The above is a pretty good example of Kanye being simultaneously thrown under the bus while being used to generate revenue, and perhaps one indication as to why Yeezus is the aural equivalent of a crown of thorns. It seems to be saying, “try wearing me now.” Given how in 2013 every chicken can be flipped into a niche commodity it’s unsurprising Black Skinheads was decontextualized and thrown in a trailer about the other White Power, Wall Street, basically saying “challenge accepted” in return.
TBH, I don’t really have anything to say about the Kanye album that I haven’t said about either MBDTF or Watch the Throne, since thematically, Kanye already spelled out New Slaves in parts of College Dropout (and is consistent if not exactly new here), though I do think the transition from the WTT’s commercial approachability and “Murder to Excellence” communal outreach to this one’s letters from prison outrage and debauched grit is indicative of a larger, post-Hope political cynicism one would normally associate with that Killer Mike album, which makes some of the El-P-ish production shards appropriate.
And while some of the misogyny here is offputting, if we’re going to commit to seeing this as Kanye’s most overtly political album we should probably do more than just say he’s comparing marriage to slavery by juxtaposing anxiety about surprise childbirth with Nina Simone’s rendition of “Strange Fruit.” One of the defenses of Django Unchained’s damsel-in-distress plotline was that, given how slavery systematically destroyed the possibility of stable family life for slaves by trading them into separation, a film that focuses on one attempt to uphold love in the face of it is an important counterpoint, even if it rested entirely on the shoulders of the male.
That Kanye is pairing lyrics about being chained into a shotgun wedding with a song about lynching is also in a way Kanye, as a storyteller, wrestling with the legacy of stuff like the Moynihan Report, which lorded the familial dysfunction of poor black families in the wake of slavery over them, with fairly condescending pop sociology to boot. One of the interesting things on twitter yesterday were tweets lamenting the holiday’s insistence on traditional nuclear upbringing when some were raised by their mothers (Katie Got Bandz put it best) or were orphans (ST 2 Lettaz shouted out the streets) and still turned out awesome. While this might sound overly charitable to Kanye in suggesting he’s wrestling with racial obligation to upholding Huxtability in societal expectation I wouldn’t put it past him.
Strange Fruit is a song about lynching, and given that many blacks were lynched for looking the wrong way at a white woman, it’s unsurprising how many lyrics on the album deal with the political complications of integrated relationships (something more lovingly if still fatalistically explored on Hell of a Life) even in 2013 (see Jenny Johnson’s tweets in which Kim Kardashian’s vagina is speculated to have a bunch of racist stereotypes in it, see how a fucking Cheerios commercial with a mixed race couple is a huge deal even now, or how the Fast and the Furious franchise is ahead of the curve mainly by acknowledging there’s more to action movies than white males, list goes on).
Given that black sexuality was also something that was first regulated by slavery and then by systemically racist post-slavery laws in combination with a deluge of stereotypes in mass media that persist until now, an album which puts fucking white women on the same level as calling out the prison industrial complex makes sense, and isn’t wholly unique to Kanye. Philip Roth did it between Jews/Gentiles in Portnoy’s Complaint (which received an outcry from the Jewish community similar to the one Kanye lays out from Catholics/Baptists on Black Skinheads), and Fanon did it between Algerians/the French in Wretched of the Earth. While its unfortunate that the colonial construct is conflated with the female body and resistance is sexualized (it would be nice to have a Woman of Algiers in their Apartment companion piece to Yeezus’ WotE but we get what we get for now and its got other things to offer), “they at the top floor to kill King Kong” is a lament over the persisting lack of normalization that won’t let Kanye feel at ease about what they’re coming for.
I think it’s worth keeping in mind that outside of this album Kanye was gracious in the NYT interview, talking about awesomeness, dreams and other fairly based things, and that song White Dress was classically sweet and vulnerable Kanye in its ode to Kim, so its worth giving as much weight to the ideas on the album as being theoretical in their explorations of larger societal problems as it already is to them being autobiographical.