YEEZUS- On Kanye, Jay-Z and Race Relations

Kanye, Jay-Z and Being Artfully Angry in America: Why You Should Buy Yeezus Kanye West's new album, Yeezus, is probably the best to come out this year. Amidst an incredible amount of fluffy publicity following his coupling and subsequent pregnancy with reality star Kim Kardashian, Yeezus arrived to remind us that Kanye will never be easily digestible. Yeezus is hard to listen to. Not because it's bad: West's newest album is a glass-sharded masterpiece, a bitter pill to swallow. Kanye West's Yeezus is a brilliant meditation on power dynamics and social conventions... and oh yes, race relations in the United States. References to America's shameful history are numerous, with samplings from the Nina Simone track “Strange Fruit” (Simone's song is about the Klu Klux Klan hanging black men) among them. West later references black power and, in Black Skinhead, states, “If I knew what I knew in the past, I would have been blacked out on your ass.” The album resonates with a grating, slashing anger. It's violent. It's upsetting. The album is virtually unplayable on radio. Unlike frequent collaborator Jay-Z's newest opus, Magna Carta Holy Grail, is not made for the white middle class. It's not safe. It won't make him any fans among middle America, where the money and media lie. It's not going to help Samsung have a more exclusive phone, or garner Beyonce more Pepsi deals. As a white woman, I found it difficult to listen to. My family comes from Switzerland, and I've been raised in Canada my whole life. My family is not a part of the conversation surrounding oppressive race relations for at least two hundred years. My ancestors did not pay for slaves for the cotton plantations that created my family fortune, like Paula Deen's did. My ancestors never had to risk their lives, like Harriet Tubman did, to ensure African-Americans safe passage into Canada. However, I do get a substantial amount of privilege and opportunity because of the colour of my skin. I never realized how much I benefited from white privilege until I worked at a big box store. Head office came for a visit, and the word came down from the top that management had been told to make the employee pool “more diverse.” Within a week, five new non-Caucasian people had been hired. It would be hard to convince me that it was simply a coincidence that these resumes had been available and had not been hired before the edict had been issued from on high. What, then, had made them so unemployable previously? I benefit tremendously from my heritage and skin colour. Because of this, hearing Kanye West rap so passionately, so angrily about the injustices he continues to face because of his skin makes me uncomfortable. Kanye West is a rich, successful man. He is lauded as one of the geniuses of his generation, respected by critics and peers alike, and his music is still fraught with concern and anger at the treatment towards his fellow African-Americans. I feel guilty, and ashamed, and culpable. Kanye is yelling at me, and I don't know what to say to him. Because he's right. And the longer we keep pretending that there is no problem, the longer politicians can (to paraphrase he words of Mr. West) continue to not care about black people. Kanye West's new album may be the strange fruit of the horrible seeds of prejudice planted hundreds of years ago in the United States. I would urge you to go out and buy it, because it's not often that we hear about prejudice from the point of view of the oppressed. Kanye West might be stackin' his millions now, but he used to be poor and disenfranchised. Kanye West has somehow managed to get rich in a white person's world without selling out where he came from, and the message is hard to hear but crucial to listen to. It's got great rhymes, fantastic beats and thought-provoking content. You should buy this. I use it for running: I get better legs and become a more aware person for peak attractiveness. Try it!