Kanye West has been a politically minded rapper very literally since day 1. It’s why we fell in love with him to begin with. That backpack label? It wasn’t accidental. This bizarre claim that he’s only now talking about politics in the intensely political “New Slaves” and “Black Skinhead” is really telling. The subjects of Kanye’s raps haven’t changed much [at least not in ways unpredictable]. Apparently, we haven’t been listening, have we?
The College Dropout addresses institutional racism, tokenism, educational inequity, consumerism, and the hypocritical tendencies of people on the road to riches and diamond rings—should I continue?
No. Ye isn’t new to politics or to social criticism. He’s a lot of things. But this is not new.
I guess the money shoulda changed him…
I can’t help but notice that as much as Ye has changed, his fans’ attitude towards him has warped as well. It looks like the money might have changed us a bit, too. The advent of Kanye’s super-fame has brought with it flash and excess—all the earmarks of a successful rap career and the very vices he has spent much of his time criticizing. People seem to want to be mad at him because he flaunts his wealth, as if he hadn’t warned us that’s where he was headed eons ago.
“for that paper, look how low we’ll stoop…”
“but I ain’t even gon’ act holier than thou,
‘cause fuck it, I went to Jacob’s with 25 thou,
before I had a house,
and I’ll do it again…”
“When i got my deal I was back in the ring,
Fighting my urges, strip club splurges
Never had money, so I feel like a virgin and I’m tryna break the bank’s cherry
Tryna see can I afford canaries, and a Ferrari, and a dinner date with Halle Berry
Went from 15k to 1500 in a week…”
Kanye West is a lot of things, but he has always been very conscious of his vices. He hasn’t always been successful in combating them, but he knows they’re there and he’s always been willing to talk about them. I’m not sure I understand why people seem so bent on criticizing him for criticizing the prison industrial complex and hyper-consumerism, as though he hasn’t touched on similar issues before. As though many of us don’t participate in systems that we despise (women who love rappers who degrade women?).
As for criticism regarding Ye’s perceived lack of responsibility for solving institutional ills via his mostly non-Black audience (HuffPost):
While his lyrics have not changed thematically (though they have changed in tense—he used to talk about chasing a lifestyle that is now his reality), the demographic of his audience has changed drastically. The Polo clad, backpack toting Mr. West appealed primarily to black folk, initially. Maybe it’s the wealth or the exposure that his wealth has afforded him, but white people are now Ye stans too. A white Kanye fan is different than a black fan, though; white fans can love the production, the catchy choruses, the adrenaline surge of one of his insane performances, the flash and the exuberance with which he delivers messages about women and cars and the come up and ignore the social messages woven in between all of that. He’s effectively taken parts of the black experience and, somehow, commodified them. White people who can never get it, feel like they do, and so the messages that we [black people in America] relate so hard to [the experiences that for us, are much more than just a three minute song or a good hook ] fall on deaf, white ears. And we hate him for that. We hate that white people can listen to lyrics about being followed in stores and about after-school programs in black neighborhoods being cut and about claiming other people’s kids on your tax return and about dress codes that only apply to brown skin and about the DEA and the CCA without regard to the real-life consequences and implications associated with each of those actions. And such is the larger dilemma of so called ‘socially conscious’ hip-hop music in the mainstream. The appropriation conundrum and the disconnect that materializes when an audience no longer empathizes with its artist.
Maybe Ye is part of [many] problems now, but no one [black] man, despite his power, was going to break unjust systems through lyrics being repeated by folks who can’t ever truly understand them.
But their heads are nodding.