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“When Kanye makes an ill-informed statement, he’s just saying what your least favorite uncle blurts across the dinner table,” Momtaza Mehri writes. In her essay on deifying and expecting our faves to be radical thought leaders, Mehri establishes an argument that speaks to the social conditions these artists are imbued in; the many ways in which their viewpoints are in fact commonplace, a reflection of our society today. Mehri goes on to discuss how capitalism has enabled artists “to thrive on even the mediation of [these] persistent antagonisms.” A testament to that statement is Kanye West, lover of lengthy diatribes that, these days, are filled with faux-positive statements, ones that treat love and, ironically, dialogue as the balm required to make America “whole again.”
In Kanyesian economics, love trumps all. Kanye, like many others, understands financial freedom as the final barrier to equality, and thinks policy can be used to upend oppressive structures. With dialogue, a little love, and using our hearts instead of our minds, of course. In his 2011 piece on Post-Kanye hip-hop for The New Inquiry, writer Ben Gabriel, at length, views hip-hop through “Yeezian” structure, in which Kanye flipped the antagonism between the artist and the hater through the “I <3 Haters” meme Kanye was using at the time, Kanye “abjure[d] the haters’ agency” instead of just saying, as Gabriel points out, “fuck the haters” and moving on. He doesn’t hate his haters, he loves them and believes in their ability to love him too. Instead of focusing on the fans that would probably kill for him, he holds his hands out to the labor force of haters that are a part of the production that amplifies Kanye’s spectacle, making everything he does inescapable. I would reach as far as saying that, Kanye is now in the post-post-Kanye-hip hop era and he has become his own hater, and he loves himself. And I would go as far as saying that today this is the foundation of his politics.
To put it simply, Kanye’s logic is flawed. If anarchism is understood as total personal liberty, then Kanye is an anarchist, and he longs for a kind of freedom that is only afforded to white men like Trump; the freedom to say and do what he wants and to have the kind of power that dominates and controls. He doesn’t vie after the presidency because he wants social, political, and economic reform. He wants power, and understands that cultural influence isn’t material, structural power. Kanye grew up middle class and was self-aware of his position to a point of publicly dissecting whether or not people might question his authenticity as a rapper because he didn’t grow up in the hood and he’s not “gangster.” This shame is the focal point of his performance of disenfranchisement, and he has manically waded in and out of celebrating and rejecting his blackness. He courts conservative white America today with a MAGA hat, economic privilege, and pleas for empathy.
Kanye’s rhetoric is probably appealing to the group of conservatives that have had it with discussions about white privilege being piled on them as they barely survive, as their jobs are sent overseas and, according to them, stolen by immigrants. However, their class anxieties and misplaced rage and unyielding racism took them to the polls, unlike Kanye. But like Kanye, they see their privileges as mockeries, insufficient. “If I have x then why don’t I have y” is the formula to their understanding of privilege and systemic oppression. It is individualistic and lacks nuance in the way that Kanye’s understanding of how he experiences racism is. To him, it’s about allowing him to just be a Republican, or a free thinker, as if any rejection of his views would amount to a seismic change in his life.
On the now infamous TMZ Live clip, West said “There’s a class war happening right now. The class war is one of the reasons why Trump won. Because Obama was so high class that it stopped speaking to the middle and the lower class.” The only component of hip-hop culture and history people focus on are the social conditions that early rappers came out of, and this is projected onto Kanye without analyzing his own position. With the rise of a Black middle class also came a rise of Black artists and thus, Kanye.
After appointing himself as the messiah to the working class this summer, his most recent offence came when he took to Instagram to parrot a xenophobic conservative talking point about bringing jobs back to the United States. Which begs one to ask, does that mean he’ll ask his precious fashion company, Yeezy, to only manufacture his products in the United States? Kanye answers this question, with a MAGA hat on (of course), telling VladTV that he is moving his Yeezy factory to Chicago in order to create jobs. “One hundred percent, the Yeezys will be made in America.”
What of the people that are being paid pennies that help maintain his fashion empire right now in China? Factory workers across the globe deal with constant job instability, as owners tend to only issue temporary contracts, in addition to low pay and long hours without breaks. The luxury Kanye and so many others with opulent, enviable lifestyles have comes at the expense of other people’s livelihood. In order to indict the systems that allow this kind of exploitation to take place, Kanye would have himself on trial and understand that he plays a part – not the biggest part, but still a part, in exploiting the lower class. It would be far more interesting to hear a rant from a wealthy celebrity about redistribution, but that would mean that they’d have to give up some of their own wealth and power, which isn’t likely happening.
Rappers don’t have to be revolutionaries. Socially aware lyrics and discussions about social justice don’t always translate to action and vice versa. At a time when the counterculture ‘raging against the machine’ ethos and artistic movements are co-opted, being hijacked by capitalism and commodified, the route Kanye West has taken makes sense. Wokeness is pop; it’s mainstream, and conservatism is defiant in the face of it. In fact, it’s even starting to look militant: the uniform is simply a red hat.
For more like this, read why Kanye’s support of Donald Trump makes absolute, perfect sense here.
- Words: Najma Sharif