Kanye West and the Making of New Slaves
By Sebastien Elkouby
Kanye West is a cocky, pretentious, delusional, yet sometimes surprisingly honest asshole who thrives on fake cosmopolitan chic, cheap shock value and pseudo-intellectual rants. But I’m sure this isn’t a revelation to anyone remotely familiar with his well publicized antics. Last month’s controversial “New Slaves” video was released in true Kanye fashion, simultaneously projected on the side of 66 random buildings spread out across the world. Only a pompous egomaniac like Kanye could have pulled off such a large scale operation…and it was dope!
While I’m generally unmoved by Kanye’s music (especially after listening to his new album) it’s hard to deny New Slaves‘ timely message about the private prison industrial complex, white elitism and how riches don’t magically make one immune to racism’s enduring legacy. Sadly, Kanye’s warning to his peers, “we the new slaves”, may be in vain as most artists seem to mindlessly succumb to the song’s central theme. After all, while the prison system devours young Black men like a ravenous beast, rappers continue to glorify crime like Pied Pipers leading the unsuspecting, headfirst to the slaughter.
Drake tells us that he “started from the bottom now my whole team here” while hundreds of inner city schools across the nation are shutting down, leaving tens of thousands of Black and Latino youths out in the cold (many of them Drake fans, I’m sure). New York’s billion dollar rapper Jay Z makes national news for his many sports investments and Samsung business deals but remains silent on the NYPD’s racist stop and frisk laws. I guess having friends in positions of power and rubbing elbows with the president only matters when it serves his personal interest. Chicago’s Chief Keef, whose rise to fame was actually made possible courtesy of a Kanye West co sign, creates flat out murder music while the Windy City’s Black on Black crime rate would make any white supremacist proud. So called Hip Hop media outlets bombard us with the video of 2 Chainz getting robbed but keep quiet about our rights to privacy being robbed from us right under our noses. Even Lil’ Wayne and Rick Ross who have both spent the past few months dealing with the fallout of their despicable behaviors have done nothing to redeem themselves in the public eye as if their usual big dog barks have turned to castrated whimpers.
So much for all these self-proclaimed bosses who boast about the so-called power they have yet are absolutely powerless when it comes to speaking up about real issues. I don’t expect rappers to suddenly become full time activists, civil rights leaders or politicians but I do expect them to use their voice to address the ills that plague the very communities that they and a large portion of their fans come from. But when these coward ass rappers are at the mercy of plantation-like companies such as Def Jam, Interscope and Universal that keep them fed with their leftover scraps, what else can we expect?
Sebastien Elkouby is a Hip Hop Culture historian, writer and award-winning educator. Check out his educational program,Global Awareness Through Hip Hop Culture and his blog, SebIsHipHop.wordpress.com. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @SebIsHipHop (Although he rarely uses it!)