From The BVX — The question sometimes enters our mind: Does Kanye West care about black people? And more often than not, we find ourselves asking whether he cares about them as much as he cares about validation from white men.
We remember when Kanye first emerged with his Louis Vuitton backpack, signaling that although he was of the “conscious rap” crowd, he was aiming for higher-than-middle-class values. Understand first that most backpack rap is seldom about the hood. It’s progenitors — Public Enemy, De La Soul, Leaders of the New School and The Fugees — never rhymed about being “in the projects all day” because their origins were more suburban.
Kanye is the same. Having grown up with a mother who was an English professor at Chicago State University, he never had to struggle with loving a parent who was addicted to crack like2Pac did. Despite his household income, he never came off as a cast-your-bucket-where- you-are nor even a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps rapper. Instead, he’s always shot for something more regal. He never intended to remain backpack, but rather to play with the big boys — the Diddys and Roc-a-Fellas — though even that wouldn’t be royal enough. Hip-hop artists have historically taken the tropes of American prestige — the Ralph Lauren uniform of life — and flipped it to fit an urban aesthetic. Kanye takes these prestigious uniforms and wears them as is, as if to prove he’s above the urban aesthetic.
Still, Ye never relinquished the role of the quasi-nerd who never gets the prom queen because she only dates jocks. He’s since become a jock, but he no longer seeks merely to win the prom queen, but rather to run the whole prom court . In doing so, he’s become infatuated with the old (exclusively white) boys club, which runs the courts of hubris, pomp, privilege and capital — social and financial capital and arguably more of the former.
His apology to Taylor Swift signified a certain racial deference, given that there was no Tweeted “sorry” also to Janet Jackson, the person who was supposed to be the center of attention at that year’s VMAs for her moving tribute to her deceased King of Pop brother — all of which was overshadowed by West’s antics.
According to blogs, the Swift apology was encouraged by Cassius Clay, though this is in dispute. But let’s talk about Clay, who comes from a family of wealth, and how he suddenly became the Jerome to Kanye’s Morris Day, holding a mirror up to the rapper, co-signing on his beauty. It’s a bro-mance of the highest order. As the story goes, Ye peeped Clay’s Stubbs and Wootton slippers in Barney’s and came over to compliment him. From there, Clay went from fashion adviser to confidante, persuades by Ye to drop out of Yale and hired to be a Bentley Fonzworth to the Nth power — more like Ye’s Rahm Emanuel. Why this guy — an easy stand-in in any Tommy Hilfiger ad in Vanity Fair — is bestowed such importance when Ye barely knows him is anyone’s guess.
But we’ve seen early glimpses of this strange obsession with avatars of whiteness.