I like the beats on Kanye West's new album. I love the inversion of that famous line about Malcolm X--"That's too much power for one man to have." I think he's an improved MC. But I'm a little amazed that no one's disturbed by "Champagne wishes/30 white bitches" as a hook. I'm more amazed at his empty employment of white women as objects. I'm less amazed, but pretty depressed, that colorism is back--"Rolling with some light-skin chicks and some Kelly Rowlands," is little more than "you're pretty for a dark-skin girl" in this postracial era.
All told, the album strikes me as incredibly, almost casually, racist. On some level, I wonder what would have become of John Mayer, had he cut a video with dead black women strewn about and invoked black women throughout his lyrics in the manner Kanye does. But moralism misses the point here. The problem isn't simply racism or sexism, but boring racism, boring sexism that hearkens back to the black power macho of Amiri Baraka and Eldridge Cleaver at their worst. It's the work of a failed provocateur boorishly brandishing his ancient affects. The obvious defense is that this is an exploration of West's psyche, of his fantasy. But actually it isn't. This is an aggressively external album obsessed with dismissing haters, slut-shaming women (black and white), and ultimately, not with Kanye or his fantasy, but with what you will surely say about his fantasy.
Never has someone shouted "Kiss my ass" and sounded less convincing than Kanye West. No, seriously. Paying Chris Rock to play the cuckolder and yell, "Yeeze reupholstered my pussy," is not a stroke of genius, it's a lack of artistic courage. It means even on arguably the most emotionally painful cut, you're not convinced that the song can stand on its own. Always when listening to Kanye, I feel like I'm in a Monty Python sketch and someone is repeatedly yakking, repeatedly announcing "Know what I mean? Nudge, nudge!"
I love the line "they can kiss my whole ass," but when it's followed by "More specifically, they can kiss my asshole," you fail. Lyrically.
And I like the album. I like "POWER." I like "All Of The Lights" I like damn near every beat on the record. Nicki Minaj is a terror, and her closer on "Monster" called me back to Busta in the era of "Scenario." But maybe I'm old. Or maybe I can't bear to re-hash Soul On Ice over some (admittedly dope) beats. More likely, I'm tired of rappers who deploy slut-shame to smoke-screen their near total fear of pussy. The comparison with Prince is, again, instructive. There's something hard about submission, and something really weak in Kanye's fear of losing control, in his need to address your commentary on him losing control.
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is a national correspondent for The Atlantic
, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of The Beautiful Struggle
, Between the World and Me,
and We Were Eight Years in Power