Hip-hop/Spirituality/Freethinking. Speaking for all underdogs!
Kanye West: Cooning in the Name of Free-Thought!
By Khalil Amani
I once had a chance encounter with rapper and self-described “genius,” Kanye West. It was the spring of 2008 (April 27th to be exact!)—when Kanye came to Denver with his “Glow in the Dark” tour. I had turned 48 years old just four days earlier. I was a big fan of his—and not just because he made great music! Kanye and I were on a collision course! We were destined to meet.
Just a year prior to meeting Kanye (2007), I had published my fifth book, a seminal work deconstructing rap’s homophobia entitled, Hip-Hop Homophobes: Origin & Attitudes Towards Gays & Lesbians in Hip Hop Culture; As Perpetuated by Rappers, Thugs, Athletes, Reggae Rastas & Religionists; Essays on the 3,000 Year Old Polemic Against Homosexuality; A Religious Hoax! (iuniverse.com 2007 ISBN 978-0-595-47541-4)
The impetus for writing such a book was sparked when I met an openly gay rapper and found out about a sub-genre of rap music called “Homo Hop.” As a hip-hop writer, I found myself exploring the idea of gay rappers entertaining mainstream success and went headlong into the gay rap world in search of the next “gay Eminem”—the next “gay Jay-Z.” Straightway, I became the self-proclaimed “Spiritual Advisor” for gay hip-hop—a straight dude!
Around this same time (2007), Kanye West had become very vocal about homophobia and expressed his concerns for the equal and fair treatment of all people, honing in on gays as targets of discrimination. How cool would it be for the gay rapper advocate (me!) to meet Kanye West and present him with my book, I thought.
In 2008 Kanye West’s “Glow in the Dark Tour” made its stop in Denver where I plotted to meet this great artist and perhaps share some ideas about combating hip-hop’s homophobia—and of course, present him with my book. I had become somewhat of an expert on how to get an audience with rappers and present them with my books. I had successfully given some of my other books to Common, Chuck D, Andre 3000 of Outkast, Erykah Badu and several others.
Running up on someone as big as Kanye West would not be easy, so I employed the services of a young, hawt, statuesque and light-bright-and-damn-near-white woman to catch his eye and pave the way for our meeting. Having received intel as to where Kanye would be after the show, we made a beeline to his hotel and BAM! I walked into the lobby and who did I see? Kanye West! His eyes went straight to the beauty that stood next to me—and then a cursory glance at the gray-bearded old guy rocking the turban. My decoy stepped to Kanye and he fell for the bait! He invited us on his tour bus where I was able to speak with him and give him my book. Needless to say, the young hottie that I was with became a distraction and my discourse with Kanye deteriorated into head nods and a “yeahs,” but no real conversation. I wasn’t mad though. Kanye simply wanted to chill and look at my eye-candy friend.
But Alas! Four months later, on August 5, 2008, I heard “Khalil Amani’s” words in Kanye West’s words at Madison Square Garden in a rant on homophobia! Writers know their work! Writers know their words—and the things Kanye said to that New York audience—in my mind—were indirects from my book. Kanye had perused my book! Indeed! Listening to Kanye rant—reinterpret my words—I got the same feeling when I heard Andre 3000 on Lil Boosie’s “Walk It Out” remix when “Three Stacks” spit, “Even Jesus had twelve disciples on the level/trigga/whateva!” Those were my words! I damn near crashed my car hearing him rap from a chapter of my book!
In my estimation, the last great progressive thing that Kanye West did was speaking out against homophobia in a world and genre of music that was rent with homophobia and sexual intolerance.
Outside of hip-hop, Kanye West’s life has been riddled with foogayziness—questionable antics. He has always pushed the cultural envelop—mostly to the detriment of Black people. Now he’s on his “Freethinking” ish—again, to the detriment of Black people! How is wearing a “MAGA” (Make America Great Again) dad-hat “Freethinking?” How is cozying up to President Trump Freethinking? How is implying that, “Slavery was a choice” Freethinking? Kanye’s “Freethinking” is painful and damaging to progressive Black thought! Kanye’s “Freethinking” is antithetical to Black life in America. Why does Kanye’s Freethinking have to come at the expense of Black people?
In times past, I have defended and been critical of Kanye’s so-called Freethinking—like the time he wore a Confederate flag and I wrote a piece for Allhiphop.com entitled, “Kanye’s Confederate Flag: I Sorta, Kinda Understand.” I wrote:
“Every evil, vile and despicable thing can be said about the Confederate flag. Most of us know what it stood for and stands for. Indeed, Kanye West knows its history, although he hasn’t really expounded on the origins other than to say, “You know, the Confederate flag represented slavery in a way—that’s my abstract take on what I know about it… So I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag! It’s my flag! Now what are you going to do?”…Kanye is not the first rapper to don the Confederate flag. He is doing no new thing, save selling it for profit. Rappers Pastor Troy, David Banner and Outkast once waved the Confederate flag, but theirs was more in protest of the southern way of life. Kanye’s appears self-serving. Kanye is marketing and selling the Confederate flag.”
Or the time when Kanye was touring and instead of bringing a black Jesus on stage, he opted to go with the status quo religious imagery and present his audience with a white Jesus. Again, I wrote a piece entitled, “Kanye’s Jesus is White Though” and said,
“Kanye West was right! Jesus was white—White as Carnation milk! Stick around and I’ll help you understand. Did you really expect Kanye West to be that radical and bring a black Jesus on stage? And why should he? I’ve been to a Kanye West concert and most of his concert goers were white people. They support his machine! Not your Negro pennies! And so, now you know! Kanye is not as progressive and radical and free-thinking as the rhymes he raps… Of all of Kanye’s rants—that he’s a genius—fuck corporations—etcetera, etcetera, etcetera… when the time came to do something radical, like bring a black Jesus on stage, Kanye opted to stay within the confines of his former slave-master’s religion and introduced us to his corporate white savior… Kanye’s Jesus is white though! It is the symbol of American Imperialism, Neo-Colonialism, ‘That Peculiar Institution’ (slavery), ‘Manifest Destiny,’ and the white man’s ‘God’s Providence.’ Kanye’s Jesus is white though!—It is his image that has been engrained in the psyche of black folk and the symbol which has oppressed thousands, yea millions of people throughout the world! Kanye’s Jesus is white though! …Kanye West is no dummy and Kanye West isn’t about to upset his corporate sponsors and those fashion designers in Milan with a black Jesus! He might rant and rave about corporations and niggas being the ‘New Slaves,’ but he isn’t about to do anything remotely progressive to rock the mental slavery boat. And that’s why I say out of major redundancy, ‘Kanye’s Jesus is white though’!”
"Kanye’s Jesus Is White Though!" on The Khalil Amani Reader: https://khalilamani.ning.com/profiles/blogs/kanye-s-jesus-is-white-...
Now comes Kanye’s most insidious and treacherous and surreptitious and divisive and race-baiting and outlandish and treasonist statement on the Black race—that slavery was a “choice,” whereby giving the enemy of Black progress ammunition that backs up their stereotypical belief that Africans were lazy and shiftless and accepted their lot in life—being part of slavery, euphemistically and academically called, “That Peculiar Institution.” In fairness to Kanye, he was trying to make a point about “Freethinking” and what keeps people in bondage, but chose an analogy which was sure to trigger revulsion and anger from Black folk and Freethinking white folk alike. He put his foot in his mouf! Kanye reasoned that, how could a few (white) people keep millions of Africans in slavery? How could Africans allow slavery to persist for 400 years and take that shit without overthrowing the ruling class? He reasoned that it was because Africans were “mental slaves” first, whereby making it easy to subjugate an entire populace.
Slavery must be a “choice,” Kanye reasoned. Expecting the laity (common people) to be sophisticated in the art of polemics and debate, Kanye saw nothing wrong with his “slavery as a choice” remark.
There are those who have arisen to speak for Kanye—who cosign Kanye’s faux pas (misstep) with their own particular slant and deconstruction of Kanye’s words, but I say they are wrong! However and whatever Kanye meant—his words—his understanding that slavery was the result of the inability to “Freethink”—whatever point he was trying to make about Black folk's sojourn here in America came out all fucked-up!
Kanye’s words—by implication, by deduction and by extrapolation came screaming at Black people as, “SLAVERY WAS A CHOICE!” That’s all we heard! And in turn, we are outraged—at least, most of us.
American slavery and the annihilation of the Indigenous Populations (so-called Indians) in the Western hemisphere were arguably the worst crimes ever perpetuated in the annals of human history, yet Kanye West has reduced these atrocities down to mere “Freethinking,” which, had the African been a Freethinker, he could have freed himself from his “shit-uation.” Has not Kanye studied and read history? Has he read Lerone Bennet Jr’s, Before The Mayflower, John Hope Franklin’s, From Slavery To Freedom, John Blassingame’s, The Slave Community, W.E.B. DuBois’s, The Souls of Black Folk, Booker T. Washington’s, Up From Slavery, Frederick Douglass’s, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and William Styron’s, The Confessions of Nat Turner? Who amongst Black academia will cosign Kanye West’s kindergarten look at slavery? Please stand up so I can snatch your Ph.D. and strip you of your tenure!
How could Kanye West, a man whose mother was a college English professor and father a Black Panther come to such an egregious and erroneous conclusion about slavery being a “choice?” In my heart of hearts I've gotta believe that if Ms. West were alive, she'd slap the dog-shit out of her son!
Slavery cannot be reduced to a matter of “Freethinking” as Kanye suggests! His ideas—I hate to say—are “coonerific” to say the least! Kanye is cooning in the name of Free-thought. There is nothing remotely progressive or free about spouting a position that is antithetical to Black progress—a position that placates and soothes and succors white fears.
Here was Kanye West—on a white TV show called TMZ—trying to talk about thinking outside the box—being a Freethinker and then—and then—and then, when one of TMZ’s producers, a black man named “Van” stepped to him about his pseudo-Freethinking Tomfoolery, what does Kanye West do? He tries to stifle and muffle this brotha’s voice by asking him to lower his voice and stop shouting—even though the man was way across the room, which precipitated him raising his voice. Kanye didn’t expect that someone would shout him down. In stereotypical fashion—(i.e. black man as brute beast and hyper-aggressive)—Kanye made another blunder—presuming that this brotha’s eloquence and grasp on American history and our present-day social system—that because the “brotha" had raised his voice (as Kanye had done)—that this brotha’s aggressiveness was an invitation to go fisticuffs (fight) with Kanye. Kanye cooned up to this black man. “Brother! Don’t you scream because it’ll make us look crazy… I just wanna give him a hug. I think he might want to punch me. I wanna give him a hug. I feel like you want to fight me right now, but I love you! So if I come over there you’re not gonna fight me?”
Kanye wanted a “Kumbaya” moment to quell this Black man’s eloquence and passion, but a few years ago when Kanye was on “Sway in the Morning” he went ape-shit crazy, shouting reckless, tallumbout, “Sway! You don’t have the answers!” And let’s not forget about all the ranting Kanye does at his concerts, but now that a Black man is checking that ass, he wants to resort to civil discourse? Fuck outta here!
Kanye further went on, blaming the media for getting Liposuction, so that people wouldn’t “body shame” him. (Nigga you’re fat! Own it!) What happened to his so-called “Freethinking?” He intimated that slavery would not have persisted if Africans were Freethinkers and by “choice” they remained subordinates. All of this goofy mumbo-jumbo and he goes and gets elective surgery—the very thing that killed his mama—because he’s worried about what others might say about his body, which proves that his Freethinking philosophy is hypocritical and without any philosophical chutzpah. His mother died of complications from elective surgery and then—Kanye—like a fat kid in elementary school who’s worried about being teased, goes and risks his life to look slimmer by having elective surgery! (That Kardashian clan got him fucked-up!) Not only is Kanye a silly man, a shallow man, a fragile simp—a man who’s lost his (black) self—he’s shown that his mother dying of elective surgery complications were not enough to make him not want to go under the knife for purely cosmetic reasons! His need to be socially accepted outweighs his need to stay in the here & now and fuck how people view him! This he calls, "Freethinking!"
How out of touch is Kanye West with the hip-hop world—and by extension, Black America? How disconnected from reality is Kanye West? Rapper and Crip gang member Daz Dillinger gave the “greenlight” (go ahead) to have Kanye beat up by Crips—or even worst, killed—and how does Kanye respond to threats against his life & limbs? He concocts some more Kanye-esque, philosophical, idiotic and nonsensical bullshit praising his impending street beatdown as “love” betwixt brothers! He says, “Ahhh! That’s so dope! They love me! That’s like my brother! Your brother beat you up! Like man, you gettin’ outta line bro! You trippin’! I’m-a beat you up! Ahhh, that’s love man! Daz loves me! And I love Daz! …Oh, you can live through an ass-whoopin’! You ain’t gon’ live through… Probably their idea is to beat some sense into me.”
Daz Dillinger siccing the Crips on Kanye is proof-positive that Kanye’s public discourse on race, slavery and Freethinking is grotesquely out of touch with Black and dare I say white people’s thinking. Daz, like many Black people are repulsed by Kanye West’s revisionist look at slavery.
Kanye would like us to believe that he’s ahead of the curve in his thinking—that we are “sheeple” who only engage in group-think. With the aloofness of Trump and his Right-Wing cronies, Kanye smugly, arrogantly and rhetorically says, “When you hear about slavery for 400 years. For 400 years? That sounds like a choice! Like, you were there for 400 years and it’s all of y’all?”
What Kanye ignorantly suggests is that there were more of us (Africans) than there were of them (whites) and how could whites keep Africans in slavery for such a long time? In that rhetorical question Kanye is suggesting that if they were mentally free they could have willed themselves out of slavery.
Slavery—the Transatlantic Slave Trade was no small thing! Estimates from 10 million to 100 million Africans were caught up in that dark stage of human history. Kanye and some of these so-called “conscious” folk actually believe that the African’s enslavement was simply a matter of “choice” even though there is not one scholar, black or white who asserts such a far-fetched assumption! Not nann one! So who are they that we should listen to their lunatic summations?
Slavery can NEVER be a choice! "Choice" under duress is not choice at all! "Choice," at the point of a gun barrel is no choice at all! "Choice," at the cost of seeing a loved one sold away or a wife raped or a brother hung from a tree is no choice at all! "Choice" is do I want steak or a hotdog? Anytime threats of violence are part of the equation of "choice," then "choice" becomes diminished and then it becomes not so much of a choice. Anybody claiming that slavery was a "choice," claiming what they would've done if they were in slavery and faced with losing a loved one or seeing their wife go into Massa's bedroom or faced with being lynched themselves-------anybody claiming they know how they would've handled these "shit-uations" is full of shit! "Choice" under duress is no choice at all!
Africans in America aka Black folk—are here because this is the land of our birth! For we know that Africa is our original homeland! We are the children of the African Diaspora—the sons and daughters of former African captives who were beat into submission and made into slaves. Theoretical philosophizing on slavery—our 21st century armchair quarterbacking is poppycock! Our ancestors survived captivity, rape, beatings, lynchings, burnings, tortures and murders! They survived seeing their loved ones sold off—never to be seen again! They survived eating the guts of pigs thrown out the backdoor of Massah Malloy’s big house—and along the way—when one generation passed away and another generation came—we lost the knowledge of our history, culture, language, and religion until we arrived at out present lot in life. That terrible stain in American history cannot be summed up and sanitized on a gossip TV show by an entertainer, who, for all intents and purposes has traded in his cultural sensitivities and blackness for the privilege to wear the slogan (MAGA) of this president atop his non-Freethinking crown!
This son of Africa by way of Southside Chicago—one of the dopest MC’s of the last ten years has fallen into a “sunken place." Is there any redemption for Kanye West or will he continue cooning in the name of Free-Thought? The CHOICE is his!
Khalil Amani is "Gay hip-hop's Straight Advocate." A Miami native who writes for Allhiphop.com, DJ Kay Slay’s Straight Stuntin Magazines. He’s been featured in L.A. Times, Spin Magazine, DaveyD.com, DJ Kay Slay's Streetsweeper Sirius XM Radio Show, The Opperman Report, The Biography Channel's, "I Survived a Cult"(2010) and The Biography Channel's, "Escaping Evil: My Life in a Cult" (2013). Amani is the author of seven books, including the groundbreaking “Hip-Hop Homophobes…” (iuniverse.com ’07). Amani majored in English and Black Studies at San Diego Mesa College and the University of Nebraska. Follow on IG @khalil_amani, Facebook, Twitter @khalilamani. Email @firstname.lastname@example.org