West uses controversy to critique Black community
By GERREN KEITH GAYNOR | 7/11/2013, 1:41 p.m. | Updated on 7/11/2013, 1:41 p.m.
It goes without saying that Kanye West is one of the most controversial rappers in the history of hip-hop. From his music to his sartorial choices, West takes pleasure in going against the grain, so it comes as no surprise that when he announced the title of his new album, “Yeezus,” controversy soon followed.
“Yeezus,” West’s sixth solo studio album, is by far his most ambitious body of work. The consensus, however, it still out on whether it is the product of a musical genius or a pompous egomaniac.
One’s impression of “Yeezus” probably depends on one’s threshold of inappropriateness. To the casual listener, it can be categorized as sacrilegious, narcissistic and sonically disheveled. “Yeezus” is laced with overtly sexual references and even what some may say is a blasphemous pseudo “talk” with Christ.
“I am a God,” he says in repetition on the song “I Am a God.” “I just talked to Jesus; he said ‘what up Yeezus.’ I said, ‘I’m just chillin’ tryna stack these millions,’” he raps. West goes on to confidently declare himself as the only rapper to be compared to Michael Jackson.
But any true hip-hop fan can look beyond the smoke and mirrors and appreciate the art of “Yeezus.” Underneath the outlandishness are very awakening social critiques of the Black community. On the track “New Slaves,” West juxtaposes the African-American community’s materialism to slavery, suggesting that while the American slave system disenfranchised people of color, Blacks are now experiencing a new disenfranchisement of the mind.
“You see there’s broke n— racism, that’s that don’t touch anything in the store, and there’s rich n— racism, that’s that please buy more,” the Chicago native raps. “What you want, a Bentley, fur coat, diamond chain? All you Blacks want all the same thing.”
West advances this theme on the song “Blood on the Leaves,” using a sample of Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit,” a chilling song (originally a poem) recorded in 1939 about lynching. “Something’s strange happening ... we could’ve been somebody,” West asserts in an auto-tuned voice.
In the song, West uses the rap form to lambast the Black community’s conspicuous consumption and wayward views on consumerism. “She Instagram herself like bad b— alert. He Instagram his watch like mad rich alert ... $2,000 bag with no cash in your purse,” he raps. West also touches on the system of child support and the Black man’s propensity to spend money he doesn’t actually have, declaring it, “money that the court got.”
Hip-hop, like any other art form, is often used as satire to bring awareness to larger questions about humanity. With a more critical lens, you can instantly recognize that on “Yeezus,” West, through in-your-face controversy, uses contemporary colloquialism to provide commentary on more complex issues that continue to manifest itself in the Black community. Whether you agree on West’s delivery is another story.