Kanye West is one of the most renowned hip hop artists in the contemporary society. Kanye West is a lyricist, producer, entrepreneur, fashion designer, director, and a rapper all rolled in one. He embodies the true spirit of the “hustle and ambition” culture that is synonymous with many Black Americans. In order to understand his journey in the music industry, it is prudent to analyze his music, self, and experiences through a sociological lens. Using the W.E.B. Dubois’ double consciousness and Stuart Hall’s cultural representation theories, Kanye, his music and near fatal accident can be put into perspective.
Kanye’s Double Consciousness
Kanye, as an individual, espouses double consciousness in terms of his songs and opinions regarding the treatment of the Black community in America. After the hurricane Katrina, he proclaimed that the Bush administration did not care about the black people (Schaller 86). The racial dimension of his utterances sought to show the victim mentality held by many Black Americans. In his song All Falls Down he self-examines the Black culture in the eyes of other cultures heavily citing economic materialism as the community’s downfall (Schaller 107). He notes no matter how rich how one becomes he or she can never buy his or her way out of “blackness” . The song illustrates the pursuit to achieve material wealth by many Black Americans as a poor shot at healing the slavery degradation.
Kanye’s Cultural Representation
Using the cultural representation theory, Kanye’s music incorporates Black American societal themes such as the objectification of women, use of drugs and alcohol, as well as crime narratives. His music is a narrative of the good and bad about the Black American culture. Jesus Walks is one masterpiece that saw Kanye point out the ills of the Black culture (Schaller 89). The culture is so much associated with negative elements which prompted Kanye to quip in the song “They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus/That means guns, sex, lies, videotape/But if I talk about God my record won’t get played, huh?/” (Schaller 89). He also points out the oppression that the community has faced since time immemorial raging from slavery, Ku Klux Klan to exploitation by the white supremacists in the song. As for the Black understanding of racism in America, Kanye dwells on this in his song, Never Let me Down off his College Dropout album. He points out the presence of concealed racism in all spheres of the American society. The song highlights the black cultural perception that overt racism is far less dangerous than concealed racism.
The Near-Fatal Car Accident: It’s Impact on Kanye’s Career.
The car accident that almost killed him in 2002 was a turning point in his life as it formed the foundation for his career as a mainstream hip hop artist. He recorded a song after the accident that shared his experiences after the accident and appreciation for another shot to life. The accident inspired song, Through the Wire, formed the basis for his debut album in the competitive hip-hop industry (Schaller 58). The song was his introduction storyline, a symbolic awakening of the rap genius in him. It is evident that the car accident helped him emerge from his cocoon. He ceased being the man behind the scenes producing for other musicians ultimately becoming an artist that is currently a force to reckon in the music industry.
Schaller, Bob. Kanye West: A Biography. Santa Barbara, Calif: Greenwood Press, 2009. Internet resource.