Last Friday Kanye West premiered New Slaves, the first track to be heard from his forthcoming album, Yeezus. Instead of releasing the song online or putting out a trailer or film of some sort, the song was presented to the world via video projections on 66 buildings across 10 cities, including numerous locations in our own city.
Set against a moody and dark sounding beat, the track, as the title suggests covers themes of a somewhat political nature with Yeezy providing commentary on racism and consumerism:
My mama was raised in an era when / Clean water was only served to the fairer skin
Doing clothes you would have thought I had help / But they wasn’t satisfied unless I picked the cotton myself.
You see it’s broke n*gga racism / That’s that, “Don’t touch anything in the store”
And this rich n*gga racism / That’s that “Come here, please buy more”
What you want, a Bentley? Fur Coat? A diamond chain? / All you blacks want all the same things
Used to only be n*ggas now everybody playing / Spending everything on Alexander Wang
And cue all the over-the-top articles and tweets of admiration. While it is commendable that Kanye is finally attempting to say something again (it’s been a while), I’m not sure it’s as “deep” as the kids on a Yeezy hype would want you to believe.
Yes he touched on controversial topics such as the private prison system and perhaps by doing so, has introduced a bleak reality to groups of people who before hearing New Slaves were blissfully unaware – but how many people actually go on to research topics they hear in a song? Especially one put out by an artist whose own famously excessive lavish and extravagant lifestyle contradicts the very issues he is meant to be highlighting? New Slaves could indicate a new direction for Mr. West but the way his work has progressed over the years, I doubt it, this is, after all, the guy who wrote Diamonds in Sierra Leone before having his whole bottom set of teeth replaced with a permanent diamond grill. The guy who during the Watch The Throne tour encouraged the (mainly white) audience to feel free and make use of the “N-word” when singing along regardless the connotations or implications. And the same guy who also tirelessly complains and lashes out at the paparazzi but still pursued a relationship with one of THE most transparent and shameless fame loving “attention seeking whores” ever to walk the earth.
It’s all a bit too hypocritical for my liking and what this song coupled with his actions do is highlight his double standards and that of the music industry. I’m not saying he needs to give all his money away to charity and dedicate his entire art to the struggle but the point is, if you want to promote awareness and bring about change, which would seem to be the point of expressing ideas such as those aired on this track, you would need to check yourself and ensure an element of truth can be seen in the way you conduct yourself and live your life. Otherwise people will question whether or not you even care about what you are saying. I’m not suggesting that the content of the song was any less important because it was Kanye who wrote it, and I’m not denying the fact that Kanye will reach many many more people than certain other, more underground artists with similar messages could. My point is that he seems to be saying one thing and doing another, trying to portray himself as profound with his words but indulging in a lifestyle which is vulgar in comparison and a complete contradiction to them. And all that does is promote and justify hypocrisy and lead people to think that it is acceptable to live your life as a slave to consumerism, just as long as you reflect on it every now and again. How will this attitude ever bring about any change?
Ultimately, I think the release was alright but to those who really loved it I say, all Ye did really was raise the bar of performance art and introduce us all to another dimension of his creativity and possibly the future of promotion and music marketing. The soundtrack for which just happened to be New Slaves. I guess we will know for sure what the deal is around June Eighteenth right?
In the meantime, check out the videos below of one of the projections here in London and also his fiery performance on SNL the night after and make up your own mind: