Kanye West decided it was time to have a discussion about profanity in pop music on Sunday, particularly focusing on the way he, and other artists, use the b- and n- words.
West always tweets in fits and spurts, but today's explosion is notable if only because he wasn't tweeting about his love of Persian rugs. He was having a real, live crisis about the way artists use profanity, and whether or not they should be doing it. It's the classic "can you ever really reclaim a word?" debate. It probably came up in one of your second year English classes. First, he started his dscussion by posing a simple question.
I usually never tweet questions butI struggle with this so here goes...Is the word BITCH acceptable?— Kanye West (@kanyewest) September 2, 2012
Hip-hop has come under fire for being misogynistic because of the way artists treat and portray women in their music. Kanye is no stranger to this. One of the song's on his collaboration album with Jay-Z, Watch the Throne, is called "That's My Bitch," which happens to segue perfectly into his follow up question:
To be more specific, is it acceptable for a man to call a woman a bitch even if it's endearing?— Kanye West (@kanyewest) September 2, 2012
Probably not, as he admits in the next tweet.
Even typing it in question form it's still feels harsh?— Kanye West (@kanyewest) September 2, 2012
So why, then, does he use it so often? He looks at the culture of hip-hop and the common use of the n-word as a potential desensitizer.
Has hip hop conditioned us to accept this word?Do we love this word as much as we love the word NIGGA in an endearing way?— Kanye West (@kanyewest) September 2, 2012
correction,Here's the age old question,would we refer to our mothers as bitches? Would' we call our fathers niggers or better yet NIGGAS?— Kanye West (@kanyewest) September 2, 2012
He moves on to questioning whether or not you can actually reclaim a word after it's been used as a slur for so long:
If nigga is such a positive word, why do we feel so uncomfortable for white people to say it, even with a hall pass?— Kanye West (@kanyewest) September 2, 2012
He thinks he might have found a loophole:
Is it ok to use bitch as long as we put BAD in front of it?Likeyou a BAD BITCH— Kanye West (@kanyewest) September 2, 2012
And then he gets profound with it:
Perhaps the words BITCH and NIGGA are now neither positive or negative. They are just potent and it depends on how the are used and by whom?— Kanye West (@kanyewest) September 2, 2012
And then he causes every middle American mother to clutch their pearls in terror!
What if there was no profanity... What if we decided to legalise profanity in a sense? In France they play songs with cursing on the radio— Kanye West (@kanyewest) September 2, 2012
Finally, he looks to a musical icon to find his answer.
Stevie Wonder never had to use the word bitch to get his point across— Kanye West (@kanyewest) September 2, 2012
The likelihood that this will lead to any real change in the way hip-hop uses profanity is slim. Kanye will probably keep saying bad words in his songs. After all, Kanye's BFF Jay-Z boldly proclaimed the death of auto-tune in 2009, and yet Chris Brown is still a thing we suffer through every day.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.