand standing, arrogance and spoiled-child sense of entitlement, supposing that he had just enough integrity and conviction in himself and his values to stare any and all criticism in the face and make them drink their own contempt, but not before making them give a toast to the douchebag. Unfortunately, as of recent, it seems that the same conviction we admire as fans cowers into obscurity when we need it the most.
Recently, in a brilliant move by both of their PR firms, both President George W. Bush and Kanye West, one putting out a book serendipitously around the same time the later is putting out an album decided to cross promote and piggy back each other’s controversy with President Bush commenting in an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer about his reaction to Kanye’s provocative statement during a 2005 telethon for hurricane Katrina victims, stating that “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people…”
Following the media frenzy over George Bush talking about a rapper in his book, Kanye chose to give his own interview with Matt Lauer wherein he was railroaded into apologizing to George Bush for what he said and even went as far as to express empathy towards the former president, “ I did not have the grounds to call him a racist…”
Whatever side your opinion may have landed on the issue, over time, his 2005 comment has shown to have created a paradigm shift in Kanye’s career. If one can recall, Yeezy’s music was rife with socio-political commentary; invoking Tupac-Nas like poetics and subject matter in a Puffy Daddy meets Tribe Called Quest presentation. Both his Debut and Sophmore albums, College Dropout and Late Registration were filled with lines like:
“Drug dealer buy Jordan’s, crack head buy crack, and a white man gets paid off of all of that…”-All Falls Down
“Where I’m from the dope boys is the rock stars, but they can’t cop cars without seeing cop cars, I guess they want us all behind bars, I know it…”-Heard’em Say
Since then, whether it was the media back lash from his George Bush comment, a meeting with the higher ups at his label or a meeting with Luficer, as some internet users and youtube viewers would speculate, one can make a legitimate argument that Kanye’s repertoire has taken a slight, yet very apparent, detour to the superficial and non-threatening, in a move to broaden his appeal to an audience that, for the most part, is apathetic towards the ills and plight of Urban communities. Songs like Crack Music and others with soulful and inspirational overtones were then replaced by songs like The Good Life and others with more electro futuristic vibes. In addition to his 808’s and Heartbreak offering, Kanye’s more recent catalogue was looking more to pacify its listeners than to wake them up. The social-reformist fervor he once had has been flushed out of his music. The dude with the Benz and the back pack is now the High Fashion urban icon, that makes rich White America, comfortable listening to black music without feeling guilty about their own decadence. Yet for those who believed Kanye to be a representative of his people, as he propped himself up to be by the working class everyman tone of his debut album, we can’t help to feel disappointed, abandoned and in a sense, appalled.
In my view, I see this entire current media spectacle as a missed opportunity, not just for Kanye, but for Hip Hop and urban culture. This past week has set a very troubling president, which will create a chilling effect for other artists of Kanye’s stature to ever speak truth to power for fear of negative press. Even with all his publicity and his media savvy, Kanye was not able to take control of this event and draw attention to the larger conversations at hand. The conversation of institutionalized racism within government bureaucracies and law enforcement agencies, even in the time of a Black President. The broader conversation of the widening divide between the wealthy and the poor, the disappearing of the middle class amidst a still struggling economy. Corporate welfare and bailouts, while social services for the rest of America are losing funding every day. These are just some of the issues and conversations that Kanye used to touch upon in his music. These are the same issues and conversations affecting the very people who buy his albums, go to his concerts and believed in the message of his music.
There are people who buy Kanye albums who are still waiting for their FEMA trailers, but rather than defending his supporters, for the sake of self preservation, he chose to empathize on national TV with a man, who almost single handedly brought America to Third World status, destroyed all or most of the U.S.’s moral or ethical credibility, openly lied to and spied on the American public and finished off his presidency by allowing his friends and cronies to rob us blind. All of this followed by a Black man being chosen to clean up his mess. Now, make it two Black men.
Kanye has allowed himself to take a complicit part in yet another Bush campaign to rewrite history. Niether Black America, nor America in general has received any apology or expressions of empathy from Mr. Bush or his administration for the trauma done to our collective psyche during his 8 years in office. No apologies for the atrocities committed overseas in our name under his watch, let alone all the theft, murder and sedition committed by both his father and grandfather from funding Hitler’s rise to power to flooding the ghettos with crack cocaine. I won’t even get in to 9/11.
I guess this seems to be another case of, “If you can’t beat them, buy them off”. Yet again, Urban America loses another potential freedom fighter to corporate pressure and the allure of the crossover. All too often, the hopes and aspirations of a people are placed on the frail shoulders of narcissistic self-absorbed men who thrive on our thirst to be inspired. We willingly delegate the challenge of finding solutions to our collective problems to individuals who use our desperation as the fuel for their rocket ship ascent to stardom. For those still hoping that a rapper would emerge to bridge the gap between social consciousness and mainstream success, at the same time lead Hip Hop in to a utopia of social awareness and activism as a means to restore the culture, we shouldn’t continue in our lucid dream state, but rather act ourselves, within our own communities to enact the changes we want to see on a larger scale.
“No one man should have all that power…”-Kanye West