Is The Old Kanye West Back?

May 21, 2013  |  

Like mostly everyone else, on first listen I kind of didn’t know what to make of Kanye West’s new tracks.

With all of his shenanigans as of late, including appearing on stage in some sort of black glittered face mask and a kilt, yelling “I Am God,” I was worried that he was a guitar and a denim jean seat away from an MTV very “Unplugged” session. And, reading that his forthcoming album is titled “Yeezus,” and watching his “New Slaves” video featuring a very self-indulgent art installation of West looking like a black Zordon from The Power Rangers, reciting his song on the side of 66 buildings around the globe didn’t really help matters much neither.

But that was on first listen and first impression. And while I am not quite convinced that West doesn’t have an Iyanla Vanzant intervention in his future, it was hard to be dismissive of his message. Unlike Lauryn Hill, whose “Neurotic Society” sounds like the old inmate Oswald Bates skit from “In Living Color,” at least one of West’s new tracks, “New Slaves,” manages to be both multilayered and distinctive in its discussion about the physiological, and sometimes racial, trappings of consumerism. In particular, lines like ““Y’all throwing contracts at me, you know that niggas can’t read/Throw ’em some Maybach keys/Fawk it, c’est la vie” remind us that being a black person in America doesn’t necessarily get better because you have a little (or in West’s case, a lot) of change in your pocket.

If taken in context, the two new songs combined speak of the same internalized conflicts, which were prevalent on West’s debut album The College Dropout, arguably one of the greatest Hip Hop albums of all times. And I’m not just blowing smoke up anyone’s behind. Prior to that album, there weren’t many voices in Hip Hop speaking with this much introspection. Sure, we had the gangster, shoot-em-up, bang-bang, rap; the backpack, five-percent and conscious rap; the ballers and the shout callers, who stayed popping bottles in the club-rap; the oversexed and heavily drugged rap; and even hardcore horror rap. But there were not many artists, who I can recall, that knew how to speak in the voice of the everyday man.

Us everyday folks, with jobs, mortgages and rent and daycare and student loans to pay. Those among us, who ain’t squeaky clean but managed not to get too wrapped up with the criminal justice system. Those of us who believed the jive that a college degree would lead us to better lives when in fact, most of us ended up as wage earners at bullshit 9 to 5 jobs. And those among us, who bucked college and are now stuck hustling – legally and illegally – just to get by. Those among us, who were worried more about dodging bill collector than actual bullets. Or as West had observed in “We Don’t Care:”

The second verse is for my dogs working 9 to 5 that still hustle cause a N***a can’t shine off 6.55/And everybody selling make up, Jacob’s, and bootleg tapes just to get they cake up/We put Isht on layaway then come back/We claim other people kids on our income tax/We take that money, cop work then push packs to get paid/And we don’t care what people say…

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