Monday, November 22, 2010

Kanye West: The 4G Insomnia of a Cyborg MC

by Barry Michael Cooper
"The inner-city crack epidemic is now giving birth to the newest horror: a bio-underclass, a generation of physically damaged cocaine babies whose biological inferiority is stamped at birth...This is permanent brain damage. Whether it is 5 percent or 15 percent of the black community, it is there. And for those children it is irrevocable..."
Charles Krauthammer, "Children of Cocaine"
The Washington Post, 30 July 1988
"..Crack raised the murder rate/in DC and Maryland/we invested in that/it's like we got/Merrill Lynch'd/and we been hanging from from the same tree/ever since...who gave Saddam anthrax?/George Bush got the answer/back in the hood/it's a different kind of chemical/Arm&Hammer baking soda/raised they whole quota/...dreams of being Hova/went from being the broke-man/to being the dope-man/to being the President/look, there's hope, man...and this is the soundtrack/this the type of music that you make/when you 'round that..."

-Kanye West, Crack Music, from the 2005 album
Late Registration
You can thank the late President Ronald Reagan and Col. Oliver North and Iran Contra for Kanye West.

And for Jay-Z. And Nicki Minaj. And Lil Wayne. And Rick "Rozay" Ross. And Sean "Diddy" Combs. And Jeezy. And T.I. And Adam "Pac Man" Jones. And bling. And the premature deaths of Biggie and Tupac. And narcissistic nihilism.

Because Ronald Reagan and Oliver North and Iran-Contra are responsible for the proliferation of crack cocaine in this country. A deadly epidemic which created--according to the alarmist, 1989 op-ed piece by GOP bullhorn and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer--a bio-underclass of children and babies either born to crack addicted mothers, or children and teenagers raised in a crack-infested environment.

Children abandoned by Moms and Dads; some who had to work overtime to provide breakfast for their families in the darkest hours of Reagan's Mourning In America (and others lost in the smoke-filled haze of some crackhouse). Children raised by grandparents. Children nurtured by Super Mario; their fragile psyches tuned to the ringing blips and bleeps of victory and defeat. Children auto-tuned to shocking melodies that short-circuited the emotional motherboard of their collective body electric.

A generation of children who cried incessantly. Children who were desensitized to violence and prone to launch unprovoked attacks. Children with little or no emotional affect. Children whose ghosts where dying unnatural deaths inside flesh and blood machines. Children who were--according to Krauthammer's bigoted hypothesis--the pharm-raised equivalent of American cyborgs.

In spite of its hedonistic excess, the Hip Hop you hear today is borne of political calculations, even as the corporation known as Rap Mu$ick, LLC accelerates the demise of its social relevance. Kanye West embodies the contradiction and confirmation of modern Hip Hop. He is the vox populi for a generation of 'Eighties crack babies afflicted with the 4G angst of 21st century schizoid-men (and women).


"I sold my soul to the devil/that's a crappy deal/
at least it came with a few toys/like a Happy Meal..." 
-Kanye West performing in the G.O.O.D. Music Cyper,
BET Hip Hop Awards; 12 October 2010 
The genius of Kanye West is a Heavenly bespoke creation. A yarn Providentially fashioned, woven, designed and sewn by GOD; made in secret and curiously wrought--as is all human life, as David declares to the believers in Psalm 139-- "in the lowest parts of the earth."

Despite a misplaced desire for ragged alterations from B.L. Zeebub--an unreliable tailor of glossy but limited skills--the whole-cloth of Kanye's prodigious talent has the undeniable drape of The Great I AM. The MAKER of Heaven and Earth is shielding this dazzling Glitta-Child from the sin-feeders and soul eaters, even as Kanye West sometimes does his level best to treat his GOD-given gift as an earthbound curse.

Still, Kayne knows he is a mere mortal masquerading as a sleep-deprived cyborg; a High Definition enfant terrible looking for Wi-Fi absolution in a dial-up world.

As a child of the African American middle-class, Kanye West is an intellectual backpacker who makes music for both the corner-boy gunclappers with bourgeois aspirations, and the trust fund babies coveting a ghetto pass for cultural authenticity. Kanye is an MC, a writer, a producer, an excavator of talent (he discovered the extraordinary John Legend), a filmmaker, a provocateur, a thinker apart; a fabulist who enjoys the fabulous-ness of himself. He is convinced (and we are, too) that there is something truly unique in the passionate approach to his craft


“I contemplated suicide; I will not give up on life.” 

-Kanye West speaking to the audience at the 
Hollywood screening of his film "Runaway" 
in a story reported by Chris Lee in the LA Times, 19 October 2010.
Like every good fabulist, Kanye West understands that you're only as good as your last successful mythology. 

That said, on the night of 13 September 2009, the mythos of Kanye as a career-icide bomber at the MTV Music Video Awards, was truly unexpected. His synaptic implosion was the blast heard 'round the world, as he jumped onstage and grabbed the mic from America's Sweetheart-In-Training, Taylor Swift. 

Kanye admonished a genuinely shocked and tearful Swift--who had just won the Best Female Video trophy for her teen country-pop ballad You Belong To Me--that Beyonce Knowles (not only one of the biggest stars in the world, but the wife of his boss and mentor, Jay-Z)was more deserving of the honor for the pop anthem Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).

Many believed that this shocking act spelled the end of Kanye West's career. Some of his fans had concerns that his outburst was additional proof that Kanye may have suffered more than just a fractured jaw in that October 2002 car crash in Los Angeles; is there unchecked brain-trauma that factors into his erratic behavior?

I believed Kanye was still grieving over the loss of the one person he loved and trusted like no one else; his Mom, Dr. Donda West. She was his best friend, protector, confidant and safe harbor. Her unexpected death on 10 November 2007 (as a result of a botched cosmetic surgery) was a major loss.

The loss of a mother is an unfathomable pain that could make one feel like jumpin' out the window/lettin' eveything go, a line from Power, the first single from Kanye's current album, Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The beloved and respected Dr. West was a Professor of English at Clark University in Atlanta, Ga., and Chicago University in the Windy City. Dr. West also taught in China, where Kanye spent a portion of his childhood. 

I don't think Kanye or Dr. West could have ever imagined a life of Grammy awards, rabid fans, and tens of millions of dollars. Nor could they have anticipated the glamorous inferno of flashing lights, blinding fame, and gaudy people bearing the gilded warp of fun-house mirrors, distorting the image of an already beautiful woman. Gaudy, jealous haters who probably told Dr. West to go under the knife, because that's what everyone does in Hollywood. Whispers and lies fan the flames of the glamorous inferno; flames that can incinerate a celebrity into a sparkling pile of heartbroken stardust.

The mere fact that Kanye continues to create with such a ferociously bountiful excellence, is a testament to GOD's Grace and the steadfast encouragement and nurturing love of his mother. I can image Dr. West telling her precocious toddler, I believe in you Kanye. I love you, Sun... 

Somewhere deep inside Kanye's soul, he knew he couldn't give up. Dr. West wouldn't want him to give up. And like a phoenix rising from the ashes, and a griffin--the creature from ancient Greek folklore with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion--protecting priceless possessions, Kanye lifted himself from the flaming wreckage of impulsion and came back to protect, restore, and extend his most precious possessions; his life, his legacy, and his sanity. 

Life-Legacy-Sanity; the transcendental through-line in his brilliant short film, Runaway, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. With the iconic Hype Williams as executive producer, its non-linear narrative and arresting visuals (courtesy of Kyle Kibbe, responsible for Barbara Koppel's 1990 Oscar-winning documentary American Dream and Lauren Lazin's 2005 documentary, I'm Still Here: Real Diaries of Young People Who Lived During The Holocaust), Runaway has invited several cinematic comparisons; Godard, Kubrick, Fellini, Von Trier, Besson. 

I would offer that Runaway's banquet scene evoked similar images from both Luis Bunuel's Viridiana and Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salo--sans the caustic blasphemy of the former and nauseating scatology of the latter--and Nicholas Roeg's compelling allegory of The Man Who Fell To Earth with the sexy Selita Eubanks's Phoenix substituting for David Bowie's orange-maned alien.

Runaway's story of Griffin--the name of Kanye's character in the film--and the Phoenix is an existential fable of survival in a business that celebrates its newest flavors during the day, and flushes them away that very same night. I think Kanye was trying to tell us something when the Phoenix screams and passes out at the table; she realized the feathery bird on the platter was her very own swagger, served up as the main course. Eat you up. Savor your flavor. Spit you out. 


"I didn't appreciate it then, I don't appreciate it now. It's one thing to say 'I don't appreciate the way he's handled his business.' It's another thing to say, 'This man is a racist.' I resent it, it's not true, and it was one of the most disgusting moments of my presidency."

-Former President George Bush, in an 9. November. 2010 interview with Matt Lauer on the "Today Show", discussing the remark by Kanye West that "George Bush doesn't like Black people", during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina crisis.
 "I don't want to speak on the word, 'regret'; and I think that a lot of things that happen in America, period, are because of race, just the way this country was built and the struggles we've had to have..."

Kanye West's response to Matt Lauer on the 11. November. 2010 broadcast of the Today Show, when asked if he regretted calling President Bush a racist during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina crisis.
Kanye West is a lot of things to a lot of people. To some, he is the rapt student of the most renown instructor in Hip Hop (and the greatest MC alive), Jay-Z. To others, he is a reflection of the one of the greatest producers and visionaries in Hip Hop--and the man responsible for its international swaggy--Sean "Diddy" Combs. Others say Kanye's phenomenal storytelling ability is reminiscent of the legendary Christopher "Notorious B.I.G." Wallace.

However, during that August 2005 Hurricane Katrina telethon--as he stood next to a horrified Mike Myers--and during his somewhat combative Today Show interview with Matt Lauer, Kanye West reminded me of Hip Hop's lone political mercenary, the late Tupac Shakur. Kanye is Hip Hop's Id, speaking unbridled truth to a condescending and dismissive Great Society. Kanye said what was on the minds of millions of people in this country, as they watched the nightmarish images of U.S. citizens dying like Third World inhabitants in the lap of a First World power.

I don't believe Kanye West thought President Bush was a racist. I believe he was trying to get the President and his administration to look at the inhumanity of the situation and to get them to take more immediate, compassionate action--which was supposed to be the hallmark of a Christian Conservative movement, right?--as opposed to flying over and pretending that the problem of those people (which also included poor whites, Latinos, and Asians, but was overwhelmingly African American) would just go away, as the flood waters receded. 

I do believe that Kanye West appeared on the Today Show to apologize to President Bush for the misunderstanding. We all know Kanye's words were not the nadir of the former President's time in office; did he forget about his slow response to Hurricane Katrina? What about those shoes flying past his grill in Iraq during the final days of his presidency? Oh, and how about launching a war based on fictional intel, which cost the lives of thousands of brave American soldiers, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who were not insurgents, and billions of U.S. dollars?

But on the morning of 11 November 2010, it seemed as if Matt Lauer wanted Kanye West to grovel, and tried to force words in his mouth. Kanye saw what was going on, and so did a lot of the audience. At least I did. This was a tense stand-off between a once-innocuous morning show host trying to lift his "Q"-rating, and a Hip Hop academician who refused to be boxed in by the media's stereotype of what a rapper should be; loud, ignorant, and uniformed. 

Kanye West is the antithesis of that, and Matt Lauer's who'll-blink-first game backfired. He was confronted with a million dollar Black man who refused to be miniaturized into a five-dollar boy. The moment drew a huge television audience, even more YouTube views, and an uptick in book sales for Mr. Bush. 

The same can be said for Kanye's 2009 MTV Music Video Awards flame-out; it gave Taylor Swift an additional 1 million units at the cash registers--and exposure to a larger audience who weren't aware of her prior to that incident--during the first week release of her new album, Speak Now. I hope she and the former president send him a thank you card. Or better yet, a cut of the profits.


"I swear to Mom/I wish me and my father talked more/
...I guess everything I hate about me/I see in him/
and I ain't 'finna change/so we'll never agree/again..."

-Kanye West performing in the G.O.O.D. Music Cyper,
BET Hip Hop Awards; 12 October 2010 
In a March 2009 interview I conducted with Sean "Diddy" Combs for my Hooked On The American Dream blog, he described sampling as "picking the right memory" when discussing appropriating Mtume's Juicy Fruit for Biggie's smash, Juicy. And that description speaks volumes for the pop magnificence of Kanye West's sonic tableau vivant; the young homey is painting pictures like Basquiat.

From goldiggers to blood diamonds, to the cent-anno!, raised-glass-toast of scumbags and losers, to JESUS walking all over Lucifer, Kanye makes danceable arias framed by thought-provoking lyrics. Somehow, I think Kanye's use of accelerated, munchkin-funk, '70s Philly Soul/Chicago R&B samples, is his way of unlocking his own dysfunctional sense-memory and the sentient pain of those '80s crack children and teens. From the bourgie cul de sac to the bullet-riddled street corner, Kanye's aural collages became their personal symphonies of inner city blues that made them wanna holla.

I don't know anything about Kanye's relationship with his dad, Ray West--who was a member of the Black Panther Party, and a pioneering photojournalist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, before becoming a Christian counselor in Atlanta, Ga.--but if the lyrics to his freestyle during the 2010 BET Awards Hip Hop cipher are any indication, they are not close. Perhaps Kanye's outbursts are a result of him feeling more isolated and alone after his mother's death, if he and his dad are truly estranged. Perhaps the samples he uses to color his musical murals are reminders of a happier time (or what an only child of divorce reconfigures his childhood to be).

It's quite possible that Kanye West's intuitive knowledge of sampling is a result of him being a human sampling device. A KW2010; transposing music, art, politics, love, hate, belief, doubt, life, death, cinema, fame, shame, crowds, loneliness, facades and psyches at a bit rate of 33yrs, 5 months, and 10 days.

The imput has been prolific: Donda West, Ray West, Fat Albert, Transformers, Jay-Z, Harold Cruse, Fred Hampton, The Panthers, Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Quincy Troupe, Ghost Clocks and Gri-Gri Keys, Nintendo, The Black Arts Movement, MLK, Malcolm X, The Last Poets, Gil Scott Heron, JFK, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, James Brown, Sly Stone, The Stones, Miles Davis...

In addition to-

...Lester Bowie, Andy Warhol, David Bowie, Truman Capote, Marvin Gaye, Bob Thompson, Benin, Picasso, Curtis Mayfield, Philly Soul, Hip Hop, English Glam, Hermes Scarves, Chicago R&B, Parisian Electro, Midwestern House, Basquiat, Michael Jackson,  Michael Jordan, Spike Lee, Greg Tate, Nelson George, Teddy Riley, GLC, De La Soul, Common, A Tribe Called Quest, Marley Marl, No I.D., ODB, RZA, GZA, Wu Tang, Pete Rock, Dr. Dre, Puffy, DJ Premier, Hype, Cube, Biggie, Pac, Nas, Damon Dash, Biggs, Klimpt, Shiele, Satan, The LORD JESUS CHRIST.

The output of Hip Hop's Transformer has been transformational. Black superhero music composed by a self-made Abstract-Expressionist cyborg named Kanye West; trying to navigate his way back to The Garden (not Madison) East of Eden, with a theistic chip on his shoulders (or implanted in his lateral frontal lobe) and raised in the Age of Crack. His mere existence could answer the long standing query posited by the late novelist and futurist Phillip K. Dick: Do Androids Count Electric Sheep?


Why? Because a cyborg's hardwired insomnia and an unrelenting innervation drives him to sing and spit 16-bar, digital lullabies to the wounded culture of a grotesquely comatose American Beauty. In Auto Tune.

Be sure to pick up my new anthology, "Hooked On The American Dream-Vol.1: New Jack City Eats Its Young," available exclusively on Kindle/Amazon. Amazon/Kindle has a free, downloadable app for all computers and mobile devices. Click here to go to the "Hooked On The American Dream-Vol.1:New Jack City Eats Its Young" Kindle store site.


Anonymous said...

Brilliant!! The best piece written about hip-hop ever. Not only Kanye West, hip-hip! Brilliant piece.

Bmc said...

@Anonymous: Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for your kind words! I truly appreciate you taking the time to read the essay and for your encouraging feedback. Thanks again and GOD Bless you!

Anonymous said...

Nice piece.

"Her unexpected death on 10 November 2010 (as a result of a botched cosmetic surgery) was a major loss."

Dr. West passed in 2007.

Bmc said...

@Anonymous (20 Dec 2012) Thank you for your feedback and kind words, and for the correction. It has been noted, adjusted, and updated. I appreciate it.