The Mind of Kanye — 1791
Written by Christian O’Brien & Lex Villena
When Kanye West’s comments reached Twitter, far too much of the debate was spent questioning his motives. After all, the monumental brand of Kanye West is built upon a foundation of controversy. What truths, if any, can be mined from this cultural figure’s scattered thoughts and erratic behavior? During his self-dubbed “breakthrough”, Kanye grasps at a few valid points, most notably a lapse in free thinking within our culture. Though, much less important than Kanye’s views themselves is his broader attempt to open up the conversation about socially acceptable ideas, challenging his fans and peers to question their preconceptions. The discussion has been wrongly framed as being about his unclear policy views and the motivations behind his comments, but the proper focus should be on the Democratic Party’s expectations of racial loyalty, and how those are enforced by its surrogates in entertainment.
Although we’ve always been infatuated by celebrity thought, the range of acceptable opinion is an increasingly narrow one. While celebrities like Clint Eastwood and James Woods might have older, more traditionally-minded followings, the icons of pop culture such as Kanye West, Taylor Swift, and more are predominantly appreciated by cosmopolitan youth. And among our generation, there is a unique strain of uniformity of thought. These thoughts predictably reflect the teachings of the institutions they’ve been ushered into, their susceptible minds manhandled by overzealous professors who overwhelmingly fall into a radically left-wing camp. In a world where supply and demand is the governing reality of the economy, there is little reward and high risk in speaking what you hold to be true in spite of the monolithic ideas of the crowd.
This reality was brought to a head in two instances: one, where Kanye’s friend and fellow musician, John Legend, attempted to dissuade Kanye of his thoughts by warning him that his fans disagree with him.Kanye recognized this play for what it is: an attempt to guilt-trip him into not questioning the prevailing narrative simply because the crowds will feel betrayed. T.I., in Ye Vs. the People, similarly raps that he’s disregarding the siren call of the crowd.
You representin’ dudes just seem crude and cold-hearted
With blatant disregard for the people who put you in position
Don’t you feel an obligation to them?
I feel a obligation to show people new ideas
And if you wanna hear ’em, there go two right here
Make America Great Again had a negative perception
I took it, wore it, rocked it, gave it a new direction
Added empathy, care and love and affection
It takes no more than a passing thought to get a grasp on just how absurd this line of reasoning is. Because a nameless horde of strangers have purchased Kanye’s albums, his personal views are the property of popular demand? Are his fans’ dollars now votes for how he’s supposed to think? It should be obvious that Kanye’s only ‘obligation’ to fans is to produce good music — not to cater to their boringly predictable political whims. If he has any obligation to the country, it’s more so to express ideas that otherwise would never have seen the light of day. This argument also raises the question of why Eminem isn’t met with the same chorus of childish whining. White MC Eminem is somehow allowed to flip off half of his fanbase, but if Kanye express support for the other side without a middle finger in sight, he’s suddenly committing the cardinal sin of treason to his fans. A double standard emerges where it’s ok to disrespect your fans if they refuse to accept a leftward partisan bent.
The recognition of just how quarantined these thoughts are within mainstream culture has driven Kanye’s decision to take an unapologetic stance for free thought. Starting with an endorsement of a black conservative pundit, he formed an unlikely alliance. It was the tweet that thrust us into a new chapter of American history, which is actually bizarre. Innocent comments like this should barely register as a blip, but that’s certainly not the effect they had. Returning to the focus on his motivations, some have claimed that Kanye is merely exploiting our country’s divisions to promote his upcoming albums, but this sidesteps the important question of why his comments provoke the outrage that they do in the first place.
The answer to this question becomes increasingly clear by following the reactions to Chance The Rapper’s benign statemen t: an entire race of people don’t have to toe a party line. Proving Kanye’s point about the utter absence of free thought in their shared craft, Chance was forced to apologize for his innocent statement after a fan mutiny. This can’t be seen as anything other than a reflection of the culture of inoculation we’re mired in — a culture where artists’ thoughts are held hostage by their audiences. The story of Chance The Rapper undermines the notion that Kanye is simply preying upon these divisions to promote his upcoming albums. After all, he’s not tweeting #BuildTheWall, he’s highlighting the fact that there’s an entire range of ideas that cannot be thought about in good faith. Even if this is naked opportunism, it’s opportunism based on observational reality. After all, there is nothing bombastic or controversial about the comments themselves, but the reactions certainly have been.
We’ve reached historical levels of political division and equally historic degrees of celebrity worship. These two elements of social life are merged at the hip by social justice activists — creating a radioactive environment of inescapable political warfare. Endless questions are shoved forward on how celebrities will vote, and the mere act of silence is inevitably portrayed by the media as an act of betrayal. In a throwback to the era of Stalin, the first person to stop clapping is presumed guilty. This much was seen after Taylor Swift’s allegedly outrageous refusal to publicly support Hillary Clinton. In this culture, a failure to be involved in the resistance is seen as incognito support for the other side-or at least complicity through silence. It’s the prime example of the thought confinement Kanye now attempts to break past.
The same people who were smitten by Kanye after he accused George W. Bush of not caring about black people are now using that attack against him. Hopefully, the artist now realizes why accusing those you disagree with of the worst possible motivations doesn’t work. His damaging comment about Bush can be seen as his Frankenstein monster that is now coming back for him since it managed only to increase social distrust. Character assassination cannot produce positive change, it can only isolate and condemn. Kanye correctly identifies that the answer to this group-warfare is love, but that call falls on deaf ears to the people who think MAGA hats are representative of white supremacy — signaling I don’t care about black people.
Few celebrities move beyond silence and build bridges to the other side. There are a handful of predictable examples that can be found in the previously mentioned Clint Eastwood, Kid Rock, and James Woods, but rare is it that you see anybody push against the grain of their fanbases’ biases. Clearly, within the genres of action film and country music, there’s an immediately obvious appeal to conservatism, but few orthodoxies are more deeply ingrained than in the rap scene. Although previously establishing itself as one of the most boundary pushing genres of music yet, its activist voices are in a sunken place of dull, self induced misery. Even while many of rap’s messages are shared with conservatism, they are blocked from view by a large finger wagging self-righteously at white listeners. It’s become stagnated by a sad mixture of excuse-making for a culture of criminality and irresponsibility — justified through an assembly line of ever-increasing grievances.
There’s a lingering falseness that appears whenever some of the most celebrated and wealthy people in all of human history prop themselves up as the unlikely-but-fortunate survivors of a system hell-bent on their destruction. When the likes of Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar and Jay Z rap about the inequities of systemic injustice atop multi-hundred million dollar brands, there’s something that strikes everyone as disingenuous. You might argue that they’ve being exploited by a system that fetishizes black people as entertainers rather than surgeons and engineers. But this is one of the most disingenuous arguments that can be made. They don’t celebrate neurosurgeons like Ben Carson. They don’t even consider his ideas, instead lobbing one racist jab at him after another; ‘coon,’ take your pick of repurposed racial epithets. They claim that their goal is to promote black empowerment, but when their vision conflicts with a black man who is empowered they reject him for rising above their vision of pessimism. They care much less for what black empowerment actually looks like and more about telling a story; a story that casts America in the role of a system rigged in the favor of white people.
This resentment of non-conforming blacks extends beyond black politicians like Dr. Carson. When his critics levy insults like Uncle Tom and Coon toward him, at least it can be said that he’s a politician. However, these same left wingers take their stance a step further when they channel the same disdain toward mostly non-political figures like Morgan Freeman, Killer Mike, and Lil Wayne — all three of whom have expressed ideas that run afoul of the Democratic platform.
A gross undercurrent of prejudice taints these labels. Conservatives across the board are morally suspect by default to left-wingers, but non-black conservatives at least retain their moral agency. White conservatives aren’t told that they’re just stooges. At least their ideas are addressed in some way, whereas black conservatives are told that they can’t possibly hold their positions on a rational basis — that they’re playing a subservient role to whites. As such, this is a dismissal based, not on the merits of their arguments, but simply on the color of their skin.
When Kanye rejects the societal expectation imposed upon blacks, saying, “ All blacks gotta be Democrats, man. We ain’t made it off the plantation.” T.I., channeling the people, counters “ Fuck who you choose as your political party”. Feel-good comments like these dishonestly attempt to feign some sort of political independence. He follows up with, “ You representin’ dudes just seem crude and cold-hearted” to explains that he’s really only taking issue with Donald Trump and his allies, but it’s hard to imagine a Republican who T.I. wouldn’t believe fits those terms. In order to not be “cold-hearted”, you would first have to accept his premise that America is a land that exists to preserve an existing, white-centric power structure. This message is one only found in the left-wing Democratic vision of power and to challenge its premise in any serious way, according to T.I. and the people he channels,. would be “cold-hearted” or tone-deaf to racial injustice.
Though Kanye’s critics often repeat that “ it’s not about left or right — democrat or republican,” the people who repeat this mantra don’t actually pay attention to what they’re saying. If it truly didn’t matter what side of the debate you align with, they wouldn’t be angry and disappointed when Chance the Rapper says black people don’t have to be Democrats. As obviously true as that statement is, they understand that to not be a democrat is to break from Democrat planks. Nothing is more true for these advocates than the belief that the Democratic Party is the party of black interest, but to question that means to question whether the policies the Democrats advocate for actually achieve the ends they’re supposed to. It may even mean having substantive disagreements with the Democratic Party. They recognize how wrongheaded it sounds to say an entire race must fall in line, so they affect a pretended nonpartisanship — the illusion of free thought. But you shouldn’t take them up on the offer of breaking from the Democratic Party, because the moment you do they ensure you’ll regret it. For instance, this devotion to the Democratic platform isn’t limited to racial politics. Killer Mike infamously made the argument that black people don’t have to hold to a position simply because supposed “ allies “ have. After a fierce backlash, he was forced to backtrack his position on guns when it didn’t comply with Democratic code. It’s clear, then, that black people are expected to subscribe to the entire package of Democratic positions, without thought to whether they actually serve their interest.
In the case of Lil Wayne, when he explains that his skin color has not disadvantaged him or played a defining role in his life, his interviewers simply can’t believe him. Their reactions are revealing. In their shock, they reassure viewers that the experience of every black man in America is one of untrammelled racism. Wayne flatly denies that he’s been affected by this supposedly omnipresent force, and that his success stands independent of his race. No doubt Lil Wayne is like every other human on Earth and has experienced various slights — he just didn’t personalize them, filtering them through an ideological lens of race. His audience, he explains, is the accurate reflection of America, not the oppressive regime he’s expected to confirm by the hopelessly pessimistic. Kanye can be seen in a very similar light, and this gets to the heart of the outrage. Like the sportscasters’ response to Lil Wayne, left wing intellectuals find Kanye and Wayne’s world appalling — as if they should know that their black skin in America today is equivalent in hardship to a factory worker without limbs.
Their outrage can be distilled to a collective ideological possession. While they claim to be yearning for opportunity in the face of oppression, they would much rather dwell in The Underground of the past. This theme of self-victimization is explored profoundly in Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel Notes From The Underground. He writes, “There, in its loathsome, stinking underground, our offended, beaten-down, and derided mouse at once immerses itself in cold, venomous, and, above all, everlasting spite. For forty years on end, it will recall its offense to the last, most shameful details, spitefully taunting and chafing itself with its fantasies.”
This best summarizes the insistence that we live in a suspended 19th Century, unable to escape the throes of slavery, even with the fruits of black artistry being the most widely appreciated & a black president under our American belt. Any criticism of this sort is not only lost on them, but is met with sheer outrage and utter disbelief. Fellow entertainers and their fans are aghast when one of their own breaks rank and expresses gratitude for the country instead of anger; optimism instead of defeatism. They argue that slavery’s effects have frozen black people in an oppressive stasis — one that continues to color their reality.
Kanye would rather envision a future that gives glory to entrepreneurship and self-actualization. He would rather encourage his listeners to work toward progress, rather than to mentally bind themselves to the misfortunes of a time long gone. Even accepting the premise that slavery still matters today, Kanye feels that to overcome this inequality, they shouldn’t immerse themselves in cold, venomous, and, above all, everlasting spite. And that’s what’s at the core of what drove Kanye West to abruptly declare his appreciation for Donald Trump and now Candace Owens: I know Obama was heaven-sent, but ever since Trump won, it proved that I could be president. West takes from the president a message of empowerment, independence, and progress, rather than a regression into bigotry or a continued residence in the sunken theater of the past.
Which is what makes Kanye’s jarring entry into political discourse (and his library of music, for that matter) so refreshing and stimulating. Unlike the Pulitzer-winning conscious rapper Kendrick Lamar, who is held up as a poetic powerhouse of social justice, what Kanye explores strikes a chord of deep meaning. Although he’s often unable to clearly articulate his message, he grasps at it in a way that conveys meaning. The pursuit of truth isn’t a clean one — that’s how you know someone is thinking, because the act of thinking is often imperfect, just as the thinker is. Whereas if someone has set upon a set of ideas and defends them to the last, impenetrably convinced of their validity, it’s unlikely that they’re thinking at all. This process may appear as thought, but the answer is already known to the thinker — the rest of it is just a series of rationalizations for that predetermined answer. Kanye no doubt fumbles, but he makes an meaningful attempt to challenge his world’s ideas and biases.
This is a role any consequential artist will play — especially in a culture gripped by thought shaming and marginalization. It’s not courageous and thought-provoking to wallow in misery and bemoan white privilege, as does Lamar and his contemporaries. If Kanye’s comments do benefit his sales, it will be because he’s exploring unfamiliar territory with his listeners, authentically, without the vanity of predetermined validity, which is what rejuvenates creative spirit. If only you’re repeating what your audience believes and wants to hear, you’re playing one TV episode on repeat for all eternity.
Because of Kanye’s stance for self-liberation, more people realize that the ideological bondage they’re weighed down by is not only useless, but deprives them of possibility. At last, we might realize that we’re at war with terrorism, racism, but most of all we’re at war with ourselves.