Any rapper interested in shining a spotlight on his or her lyrical ability and skill with wordplay should be writing new lyrics to accompany the recently released Yeezus instrumentals. Immediately. However, I’d avoid outright attacks on Kanye’s ability or output. It makes one appear bitter and the flaws in Yeezus are already glaring to critic and fan alike. I’d also avoid penning the standard sixteen bars of crack rap as well. No, what is needed is something akin to Yasiin Bey’s “Niggaz in Poorest“—a work that explores street-level issues from a position as an ambassador or survivor rather than predator. It is a position that allows one to lampoon out-of-touch mainstream darlings who champion luxury and excess to the point where they are consumed or enslaved by their beloved commodities. It also cements one in a position above those who would exploit those still chained to the streets that birthed them in order to obtain small scraps of credibility to please critics on the hunt for a little ‘hood realism to titillate and tantalize.
ETA: Well, that was fast. And needed.
“If Kanye’s new album is, as I’m suspecting, a letter to the different facets of black America, I’m going to have to give up the Internet.”Cheryl Lynn Eaton
Sadly, I could not have been more wrong. I listened to Yeezus tonight and I am disappointed. I feel as if “New Slaves” was the ultimate bait and switch. Given one of the biggest platforms a black man could possibly be afforded, during a time when black men and boys people desperately need someone to celebrate them loudly and publicly on a grand scale to counteract the warped negative projections found in the media, need someone to address the life-threatening inequities they currently face (that America wishes desperately to bury), Kanye used it mainly to recite a love letter to himself, and solely himself—a self-serving album (of which we already have several from his peers).
West has what few have been given—the power to change our culture with his actions. So for him to return to a superficial world of MDMA, groupies, and high-end luxuries after a conscious “one-off” is frustrating. The beats, melancholy and haunting and sparse, are beautiful. However, the lyrics, championing a spoiled boy-king’s heartbreak and resulting misogynistically-tinged tantrums, are audible self-absorption at a time when the problems we currently face are so much greater than this one man.
I suppose this is the eternal push-and-pull for popular artists belonging to a group that has been so fervently oppressed and silenced. Once one has broken through the barriers and has received a highly visible canvas upon which to create, does one owe it to the group to try to speak for/to all? Is it unfair to ask the artist to integrate a larger societal message into his personal work?
Disappointed though I may be, Kanye doesn’t owe me—us—anything. His lyrics are and should be his own. I suppose it is our responsibility to seek new artists and build new platforms if the message we seek cannot be found in the music he creates.