November 23, 2010 3 Comments
The American Scene asks Why Do Music Critics Love Kanye West? I clicked over hoping to read some skeptical explanation of the bizarre phenomenon of all politicians pretending to like the music of Kanye West. Instead it’s an article about how Kanye West’s new album really is great (but just wondering why all music critics agree). I skimmed or read at least 50% of that article, I swear.
But then I went over to iTunes to sample the new album myself (literally never, to my knowledge, having heard any sounds made by ‘Kanye West’ in my life). Meh. So it’s basically hip hop/R&B, right? Am I missing something? I’ll grant that I can certainly imagine (from the 30-second cilps) that it’s an especially good hip hop/R&B album. But that’s like saying that a brand of paper towels makes an especially good paper towel. It’s fine, but there’s an intrinsic ceiling as to how excited I’m capable of getting over it. Ultimately, you’ve still got a guy grunting ‘yeah’ and ‘uh huh’ over a drum track.
Oh, sorry, was I supposed to keep on pretending all my life to really like hip hop/R&B in order to prove myself Not Racist? Damn. I keep forgetting to do that. Okay let me just add that I own Public Enemy’s ‘Fear Of A Black Planet’. Or at least I used to (not sure where it is). THERE THAT PROVES IT.
Maybe that’s all there is to the popularity of guys like Kanye West. Modern politicians and modern SWPL’s continually need some token, some emblem to tote around to Prove They’re Not Racists. For whatever reason, in the ’00s-’10s, Kanye West settles into this cultural niche perfectly, like a poodle in an eccentric lady’s handbag. A college coed from Cornell or a white indie journalist in Berkeley can have an iPod full of The Shinses and Modest Mouses and like that, but all she needs to do is accessorize it with a Kanye album (that, though she might make a big show of liking it, she may or may not ever listen to), and voila she’s Not A Racist.
Why Kanye instead of a zillion other artists? Well, to get at one component of the answer, let me just ask what I’ve previously asked about Barack Obama: if this guy were the same guy but named “Leroy Jackson”, would people be making such a fuss about him? You don’t want your Not-A-Racist token to actually be culturally black American (because SWPL’s don’t actually like actual black Americans). You like your tokens to be ‘exotic’ and ‘post-racial’ don’t you. Sure you do.
A darker possibility, one that I have spent untold milliseconds wondering about (just now, after I thought of it), is that Kanye is our Wagner. A state-ideologically-approved form of art. In the excerpt from track #13, “Who Will Survive In America?”, there’s a snippet of spoken words by some (apparently) well-known radical poet. The part that grabbed my attention goes like this:
America was a bastard the illegitimate daughter of the mother country
whose legs were then spread around the world
and a rapist known as freedom, free doom.
Inspiring and insightful stuff, this. No wonder everyone loves him so! Actually no one pays attention to the words at all, do they? Not really. The words sound appropriately ‘deep’ but no one actually believes their substance. Their substance is not meant to be believed, it is meant to blow the right dog whistles. And those dog whistles are the Nietzschian doublespeak bullshit above, about freedom being a ‘rapist’. Sounds like it would make the perfect soundtrack for our 21st century progressivism.