Earlier this spring, Kanye West rapped, “We ain’t made it off the plantation,” calling himself a ‘slave’ to fan expectations after professing admiration for right-wing causes. The rapper subsequently tweeted in late April, “the mob can’t make [him] not love” Donald Trump, a president known for institutionalizing racism.
You don’t have to agree with trump but the mob can’t make me not love him. We are both dragon energy. He is my brother. I love everyone. I don’t agree with everything anyone does. That’s what makes us individuals. And we have the right to independent thought.
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 25, 2018
West defended his statement with his new philosophy of free thought. The rapper’s wealth has led him to believe he’s surpassed racial divisions, allowing him to operate on a higher plane of universal harmony where he can think anything he wants as long as it’s accompanied with love.
Despite his claim of free-spirited love, West’s recent song title—“Ye vs. the People”—proves more than a name. Instead, it becomes a full-fledged and dangerous division.
From “Black Skinhead” to “Jesus Walks,” West has made his career voicing experiences of racial inequality. His discussion of police brutality and power disparity, however, took a turn when the rapper began to express harmful views in a quest for originality. West says he preaches love, but calling slavery a “choice” achieves the opposite—which is exactly what Kanye did in his May 1 interview with TMZ.
TMZ employee Van Lathan took West to task, challenging him by saying, “I think what you’re doing right now is actually the absence of thought. … The rest of us in society have to deal with these threats to our lives.”
This is the core of the issue with West’s philosophy—he’s so preoccupied with his image as a solitary truth-teller that he fails to realize his words impact the Black community he’s aligned himself with throughout his career.
West’s entertainment is political, which is common through Black history. From jazz to blues to hip-hop, marginalized Black artists have used music to cut through the noise and make their perspectives heard.
But as West is isolated by opulence, he’s also isolated from the many current realities of racism. It’s irresponsible for a celebrity of Kanye’s stature to make unfounded blanket statements, and particularly about a race he consistently aligns himself with in his music.
Chance the Rapper came to West’s defence, tweeting, “Black people don’t have to be democrats.” Sure, West doesn’t have to be a democrat—but he does have to acknowledge the widespread reach of his views.
Black people don’t have to be democrats.
— Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) April 25, 2018
And in the case of his slavery remarks, West’s views are not aligned with fact.
His controversial comments on slavery came just days before Childish Gambino released “This is America,” a music video creatively depicting the Black experience and gun violence in the United States. Some have said Gambino does what West thinks he’s doing: both men seek to provoke as much as they seek to enlighten, but Gambino doesn’t cause this provocation for himself.
Gambino is able to simultaneously express his views and present a forum for discussion; West only does the first and runs away from confrontation under the guise of across-the-board love.
Where Gambino acknowledges the realities of his status as an African-American man, West both resents his characterization as a Black musician and seeks to leverage it.
The rapper claims to preach free thought and love, but his terms are shallow and selfish. In his 2013 song “New Slaves,” West—or what will now likely be known as the Old Kanye—compares business partners to slave owners, but his careless endorsement of Trump reveals he still wants a seat at their table.
Kanye fears irrelevance, so he seeks attention through offensive statements. However, the only way for him to avoid irrelevance is to think carefully about the fans that propelled him to fame—those he claims to represent.
West can practice all the free thought he likes, but if he continues to spread misinformation about the Black experience, he fails to fulfil the role he created for himself: preaching his fans’ truths.
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