In the past, Kanye West has made it far too easy to diss him — his bratty temper tantrums at not winning the industry recognition he felt was his due, his never-ending auto-fellatio via interviews with the press. But watching him stammer, stutter and nervously grasp for language on the recent NBC Hurricane Katrina telethon proved a point that the preppy rapper of the solidly middle-class persuasion probably hadn’t intended: He’s the hardest man in rap right now. Fuck a gangsta rapper.
Watching him that night was to be reminded of what true courage is. Passionately speaking from the heart, barely able to rein in his thoughts to form a coherent sentence, and clearly about to shit himself, he managed to blurt the infamous, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” and set off a firestorm of controversy (as well as a stunned reaction from co-host Mike Myers that is, unintentionally, the funniest shit Myers has ever done). But West did something far more important. He reminded us that true courage is not calculated through boasting about the number of times you’ve been shot. It’s not found in the contrived and played-out thug posturing that was never, ever a sign of anything save Negro surrender to and embrace of Keebler fantasies of blackness. True courage is when every fiber in your being is yelling, “Danger, danger... danger, muthafucka!” and you barrel ahead and do what you know must be done, say what must be said.
The notion that Kanye’s remarks were merely a PR move not only ignores the nail-biting nervousness that accompanied his unscripted outburst (wouldn’t a coolly calculating salesman be... well, cooler? More defiant and militant, less transparently on the verge of tears?), it also denies the fact that every celebrity in America has absorbed the ramifications of speaking out on a political issue: sharply curtailed radio play, mass CD burnings, nonstop rotation on the hit list of right-wing talk shows and editorial pages. Factor in the fact that blacks who speak truthfully about race and politics paint a bull’s-eye target right on their asses, and the cynical Monday-morning editorializing slamming Kanye for crass opportunism makes no sense. Especially when it comes from such dolts as Usher, who was quoted as saying, “I wasn’t mad at Kanye’s statement — that’s his opinion — but it’s obviously not the opportunity or the time to poke fun or appoint blame. This is an opportunity where we all need to come together — musicians, actors, politicians — and help the Gulf region.” When exactly is a good time to point out that the despair of those who suffered through Katrina was exponentially worsened by the incompetence and indifference of the government? Are we so brain-dead as a country that we can’t do two things at once — reach out to those in need and call for accountability for their suffering? Prolly.
The best response, though, came from the Texas hip-hop outfit K-Otix. Jacking the beat and rewiring the critique from West’s anti-chickenhead anthem, “Gold Digger,” and sampling the wunderkind’s Bush statement, the group created an answer track called “George Bush Don’t Like Black People” that’s the hottest thing on the Internet: “Hurricane came through/fucked us up ’round here/Government acting like it’s bad luck down here/all I know is that you better bring some trucks ’round here/wonder why I got middle finger up round here/ people lives on the line, you declining to help/ since you taking so much time, we surviving ourself/ just me and my pets and my kids and my spouse/ trapped in my own house, looking for a way out/ five days in this muthafucking attic/ can’t use the cell phone I keep getting static/ dying cause they lying, ’stead of telling us the truth...” It’s all capped by the hook, “George Bush ain’t a gold digger, but he ain’t fuckin’ wit no broke niggas/ George Bush don’t like black people...” With Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles wailing on a loop of desperation (“Give me money/ when I’m in need!”), the whole juke-joint feel and sound of the track becomes an eerily appropriate score for the vocalized anger of poor Southern blacks affected by the hurricane. There’s the class and race critique for this shameful moment in pungent, succinct summary. It’s also the single of the year.
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