Musical artists have always been political, as artists from Bob Dylan to the Clash and Public Enemy have delved both into the musical and political worlds, trying to create art that both entertains and informs.
Others such as John Lennon, in addition to the recent concert tours of last fall, have used their music to call for change not only in America, but also across the world.
Like those artists before him, Kanye West has entered the fray, and not only with his recent unscripted opinions during an NBC telecast of a telethon for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, but also with previous political stunts. For those who may have missed it, during a message segment calling for donations with comedian Mike Myers, West declared, “I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a black family, it says they’re looting. See a white family, it says they’re looking for food.” He also noted that while the Red Cross is doing everything in its power, the government is not “by [giving] them permission to go down and shoot us.” He ended his speech by calling out the President, stating, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
While many may not agree with West’s accusations, or that the timing of his comments was appropriate, one cannot deny two things – he had the unquestionable right to say them, and it is a breath of fresh air for an artist to take a stand outside of an election year.
West, a rapper known as much for his style and considerable talent, may seem like an unlikely candidate for any type of political crusade, as his latest album, “Late Registration,” dominates the charts, much like his debut did last summer. In both works, West was able to mesh a political message – critiques of America’s education, housing and welfare systems, as well as broader attacks on America’s social culture – with back beats that make crowds dub the tune “club worthy.” West even goes as far as to check himself with indictments of his, along with others’ desires and self indulgences.
Hopefully, West’s criticisms will be explored and not disregarded as just another know-it-all celeb hating on Bush. Much of the media coverage has focused on the devastation of the city, but not on the plight of the people on the ground – who are mostly African-American, or the at times, scattershot relief effort. Even further, a wider dialogue could now focus on the city pre-hurricane with its 30 percent poverty rate among its citizens and its 50 percent poverty rate among its children.
So, did West’s rant really change anything? Only time will tell. Will it make him sell more records? Probably not, nor will it make him sell any less. Will it make me go out and buy his album? No, I already did, but it won’t stop me from listening to it any less.
Allard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.