Ernest Owens Communication & Public Service scholar, University of Pennsylvania Posted: 05/20/2013 2:52 pm
Everyone has that one cousin in the family that never tends to shut up at the dinner table. They complain about how the world is wicked and how all of us are just pawns in the middle of it. Some of what they say is enlightening, insightful, and makes sense. Yet, a lot of it gets mumbled in between blatant disrespectful rants and overblown ignorance. When it comes to hip-hop and mainstream music, that cousin would be Kanye West. When I heard that his new single entitled “New Slaves” was being blasted on the screens of 66 walls of major cities around the world, all I could say was “oh, boy.” As talented as Mr. West has been as a producer and recording artist, I find that many of his antics are just a cry out for attention in a state of anger and hysteria. There is no doubt that his lyrics speak various levels of truth, but there is also a level of disconnection I get from the way he goes about it. When I finally heard the new track, I was pissed to say the very least. Sure, Kanye points out the issues that take root with modern-day racism. Sure, being a black man in America myself, I can resonate with some of his lyrics in that song. However, when I think about the concept of “New Slaves” and the larger audience of listeners that will hear it, there comes a new profound hypocrisy that Mr. West is responsible for.
For starters, Mr. West will profit from a song about how many of his fellow black peers are suffering in America. And how much of that money is actually going into something that strives to help eradicate the problem? If not financially, will Kanye actually go out and start an activist movement to help fix some of these ills? Probably not, because he will most likely be on tour to collect residuals and proceeds off of us “connecting” with an artist who lives a life most of us don’t. And on the topic of racism, Kanye rants “Fu*k you and your corporation/Y’all ni**as can’t control me.” Yes, the self proclaimed “Louis Vuiton Don” uses the same derogatory racist term as a reference to the very people he wants to define as the controllers. If this isn’t backwards thinking, I don’t know what is. It is hypocritical to speak on the very ills of racism when at the same time appealing to the very non-black audience you later criticize as being such. Anyone remember “Ni**as in Paris”? When going on the Watch the Throne tour and performing before crowds that were predominately non-black, how could Kanye promote the usage of the n-word and later complain about how modern-day racism still exists? If anything, Kanye is perpetuating the false idea that the n-word does not contain the same level of racism as it did back in the days when “they wouldn’t be satisfied unless I picked the cotton myself.” Furthermore, this idea of black materialistic adoration is fueled by Kanye West’s very own efforts as well. Just as much as Mr. West speaks on issues such as racism and the paparazzi, he also does not hesitate to remind the rest of the world of his flashy accessories and massive wealth. And yet that is “rich ni**a racism”…the ability to feel the need to go in the store and be told “What you want a Bentley, fur coat and diamond chain?/All you blacks want all the same things”? However, these are the very same things the hip-hop industry continues to perpetuate as “The Good Life.” And to further the lack of respect to race, Kanye belabors us to remember “an era when/Clean water was only served to the fairer skin.” Yet, Kanye himself continues to perpetuate the mentality of self-inflicted racial colorism in his lyrics. In “Power,” Kayne couldn’t help but take notice that there were some “light skinned girls and some Kelly Rowlands” further continuing the demotion of darker skinned women of color. And it does not help to add that he continues to exercise the exploitation of the black female body and use misogynist lyrics in his songs. Referring to the future mother of your child as “My Perfect B**ch” does not help the cause. And why do I resent Kanye’s music? For some of the various reasons why I find it at times enlightening, he is smart. Unlike many rappers in hip-hop who are obvious industry pinheads just trying to cash into the bank, Kanye West knows more. Yet, that is perhaps the very problem: he knows more and yet does nothing to actually fix the problem. As much as my cousin would complain about the streets he lived on, he actually did nothing in actually helping. What is worse on Kanye’s part is that he has a massive influential audience and yet he does nothing but continue to perpetuate the same negative stereotypes and misfortunes that he complains about. What is even more alarming is that when it is all said and done, Kanye West will not probably realize that he helped play a role in the very “new slaves” he tries to connect with us as. The common black American cannot relate to Kanye West as much as he would like us to think. Sure, we face racism, but obviously there is a class disparity that separates us. One cannot divorce race from class no matter how much hip-hop artists such as Mr. West would like us to do so. As many of us would like to think we share similar struggles, Kanye have the benefit of profiting from it while we just live in it. When you know better, it is expected you do better. Kanye West no longer gets the pass of having me buy his albums and hear him rant about how messed up the society I live in is. I’d rather instead invest the time and money I once spent on him flashing his wealth in front of me into bettering my community. If one of the most successful black men in music cannot step up to the plate, perhaps the very people who helped put him there can. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ernest-owens/kanye-west-new-slaves_b_3300051.html?utm_hp_ref=black-voices