What’s Up With Kanye West’s Voice Nowadays?

September 13, 2013  |  

Source: Entertainment Weekly

Kanye West is slowly becoming the Pistachio Disguisey of the hip-hop community.

You might think I’m referring to West’s latest rant – the one where he was admittedly loose off that goose and making convoluted and almost irrational statements about Pusha T’s contribution to the the fashion community. More specifically,

All these ni**as trying to extend their muthaf**king T-shirts, trying to throw numbers on the back of their sh-t….this muthaf**king Pusha T. For ni**as with a T-shirt line that has numbers at the back of their sh-t, f**k you.”

That’s right, all you biting-behind football players, soccer players, little leaguers, referees, cattle ranch cows, inmates, graduating-class-of-whatever-year folks –you have been warned to pay up for your bootlegging or risk a pissy-drunk West showing up to your middle school graduation, ready to snatch all the numbers off your backs.

Seriously, what a horrible lush. While he really should learn to hold his liquor better, this latest West outburst is not what I’m referring too. Rather, I’m speaking about his code-switching.

As nonsensical and out-there-past-yonder he has been lately, it pales in comparison to the tone in which he tends to say those crazy thoughts, particularly how that tone appears to change depending upon the recipient. For example, see his appearance on Kris Jenner’s short-lived talk show, where it was noted widely that Mr. West sounded a little airy and more European than usual. As stated by the website Awesomely Luvvie:

This is WEIRD as hell. Am I tripping? I mean, what he’s saying about loving Kim is cute and stuff but THIS VOICE! What is that? This ain’t the Kanye we’ve known in ANY way. He is so different and it’s odd. The voice coming from his mouth ain’t what it used to be. What happened?? Don’t believe me, just watch his speech from 2008 Grammy Awards and tell me that man on Kris Jenner’s show sounds the same.”

Let’s be clear here: it is common for folks of the same environmental space to adopt certain linguistic rhythms and intonation patterns. In fact, there is a great deal of scholarship and research done into the different ways in which black folks and white folks interpret the English vernacular. What folks have to accept is that there is nothing wrong with those differences in speech. And sounding like a black person, including the penchant for Ebonic and cultural slang, does not make one less intelligent no more than sounding white makes one less black.

It’s hard to figure out why West, who seems most vocal about just about everything that seems to bother him nowadays, would feel the need to speak in such a contradictory manner. Usually this kind of grammatical correctness is reserved for us mere mortals in need of steady paychecks and benefits. And then I remember the tough few years image-wise West has had. All of those years find their roots in the Taylor Swift incident, which has landed him squarely on the list of the five most hated men on the planet – right behind Osama Bin Laden and right before The Devil. Since then, he has been ridiculed by the press; he has been chased and goaded into fights by paparazzi; and he’s basically been ripped to shreds by just about everyone – including the President of the United States. West has certainly done stuff to contribute to his treatment, however, the pressure and constant ribbing in the press could explain why he feels the need to communicate differently.

A while back, I caught this interview with Mike Tyson, former heavyweight champion of the world, who spoke very candidly about the need to tone himself down, in order to make himself appear less threatening to the mainstream, which is largely accustomed to viewing him through his controversy. When I saw West sitting on the oversized couch, across from his child’s grandmother, explaining to a sea of white faces how he is misunderstood – even going as far as to denounce himself as a  “crazy drunk black guy in a leather shirt” I wondered how much of this new speech was meant to make himself appear, just like Tyson, as less threatening? It’s sad to think, but it is still very much true that even a black man revered for his artistry by folks of various cultural and racial backgrounds and is at the height of what is success here in America, might have to capitulate – even if it is just vocally – just to be taken seriously.

Of course, there is always the possibility that black-sounding West might have been an act all along. Yeah, I know. That sort of linguistic caper would require a huge conspiracy involving years of planning. However, West is a product of two highly educated and middle class black professionals. Not to mention that validation is important in hip-hop. And there are some rappers, whose entire personas are borrowed; even going as far as to shoot themselves for a “rep.” So it is possible for a rapper to be compelled to fake black speech, particularly black street vernacular, in order to be taken seriously by his peers as well as the general public. Would it have been possible for hip-hop to embrace a more nasally and European sounding West? If Drake and his frequent trips in and out of black speech are any indicator, the answer is pretty much a no. It’s ironic that the language used to colonize and castigate a people could now serve as their litmus test pronouncing “authentic” black identity.

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