Ye and "Free Thought"
A Take on Kanye West's Polarizing Actions
Music is an integral part of the culture in America. Specifically hip-hop, which according to USA Today, has recently overtaken rock as the most listened to genre in the US. Because of this, influential artists have become household names, inspiring children across the country and connecting listeners from all walks of life. While rappers have always been the topic of conversation due to their sometimes braggadocious tendencies and contentious statements, there is one artist who has been the talk of the nation for all the wrong reasons, Kanye West, a rapper from Chicago. Over the last couple of months, Kanye has become a polarizing figure in the music industry, causing a stir of controversy from his unconventional and perverse statements, in actuality, he’s a complex individual who has made valid points, which have been construed against him by the media and his peers.
It all started in early spring when Ye (a shortened version of Kanye’s name) reactivated his social media accounts following a long hiatus. Kanye fans across the world were overjoyed to hear that their favorite artist was back, and the world was waiting for what he had to say. Unfortunately, he blindsided everyone, voicing his opinions on everything but music. Fans were dismayed when Ye voiced his support for public figures such as Candace Owens and Donald Trump. Sending out tweets such as “I love the way Candace Owens thinks” and “You don't have to agree with Trump but the mob can't make me not love him. We are both dragon energy. He is my brother. I love everyone. I don't agree with everything anyone does. That's what makes us individuals. And we have the right to independent thought.”
Fans were confused, but not surprised. Kanye has always been one to vocalize his opinions, calling himself a true free thinker. And he was right, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but the controversy didn’t end there. After a month of tumultuous tweets, Kanye decided to make a visit to TMZ to clear things up. In a 45 minute interview, he discussed topics such as his wearing the “Make America Great Again” hat, free thought, and one of his most infamous statements “400 years of slavery? That sounds like a choice.”
That's when the headlines started to fly; “Kanye West suggests African-American slavery was a choice” and “Kanye West Says That He Thinks Slavery Was 'A Choice'” as well as an intense amount of social media outrage. People everywhere started to rip Kanye apart. Such a perverse and insensitive statement was unforgivable. But in this digital age where media outlets could be inherently biased, upon further inspection, there was one thing that these articles lacked, context. The two-minute clip that was syndicated on major news outlets cut out seconds after Kanye West made his statement “400 years of slavery? That sounds like a choice” and failed to include the full scope of what he was discussing. He was not taking a shot at those who lived through slavery, he was talking about more modern issues. How those living in the 21st century have become victims of mental slavery. He was discussing the idea that we’ve been conditioned to live a certain way and produce thoughts that align with the status quo.
Directly following his choice statement, he further expounded upon his statement saying “It’s like we’re mentally imprisoned, I prefer the word imprisoned because slavery goes to directly to the idea of blacks” and when asked to further explain how he thinks our slavery (or imprisonment) is a choice he states, “Yeah, right now we’re choosing to be enslaved.” Speaking of slavery not in physical terms, but figuratively.
And in a way, Kanye is right. If you look at the history of this country, we’ve been conditioned to think and live by certain standards. Less than a century ago we were conditioned to think that certain individuals can’t sit on a bench together or go to the same schools until that was challenged. Too often we’ve been raised to accept social norms with no adversity. Throughout Ye’s Twitter rants about numerous topics, there's always been one constant, free thought. Kanye West’s one goal has been to communicate to the world that it’s okay to have different opinions, and you shouldn’t be intimidated to show your true feelings and express yourself freely. He’s transformed himself into a lightning rod for all the controversy and debate in order to show the world that conversations that go against the status quo turn into a diatribe instead of a dialogue.
With that being said, having freedom of speech doesn’t give you freedom of criticism. Kanye West has given some very intense hot takes over the years, ranging from his infamous Hurrican Katrina statement “George Bush doesn't care about black people” to his tweet “We will provide jobs for all who are free from prisons as we abolish the 13th amendment.” These are all statements which could warrant criticism, but as Ye has shown time and time again, they’re only eye-catching opening statements to lead into a more sincere well thought out the explanation which gets drowned out in those who choose to comment without doing their due diligence and reading further.
Kanye West was recently bashed for stating that we need to get rid of the 13th amendment, the amendment which “abolished” slavery. A bold statement, but upon further discussion, he states “In 1865, the 13th Amendment stated that no man is destined to slavery or involuntary servitude unless convicted of a crime. This translates to in order to make a freedman a slave all you have to do is convict them of a crime.” The media takes what he says, and presents it in a one dimensional and reductive way, completely missing the nuance and what he was getting at. The media strawman him a lot, he is an easy target. As a black man who grew up in Chicago, they expect him to think a certain way and align himself with certain values. But he goes against the grain and speaks more by picking up keywords and going off into long thought out answers. He speaks more in a stream of consciousness, making one new statement that still connects to the one prior to it. It's easy to skip all of that and single out something and remove the context in order to make headlines.
Too often we put regular people on pedestals. Celebrities are expected to conform to social standards in order to become “role models.” But Kanye West is human, he goes through problems just like we do, he has his good days and bad days. In a society that has become impressively progressive over the last decade, Kanye West should be allowed to have his own thoughts and be given the time to explain what he wants to say.