Wed. Sep 19th, 2018

It’s Bigger Than Kanye: Hats, Hugs and Colonial Relations

Whew!  The hat, that line from Kanye West about enslavement being “a choice” and his subsequent attempts to clarify himself are just, I mean, damn!  Yikes!  And in this circulating photo, just one i know, West looks every bit like a man who would be linked to that kind of current behavior.  But its those other two he is hugged up with that has my attention and which has me thinking again how West’s behavior, cultural and political positioning and the attendant disturbing wardrobe/comments coming from him (again?) are the results of still largely unchanged social/colonial relationships.

West’s popularity, as is always the case, is not merely the product of individual talent but a process which itself serves broader (colonial) goals and which assures there no one can be simultaneously rich, famous and politically radical.  Pop culture is never, as some put it, “value free,” and is always a politicized space meant to influence public opinion, mostly to distract, confuse and make populations more malleable and accepting of the world as it is.  To think of pop culture as mere entertainment is to misunderstand the political nature of the term.  Those with whom West is pictured here know this well.

To his immediate right is, as hip-hop heads/historians will know, Lyor Cohen.  You might not know his name but it is also likely you wouldn’t know the names of your favorite artists if he didn’t want you to.  And now that he is running YouTube Music it is likely that your grandchildren’s favorite artists will be selected by him too.  It is worth noting that, going back a long way, Cohen, is, ummm, not well liked.

When asked what his greatest career regret had been to that point legendary rapper Freddie Foxxx, aka, Bumpy Knuckles (best nickname in hip-hop history), said, “Probably not breaking Lyor Cohen’s jaw when I had the opportunity to.”  Previously, in verse, Knuckles had already made in plain:

While I was watching all these niggas caught up in a def scam
I remember when I stepped to Lyor, I should’ve blown him
Cuz that cracker been a crook, ever since I first known him.

Next to him in the picture is Lucian Grainge.  As head of the largest music company in the world (which we have previously pointed out is no more than 14% of its parent conglomerate) this guy has been called, “the most powerful man” in music.  Talent and hard work mean little.  If this guy doesn’t want you to be famous it’s not likely you will be.  In fact, as Maimouna Youssef pointed out during her recent workshop at Morgan State University, these are the kinds of men who have the power to sign and shelve you just to keep you from producing if your political work product (art) does not suit their interests.  In other words, this recent “shift’ in West is precisely what is required for the re/production or sustainability of fame.

Too often we are encouraged to judge the outcome and not the process or, said differently, to address only symptoms and not the cause or disease itself.  Here again is more of that same.  One place to re/start a study of this point is with the recently published report about What We Get Wrong About Closing the Wealth Gap which includes discussion of the role celebrity plays in confusing the real and worsening material conditions of Black life.  Without Cohen and Grainge there is no West phenomena or his ability to stand in for sound commentary on the conditions of people and politics and, similarly, there is no necessary spectacle.  Absent that all we’d have left is clarity.

Unfortunately, slavery was no more a choice than what is required for West or anyone else to occupy these pop cultural spaces.  Each are imposed conditions which alter only in form but not in relational substance and neither condition will or has ever ended/shifted without organized and direct political conflict.

5 thoughts on “It’s Bigger Than Kanye: Hats, Hugs and Colonial Relations

  1. Is this the same Kanye West who said in 2005 in the wake of Katrina: ‘George Bush does not care about Black People.’, in an impromptu but heart-felt response to the US Federal, Louisiana State & New Orleans City Govts’ woeful / utter failure & near total abandonment of N.O. Blacks during the Katrina Disaster- All while demonizing them in stereotypical racist-animalistic terms.
    – I mean man, look at what 13 yrs & marrying Kim.K has done!! But Kanye, you can hype & wear a Trump style ‘Make AmeriKKKa Great Again’ cap all you want [including doing the ‘Stepin Fetchit’ while wearing it], these folks have a long track-record of NOT forgetting NOR forgiving- IE: They ain’t gonna forget that you ‘buked’ Bush on national TV!!

    So Kanye maybe you should do some serious reflection on Prince’s ‘Colonized Mind’…

  2. I believe what we are seeing with Kanye’s recent comments is the absence of elders, community, and books. Kanye doesn’t read books. He admits that his opinions are not informed, but are an amalgamation of his conversations with the people around him (who I don’t believe are holding him accountable to any standards of having good character or being knowledgeable) and his gut feelings. I am not convinced that what we are seeing is a byproduct of the music industry puppet masters. It seems more likely that his behavior is a manifestation of what happens to manchildren without elders, devoid of the principles of good character, and separated from community have access to money and power. He may be manipulated by Cohen and ’em, but I think this is evidence that very few people in his life love him enough to correct him and that is a trap we can all easily fall into when we no one holds us accountable and we have financial comforts that trick us into believing we are no longer need to belong to a community.

  3. Is Kanye West, a colonial subject having his political decisions made for him by his colonial masters, hmm? ….There is no American dilemma [ white Americans torn and tortured by the conflict between their devotion to the American creed and their actual behavior ] because black people in this country form a colony, and it is not in the interest of the colonial power to liberate them. Black people are legal citizens of the United States with, for the most part, the same legal rights as other citizens. Yet they stand as colonial subjects in relation to the white society. Thus institutional racism has another name; colonialism. [ Black Power; The Politics of Liberation – Kwame Ture & Charles V. Hamilton ].

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