Opinion: 'New Slaves' Reveals An Inconvenient Truth About Kanye West

Kanye's anti-consumerist contradictions went down easier before he started to ball so hard

Kanye West is a genius. No denying that. This weekend’s unveiling of his latest record, “New Slaves,” was viral marketing brilliance. It brought together folks of all backgrounds to not-so-hood areas of major cities to consume hip-hop. Bravo! And the song is great, lyrically. It grabs you right from that vivid opening couplet about segregated water fountains. Backpacker Kanye is back! Or is he?

Sonically, “New Slaves” would make a perfect album intro. Its synthesized beat is simultaneously eerie and contagious, his vocals blunt and impassioned. But the message is a bit convoluted. Here’s a giant, scowling Kanye face illuminating 66 walls around the world, grumbling about how Black folks spend too much money on ludicrously priced fashion, and celebrities—himself included—are coerced into signing bogus contracts merely to cash in on luxury car bonuses. Corporations are profiting, while the underclass and rich rappers who refuse to read paperwork are under the psychological spell of materialism. Or as Yeezy puts it, “new slavery.” It’s a direct bridge connecting College Dropout ‘Ye—“I spent four hundred bucks on this/Just to be like, ‘Nigga, you ain't up on this!’”—to Watch The Throne, only these days, Kanye isn’t just the victim; he’s part of the problem.

You could call it the Kanye conundrum. The Versace that he facetiously mispronounces in “All Falls Down” is now the Alexander Wang that he sports in excess, in turn, making it the lust of fans who might be able to afford a Wang duffle if they skipped a couple mortgage payments. The Maybach that he converts into a go-kart and joyrides for the “Otis” video isn’t in the budget for this writer, despite the heft of VIBE’s payroll (ha!). And have you ever tried to stuff your toes into a pair of Nike Air Yeezy sneakers that are so limited that their $250 retail value reportedly ballooned to $90,000 in an online auction? The truth is, Kanye is contributing to the same materialistic values he shuns on "New Slaves."

Many great MCs have exhibited contradictory views via art; Nas and 2Pac come to mind. It's simply human nature. Yet can a man who’s claimed he shops so much that he can speak Italian—the same dude who played mute at an Occupy Wall Street protest while flaunting multiple gold chains—truly be a voicebox for the middle-class man? Kanye's early work, while conflicted between Benzes, backpacks, diamond chains and blood diamonds, christened him with that distinction. And it fit, mostly because he wasn't one of music's most influential sartorial trendsetters and self-proclaimed spitter of "luxury rap." We could relate to the pressures of rocking fresh, but affordable, Air Force Ones and throwback jerseys that were already the status quo. And then Kanye got his money right. Now, the flashy new money stunts and One Percenter raps that 2013 'Ye exudes makes him an unconvincing proponent against consumerism, and an unlikely victim, as he presents himself in "New Slaves." While the song has protest rhymes about the lopsided Black men in prison statistics, just a few bars earlier he’s flossing for listeners who, in some cases, can’t even afford dental insurance. Def Poetry Kanye seems to be a fading memory.

There’s leaders and there’s followers. Kanye may belong to the former classification, but as a people, where exactly is he taking us? —John Kennedy

From the Web

More on Vibe

Getty Images

Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’ Is Expected To Make $64 Million Opening Weekend

Thanks to Us, Jordan Peele has another blockbuster on his hands. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the highly-anticipated horror flick starring Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex, is expected to have a $64 million opening weekend at the domestic box office.

Peele’s sophomore horror film earned an impressive $7.4 million on Thursday (March 21) night previews, and is forecasted to take in about $27 million from Friday sales. The film is also on pace to knock Captain Marvel out of the No. 1 spot at the box office.

Once final numbers are tallied, Us will likely snatch the third-best opening weekend record for an R-rated horror film behind It, which brought in a whopping $123.4 million, followed by Halloween’s $76.2 million opening weekend last year.

Aside from rave reviews and a genius promo run that included simultaneous screenings in major media markets, Us earned a 95 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The film, set in the mid-1980s centers around a family of four who set off on a vacation that finds them confronting some familiar faces.

Peele recently spoke to VIBE about casting Duke (our April 2019 cover star) in the role of patriarch, Gabe Wilson. “I have to have somebody voice what the audience was saying,” he said. “In the case of Get Out, it’s Rod, like, ‘How have you not left yet?’ [In Us], Winston is largely that voice. There’s one moment where Lupita [Nyong’o] takes a step into the unknown, where black people [will think], ‘I don’t know.’ But to have Winston say, ‘Aaaand she left. Your mother just walked out of the car.’ That’s all we need.”

Duke also opened up about the intricacies of his character. “His function isn’t to see through the veil. His function is to tell the absolute truth how he sees it,” explained the 32-year-old actor. “He’s sometimes there to say the things that other people don’t want to say, but he’s also there to make fun of things to keep it from not getting too heavy, even though it’s real. That was my job. [Peele] respected that. I like to lean into functions. If I’m going to be your antagonist, I’m gonna really push you. If I’m gonna be your clown, funny guy, I’m gonna do that.”

Click here to read VIBE’s April 2019 cover story.

Continue Reading
Joe Scarnic

Cardi B Explains Why She Wants To Trademark “Okurrr”

Cardi B hopes to secure as many “bags” as possible. In response to backlash and burning questions surrounding her decision to file to trademark “okurrr,” the 26-year-old rapper took to social media Friday (March 22) to defend her latest money move.

Since people tend to ask Bardi to use what has become her signature catch phrase, she figured that it was time to cash in. “You think I ain’t gonna’ profit off this sh*t? B*tch white folks do it all the motherf**king time,” she said. “So you gon’ be mad at me ‘cuz I want to get some motherf**king money?

“While I’m still hear I’ma secure all the fucking bags,” Cardi continued before adding that there are a “lot of ways to get rich” in 2019.

The Bronx native caught heat for wanting to trademark the word because she wasn’t the first to say “okurrr.” Cardi already revealed that she started using it after she heard Khloe Kardashian saying it, but the word was originally popularized in drag culture -- most notably by Rupaul’s Drage Race contestant Laganja Estranja, in 2014.

However, Rupaul attributed the word to Broadway actress, Laura Bell Bundy, who used it in YouTube skits dating back to 2010. In the skits, Bundy pretends to be a hairdresser named “Shocantelle Brown.”

Although Bundy caught criticism for her little character, which was deemed racist, she typically gets credit for bringing “okrrr” (different spelling) to the internet a full decade before Cardi made it mainstream.

No matter the origin, it looks like Cardi will be the only one profiting off of “okurrr.”


View this post on Instagram


#CardiB on why she decided to trademark “Okurr”

A post shared by the Jasmine BRAND (@thejasminebrand_) on Mar 22, 2019 at 5:32pm PDT

Continue Reading
Getty Images

Kanye West, EMI Working Towards Private Settlement

Kanye West and EMI could be close to settling their legal drama. Each party filed documents requesting a stay of the case to “explore the potential for a resolution,” The Blast reports.

West sued EMI in an effort to “gain freedom” from his contract, and to own his publishing. In the lawsuit, ‘Ye argued that his contract ended in 2010 under California law, which bars entertainers from being tethered to an agreement for more than seven years. The multi-Grammy winner, who signed the deal back in 2003, also accused the company of slavery because the contract doesn’t allow him to retire.

“Even if the contract were not lopsided in EMI’s favor (it is), even if its terms valued Mr. West’s artistic contributions in line with the spectacular success he has achieved for EMI (they do not), and even if EMI had not underpaid Mr. West what it owes him (EMI has), he would be entitled to be set free from its bonds,” the lawsuit reads.

EMI hit back with a countersuit filed in New York, instead of California. The suit pointed out that the 41-year-old rapper signed multiple contract extensions, in addition to accepting millions in advances.

According to The Blast, West and EMI now feel that putting a hold on the legal proceedings will be beneficial to both sides “and the Court by enabling the parties to engage in meaningful discussions in an attempt to resolve this action without having to incur the burden and expense of litigation and motion practice.”

Continue Reading

Top Stories