The Sound is a column on all things music written by Charles Park (’20) and Mark Park (’20). -Ed.
If you’ve been following news on politics or music this year, you know about the tumult Chicago rapper Kanye West has created for himself: for calling for the abolishing of the 13th Amendment, for claiming that slavery was a choice, and for flaunting a MAGA hat all over social media.
Less than a month before his album ye dropped this June, Kanye famously said at TMZ: “When you hear about slavery for 400 years… For 400 years? That sounds like a choice.” TMZ employee Van Lathan was one of the first to confront him, telling him that his luxurious life as an artist has alienated him from the problems that “common black folk” go through in their lives: the residual discrimination that has manifested as an after effect of the aforementioned 400 years of slavery. Kanye has often been cited as the symbol for “blackness” (as Vox put it) in American pop culture.
His first three albums, nicknamed the Higher Education trilogy: The College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation, are reflective of his self-awareness and reverence for his roots – with his mother, with Chicago, and with his career as a producer and rapper. He admittedly didn’t have the in-the-pocket flow and gruff voice of many rappers at the time, which is why it took so long for him to convince Jay-Z to give him at a shot at rapping, a stray from his usual gig as a producer. His real draw was, therefore, not his voice, but his introspective and humble lyrics.
So what makes people accuse him now of losing that humility? Did the fame truly get to him? Did marrying into the Kardashian family compromise his values?
I don’t think that Kanye’s remarks on Trump and on slavery are anything new. To me, Kanye saying anything controversial means “oh… he’s probably dropping an album soon”. Even in the past few years, he had a feud with Taylor Swift and opened up about his $53 million debt just before releasing his 2016 album The Life of Pablo; most iconically, he said on national television “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” a week after dropping the second album to the education trilogy, Late Registration.
As far as most can tell, these recent controversies simply started as another attempt to promote his work that ended up becoming blown out of proportion because of the topical nature of the subject matter he chose to delve into: Trump and racism. His appearances on shows like Jimmy Kimmel are embarrassingly revealing of his lack of fleshed-out, logical contentions about the people – and ideas – he’s promoting, and Trump’s open endorsement of West just seems like a PR move to pretend like the president is actually caught up on American and African American pop culture – “thank you Kanye, very cool!”
What’s equally upsetting is the number of people that are getting worked up about Kanye’s recent moves. Even if they can’t see through the fact that it’s just a promotional campaign for an album that went too far, it’s plain to see that he has good intentions. For the record, Kanye has never stated that he agrees with everything Trump says: he said that he doesn’t fully agree with anyone, which is what makes everyone unique. Instead, he stands behind what the MAGA slogan represents: literally speaking, a great America.
As a fan of his music and art, I hope that Kanye would actually take the time to learn more about how his own country functions, and to use that knowledge to inspire his fans to take action for themselves. So many rappers have made efforts to improve their hometown and do actual good for the community, a recent example being rapper 21 Savage making a back to school drive for underprivileged children in Atlanta. Kanye’s bars on ye showed that a large part of him is still the soft, insecure Kanye he was during his formative years as a rapper in the early 2000s: he just has to harness that energy for actually politically informed discourse, rather than his usual sensationalized tirade.
– Charles Park (’20)
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