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Sep. 17 2009 - 12:13 pm | 10,532 views | 1 recommendation | 6 comments

Before he dissed Taylor, Kanye saved my week

In storming the stage at the Video Music Awards and ruining the moment for Taylor Swift, who was accepting her trophy for Best Female Video, Kanye West only affirmed what many people already think of rap artists: that they’re brash, inappropriate, and worst of all, disrespectful of women (nevermind that his outburst was all about defending Beyonce, another woman).

The uproar capped the end of a particularly brutal week for me – one in which I’d found solace, interestingly enough, in West’s lyrics. I listened to his song “Bring Me Down” on repeat for almost five days straight, nodding emphatically at times and crying softly at others as West spit, “They’re gonna have to take my life before they take my drive/because when I was barely living, that’s what kept me alive/Just the thought that maybe it could be better than where we’re at at this time/make it out of this grind/before I’m out of my mind.”

West’s VMA antics received probably more derision than his famous “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” quip following the government’s failed response to Hurricane Katrina. And with other artists coming out of the woodwork to denounce him on blogs, Twitter and in interviews, he’s suffered the musical equivalent of a House rebuke, a la Rep. Joe Wilson.

But writing off West as a “jackass” – as President Obama supposedly did – gives the impression that he and other rappers should be disregarded as soon as they say something stupid, at a time when their music is actually growing more progressive and accepting.

Kanye West

West himself has been particularly active in making hip-hop music more accepting of gay people, urging others in the rap community to stop using discriminatory lyrics. According to Slate, “West’s call for tolerance remains the highest-profile rebuke of gay-bashing that hip-hop has seen.”

Indeed, even as Bill O’Reilly and others continue to paint hip-hop as a corrupting influence, it has remained the positive, encouraging soundtrack of my life. Before every big interview, I listen to the Notorious B.I.G.’s rags-to-riches song “Juicy,” feeling my confidence build as I hear the refrain, “You know very well who you are/don’t let ‘em hold you down, reach for the stars” and I celebrate every big accomplishment by blasting the Nas song “I Can,”: “Nobody says you have to be gangstas, hos/Read more, learn more, change the globe.”

No matter how high-profile West is, he is neither representative of hip-hop, nor is he one-dimensional. He can act stupidly, and still be inspiring. He can disrespect Taylor Swift and still rap unabashedly about his love for his mama. Similarly, for every hip-hop song that is littered with bitches and hos, there are dozens of others that plead with young people to achieve great things; that address poverty and racism; and that extol women as teachers and role models. Hip-hop is a complex community – and West’s outburst doesn’t speak for it.


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  1. collapse expand

    Excellent points Sara. It seemed that this one act unleashed some nasty anti hip hop screeds and sentiments. We are so averse to complexity, it disturbs our easy binaries.

  2. collapse expand

    For every song about advancing the community and changing the world Kanye West writes, there are 15 others dealing with the same cliches and crap every other rapper talks about. While all these rappers have the ability to write songs about social issues and advance hip-hop to a higher level, they constantly backtrack and find more commercial ways to rap about somking endo and finding chicks in the club. I am not necessarily saying having a commercial hit is a bad thing, but that is what contemporary rap has become. A continuous verbal spew of self-appreciation and lauding about their BMWs and money in their checking accounts. In terms of inspirational Kanye songs, I can name a few for you: Later Registration- Heard Em Say, Addiction, Hey Mama, Diamonds From Sierra Leone

    College Dropout: All Falls Down, Jesus Walks, Never Let Me Down

    Graduation: Stronger, Everything I Am

    808s and Heartbreaks: Welcome to Heartbreak, Heartless, Coldest Winter, Paranoid, Street Lights

    While I may be stretching it a bit, most of his other songs deal with the same crap that plagues contemporary rap. “New Workout Plan”, “Golddigger”, “Drunk and Hot Girls”, “we Major”, etc. all deal with the same crap. While I’m not saying these are bad songs, (New Workout Plan was played every party we had in high school), it is obnoxious to hear the same thing over and over. You mention Nas and B.I.G. as well in the article, both could write inspirational stuff but also deal with boasting about their accomplishments.

    People have becoming sick of supporting artists with their hard earned money that show no awareness of where that money is coming from. It does not matter if Kanye West is making music equivalent to the Beatles (which he is not), he showed a lack of human emotion towards Taylor Swift, who is the most popular artist in America, and is suffering a huge backlash from it. Why should people continue to support a complete scumbag who treats others like dirt? How would he treat a random fan walking down the street? Probably like they were beneath him, even though that same fan is the reason he is wearing a Gucchi watch. Celebrities like Kanye don’t understand that fame is a two way street and you can’t bite the hand that feeds you.

  3. collapse expand

    Hi Sara. I’m sorry to hear about your, “bad patch.” Check out Carrie Underwood, and this little girl who she dragged up on to the stage. LOL I recorded her at Chicago’s Ravinia. That’ll cheer you up! YouTube/davethreshold

    I think Kanye really needs to grow up. If Taylor saw a fly, flying around in her house, she would probably capture it, feed it, and then escort it to the window. :) That is how nice this lady is. Recently, on an Oprah rerun, she was a surprise guest for a slightly obsessed young lady. She does the surprise visit thing, then she gives the kid one of her guitars. When asked for some quick advice, she says, “….also be good to people…just every single person that you come in contact with. My heroes are great musicians, but more than that, they’re great people.”

    This is Kanye’s pattern. He seems to suffer from an almost psychopathic grandiosity. He didn’t care one bit about Taylor when he did that. He didn’t care about millions of Taylor fans either. He didn’t care about Beyonce, and her embarrassment. Another thing that he accomplished: That beautiful, moving tribute to Michael Jackson, was never discussed in the media. I’m convinced that IT would have been the headline the next day, but noooooo we have to hear about Kanye for three days. Beyonce, SHOCKED me by inviting Taylor back. She should get the new “Most MTV Class Award” Sure enough, on Leno’s new show we see him: Contrite, teary eyed, soft spoken and proving to everyone that he is a master at manipulating the imbecilic media.

    At the American Music Awards, he starts babbling about how rap or Hip Hop will be bigger than the Beatles, Elvis etc. I hope this isn’t too off topic, but regarding the Katrina outburst, I actually almost totally agreed with what he said. The HUGE problem that I had, was the whole purpose of that show was to raise money for the Katrina downtrodden. When he started babbling about it, I had this image in my mind of the Dixie Chicks fiasco, then THOUSANDS of well meaning red-necks, putting their wallets away, then diving for the remote to change the channel. The only thing he accomplished with that outburst, was to cost the Katrina cause a lot of money. I pitied Mike Myers in that situation.

    Dave

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    I have always been a big Kanye fan, respecting his musical talent and his unique lyrical stylings. The whole VMA thing was sort of stupid; it was rude to Taylor Swift, but I never found it offensive myself. I personally don’t care about the MTV VMA’s enough for an event on them to really rile me up. And Kanye’s ego is so far beyond containment that this should come as no surprise. Thanks, though, for pointing to his other positive attributes. It’s hard to see the forest for the trees when our minds have been saturated with only his VMA episode.

  5. collapse expand

    Thank You for bringing this whole ridiculous Kanye bashing into perspective and reminding us why he is so popular. That a musician who called George Bush a racist was later called a jackass by Obama( the black president) is somehow newsworthy is a disgrace. not to mention the hack journalist who asked the president to respond to Kanye West in an interview.

    Kanye is still an inspiration even if sometimes he does act like a jackass.

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    I'm a Los Angeles-based writer and editor focusing on pop and politics, race and culture, and where Gen-Yers fit into it all. My writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, WashingtonPost.com, the San Francisco Chronicle and People magazine. Among other things, I'm Oregon-born, hip-hop-addicted, and weirdly optimistic that the journalism business will stay alive.

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