Friday, June 21st, 2013

Kanye West – New Slaves

Lies makes Baby Yeezus cry…


Anthony Easton: Who knew that Kanye may be the new Elridge Cleaver or Kwame Ture?  Except remember that Kwame Ture, back when he was Stokely, was asked what position he saw for women in the movement and responded “prone,” and spent a lot of time with Ahmed Touré, the avowed Marxist who exiled those who disagreed with him. Also, Cleaver wrote this: “I, for one, do not think homosexuality is the latest advance over heterosexuality in the scale of human evolution. Homosexuality is a sickness, just as are baby-rape or wanting to become head of General Motors.” With its weird progressive politics, its casual homophobia, the rhetorical excess and desire for more, more, more — the all-consuming critic of that which seeks to consume — Kanye is not just maybe the new head but actually is. He knows his history, and his people’s history, and he actually speaks of it. He knows who wrote “Strange Fruit,” and he knows what the problems with the progressive left used to be, and its failures. He knows what happened with the Black Panthers, and he knows that in prison (where too many African American men are) the passive blow job is the feminine blow job, is the bowing down to white America. But marking territory, the cumming on the Hamptons blouse, that rising above — that’s a political act. But is it a political act if he returns to Africa a black woman via the medium of cocaine (see “No Church in the Wild”: “Coke on her black skin made a stripe like a zebra, I call that jungle fever”), or is it a political act when known cocksucker Frank Ocean takes the contract, signs on to the best-selling single of his career — who knows how to read, in order to allow for Kanye to preach about passive boys and active boys, butch and femme, boy and girl, playing the same games that he’s castigating the rest of us for? If Kanye is the tale end of late capitalism, in all of its virtues (the aesthetics, the openness, the class maneuvering upwards) and poor (the hypocrisy, the split, the false promises, the continued racism) then maybe a work that sounds so strange, oppressive, and bifurcated might be the best way of going about this. 

Alfred Soto: The “Simon Says” sequencer goads Kanye into sharing his theories on the evolution of black pride and his take on Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, but because the line between subject and object in a Kanye track is as laughable as worrying about what swallowing dick makes you he’s both the guy who can’t read the record company contract and one of the world’s biggest cultural scions. “New Slaves” has Something To Say about how black American men form part of a consumer industry that, according to Kanye, still exploits them, and the arrangement matches his clipped, impatient delivery, but the rage made more sense years ago. Because Kanye is a scion and loves nice clothes and things, he should know better than to cop to gay baiting. Is this language acceptable in Blue Ivy Carter’s home?

Katherine St Asaph: “There’s leaders and there’s followers, but I’d rather be a dick than a swallower” is one of two lines everyone quotes, neither of which address “new slaves.” The first is unfortunately something Kanye has perfected: sentiments co-optable by frat guys, in a singsong cadence compatible with “Drunk and Hot Girls.” The second is the Hamptons bit, for equally obvious reasons. Yeezus is, it seems, 2013’s one album per year where critics talk about misogyny; but ironically, that Hamptons line is eons less offensive than the way the interview, review, thinkpiece, and canonization cycle has been dominated by white men. The outrage is stultifyingly predictable. Hell, this year had a near-identical example: the disproportionate pearl-clutching after Django Unchained about what happens to supposedly-blameless Lara by a lot of people who might instead spend their time Googling “benevolent racism,” or perhaps “cut the bullshit and maybe acknowledge how white women are treated in racist discourse.” But back to that first line. Everyone seems to have forgotten it’s a double entendre, with a second meaning: Kanye West may be a jackass, but he’s almost always right; if being a dick’s what it takes to temporarily get the mic and be right, fine. Yet all the critics — again, white male and white straight male critics — focus on the sexual (and yes, gay-baiting) meaning rather than what Kanye’s trying to say: he may be a dick, but he’s almost always right, and being a dick is how he temporarily gets the mic to be right. But no, this is the track with the Hamptons blouse, not the track with a complex point about race and upward mobility that’s often simplified (exhibit A: Watch the Throne) or a scathing verse on privately owned prisons. All people hear is Kanye rapping about sex; gee, I wonder why. That said, not everything people overlook is good. The beat isn’t functional-minimal-awesomeness so much as a slightly weaponized variation on rap radio’s usual sound: haunted synth melody with a few notes, Warcraft choirs, cold interior and out. The coda is all wrong, and Frank Ocean still has an album or two until he’s up to this. Referencing The Waterboy is either smart (Kanye knows that if he’s rapping about “going off” it’s safer to say it’s like a fictional Adam Sandler character) or a glaring failure of perspective, and I’m still not sure which. But elsewhere, Kanye is almost always right. How much are you willing to hear?

Crystal Leww: Politics, problematic raps, and Kanye West’s thing aside, “New Slaves” sounds dark and foreboding and tense. Minus a point for the outro. I wasn’t looking to breathe, Ye.

Brad Shoup: The way Kanye says “niggas!” (as in “used to only be…”) is the best sonic touch on the record, somewhere ahead of Charlie Wilson on “Bound 2” and the Glitterbreath on “Black Skinheads.” “Niggas!” projects disgust and shock and fear; furthermore, it may be the pared ideal of comedy: target the ones with all that power. It’d be remiss not to note, though, that Mr. West has accrued a fair amount of the stuff himself. Just read his non-Parisian reviews. Or see how he taunts his peers. Of course, a good follower is the backbone of every political structure, to say nothing of every religion. But gods can’t be victims; they create ’em. (The fetish for inducing apologies from ‘Ye is still more obnoxious than anything on this record.) He’s got fine points and weak lines and a paranoia-making creeping bass. The sudden appearance of Frank Ocean — so submerged under the grandiose Omega sample, it’s practically waterboarding — is a welcome if abrupt shift to the purely personal, and an unnecessary but still pleasant reminder that few people can do pretty like Kanye. I don’t want to come off as an aesthete or an ostrich. It’s just that I’m not willing to cut the man slack for sublimating sins committed against him into sexual sociopathy. He’s not our news source. He’s not our conscience. And I’d be thrilled if my opinions — whatever they are — weren’t automatically considered proof of his methods. Sometimes a fall line is merely middling.

Patrick St. Michel: What’s most intriguing sonically about the two tracks Kanye teased prior to Yeezus‘s release is how he’s drawn out sounds from his producers you normally wouldn’t expect from them. The Gary-Glitter-fronting-Battles thump of “Black Skinhead” doesn’t sound like anything Daft Punk have ever done and sounds especially jarring after Random Access Memories. The majority of “New Slaves” is a stripped down drum-machine workout, leaving ample space for West to start off political and eventually ramp up to something more personal (“I move my family out the country/so you can’t see where I stay”). It comes courtesy of Hudson Mohawke, a guy not known for minimalism (though the helium voices near the end are sorta a giveaway). The way West pushes folks out of their comfort zone has been fun to watch. The tacked on ending, though, takes away from “New Slaves” a bit. The Auto-Tune crooning seems forced and Frank Ocean’s bit is way too slight.

Andy Hutchins: “New Slaves” is the sparer more arresting of Yeezus‘s two … SNL Singles? Early leaks? Opening statements? And for nearly three minutes, Kanye keeps it simple, riding decaying, artificial electronica with very clear flows and words, delivering a firebrand’s keynote address to an inattentive America. This being a Kanye West Event Song, though, he then tries two separate bridges/outros/segments of data, one so mangled that it defeats another attempt to wring emotion out of his voice through Auto-Tune, and another beautifully and quietly sung by Frank Ocean. Wait, no: I mean that Kanye makes Frank sound like him, then lets a bit of a sample of a Hungarian metal song that sounds a lot like Frank singing play the song out. It works best on the first listen.

Cédric Le Merrer: This would be much less repulsive than “Black Skinhead” if it was not for the gratuitous misogyny. Other than that, it’s just the same blood diamonds dilemma Ye’s been preoccupied with since at least “All Falls Down.” Structurally, it also recycles an old trick by sounding like a mirrored “Niggas in Paris”: the first part is built around a very simple synth riff and gives way to a saturated crescendo, except here we go from a dark minimalist metal to a more soulful and warm part instead of club banger to paranoid ego trip.

Jonathan Bradley: There’s that diabolical synth loop: flat, expansive, all-encompassing. It belongs to a tradition of machines too powerful for mere humans to interrupt. It’s a Kid A and 808s and Heartbreak tradition that posits systems as stronger than sentiment: the protagonist at the center bullied by syncresis. On “New Slaves,” Kanye is fevered, more gasping than breathing, piling accusations against an unmoving beat. Does it matter that they make sense? That white fear married prisons with profit at the expense of black communities across America? Kanye talks about the CCA and the DEA more paranoid than he ever discussed his preferred nonsense about the US government being responsible for AIDS. That beat chases him; its bass envelopes him. “I fuck your Hampton spouse, came on her Hampton blouse” he screams at it, like his imagined cuckoldry could actually damage a system. He says those words shook, not like when Jay smarmily informed Nas “you was kissing my dick when you was kissing that bitch” or when Pac sneered at Big “I fucked your bitch you fat motherfucker.” How could Yeezus hurt something this unfeeling? The bass swells and he’s extinguished. And then, in glorious relief, comes the coda, Frank Ocean wailing to heaven and beyond: weightless, free.

Josh Langhoff: He’s on that next shit now — which apparently means ‘60s Hungarian psych? (Wild-eyed Vintage Vinyl dude has been telling me this for years.) With his formal genius, questionable chops, sonic-as-political provocation, omnivorous ears, and fondness for nice things also, Kanye is clearly Miles Davis. “Most jazzmen are lucky if they can be linked to even a single formal breakthrough; Davis can be credited with several,” wrote J.D. Considine. The two don’t completely match up; Kanye’s first three albums cooked, steamed, and worked but rarely relaxed, 808s was either Birth of the Cool or Kind of Blue, and if the past few years of collaboration fetish haven’t exactly been the second great quintet or Bitches Brew, “New Slaves” jolts him into On the Corner territory. The collaborators’ identities disappear as Kanye shapes their work, distilling a surprisingly large credits list into a single hard sound, unified in its aggression, more dick than swallower. (Which, sigh, overlooks the Freudian badassery of sword swallowers, among other things.) We’ll see whether this breakthrough reshapes his audience accordingly — so far I can’t vote for any Yeezus songs on Power 92’s Top 10 at 8.

Reader average: [8.43] (16 votes)

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6 Responses to “Kanye West – New Slaves”

  1. “Yet all the critics — again, white male and white straight male critics — focus on the sexual (and yes, gay-baiting) meaning rather than what Kanye’s trying to say: he may be a dick, but he’s almost always right, and being a dick is how he temporarily gets the mic to be right.”

    A good line, but the paradox/dialectic about Kanye you mentioned – he’s most powerful aesthetically when he’s most loathsome personally – has been the object du jour since 2008, which still leaves us with a tired dick metaphor and a Waterboy allusion for the sake of the frat guys.

  2. Proof this album ain’t worth all the talk — the numbers say that neither of these tracks are even remotely controversial.


  4. Tired of Being Savvy.

  5. “Frank Ocean takes the contract, signs on to the best-selling single of his career”

    wait, of whose career

  6. yeah, that was a mistake, i should have said best-hyped.