I guess one would consider this as a round two to a previous argument. But like all things in life, I tend to be one who revisits a problem and search for a resolution.
I finally heard Kanye West's sixth studio album Yeezus and can admit that it is one thing: different. Yes, I am one that often begs for the sound of hip-hop to have some level of distinctness (given the often trap-like beats we have all now been forced to hear through radio airplay) but perhaps I should have been more specific.
Although the sound and production of this album is a break from mainstream, I would ask that you all listen to some late 90s hip-hop sounds from artists like Canibus before calling it innovative.
However, what has not changed in the music is this growing disregard for black history and its symbols. Many in my generation have not paid much attention to this until being retold of our history and the problems within it.
Such a history lesson was told to us once again when Lil Wayne was put in check over rapping that he would quote "beat the (female genital area) up like Emmett Till." Emmett Till was 14 years old in 1955 when he was tragically murdered in the Deep South of Mississippi when he was allegedly flirting with a white woman. The injustice of his death would later add fuel to the historical Civil Rights movement that later paved the way for more equal rights for minorities in America.
However in 2013, false ideals of a post-racial America has given way to rap artist using such moments in our history as gross catchy ways of sparking attention and mass publicity. For the first time in many years, hip-hop was held accountable and Lil Wayne issued a public apology to the Till Family and consequently kissed his multi-million dollar Mountain Dew endorsement goodbye.
Yet, what has now been deemed as a "new wave" of sound, Kanye West's new album still continues this disrespectful banter in his new songs, often distracting from the seriousness of the issues. In one of his tracks off "Yeezus," Kanye uses Dr. King's famous "free at last" quote to celebrate the final removal of a woman's clothes. And with more historical references such as the Malcolm X quote "at any means necessary" to further his ego with celebrity status, nothing adds up to the message.
This subtle blow to the pride that comes from the spirit of our civil rights leaders reaches an all-time low with his track "Blood on the Leaves." The title, which originated from a lyric of the famous Billie Holliday song "Strange Fruit," features a sample of Nina Simone's version on West's new song. You would think that such a classic song that has significance beyond just musical admiration but actual historical importance would get respect. It does not. "Strange Fruit" is a 1939 song that was one of the first to expose American racism and its brutality through the form of lynching. That actual "blood on the leaves" phrase that many people now play around with on their Facebook posts and Twitter hashtags actually refer to the blood falling on the leaves after someone black was maliciously hanged by white racists from a tree.
But you wouldn't know how serious the song was or what dire implications any of it had by listening to Kanye's rant about the so-called pains of a messed up relationship gone sour and the fame, golddiggers (go figure) and tabloids that follow it.
The song plays on a high base with auto-tune and while people are calling the song online "different," "inventive," and "creative"...it's actually once again a blanketed slap in the face for black monumental progression. Style wise, I was personally annoyed to see an iconic song like that get ripped of its true glory.
What is even more troubling is that we have now entered a society that is trying so hard to address the troubles of the world without actually being a solution to it. Black history as we know it is being defaced each and every day. Classrooms do not necessarily make it a priority along with what we know as "American" history. And those in high influence and regard don't care as much to think consciously about what they put out there when informing the masses.
The heavy contradictions of Kanye West's recent music can be summed up within two strands of thought. In one sense, it begs for one to rethink the mass social materialism and corporate obsession that has now plagued the society in general. But then there is a level of arrogance and pride that he takes in dismissing respected virtues and symbols (such as the serious motives behind some of our Civil Rights leaders and landmarks) and recreates them as lyrical and musical folly for him to sound "different."
If "difference" comes at the price of reshaping the severity of the Civil Rights Movement or racism for a new way of being catchy or artistic...please go back to the drawing board. In many ways, the black community has much more to learn about our history before we can get to a certain point of mocking or toying around with its heritage and lessons.
If possible, don't dismiss me as one who doesn't advocate for progression in music. I am definitely open to hearing a new sound. But there is one thing between being creative and revolutionary than being just simply offensive and shock factor worthy.
Kanye West walks a tightrope between both of these directions and I get that he doesn't give a damn what others think. But in regards to black culture and the remembrance of those before us, such disregard to their legacy only makes one appear as misguided rather than revolutionary.
When it is all said and done, some of the responsibility rests on our shoulders as consumers as well. Just as much as it wasn't cool for Lil Wayne to lyrically play around with the death of Emmett Till, perhaps the same should be said for Kanye West and how he plays with the sentiments behind those "blood on the leaves."
Black history deserves to be regarded highly as well as we would anything else sacred in our society...let's please start treating it as such.
Follow Ernest Owens on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MrErnestOwens