The self-proclaimed Michael Jordan of rap is gearing up to work on the “second half” of last summer’s critically confusing Yeezus, so we’re going to take a look back at our feminist deconstruction of the blasphemous collection of songs.
Kanye’s last album placed the rapper at the height of his fame and has been heralded as many things: Pitchfork gave it a 9.5 rating, it was called “boundary cutting” by NPR and Rolling Stone says of it, “Yeezus is the darkest, most extreme music Kanye has ever cooked up, an extravagantly abrasive album full of grinding electro, pummeling minimalist hip-hop, drone-y wooz and industrial gear grind.” Yes Kanye’s done it again! As a constantly tormented Black feminist AND hip-hop lover I went through several listens to his album and I did the same thing I usually do when I listen to most mainstream rap albums: I tried to disassociate myself from the offensive, woman-hating lyrics because I love a good beat, ’80s synths and Motown samples. This time though, Kanye made it impossible to do that. While I’ve never produced beats for the hottest rappers, sold out stadiums or kicked it with Beyoncé, I still think that I can offer suggestions to Kanye on how to be less of jerk, to women specifically.
“Black dick all in your spouse again/ And I know she like chocolate men/She got more niggass off than Cochran, huh?”
Kanye West begins Yeezus with “On Sight” and doesn’t waste any time throwing some salt at his haters. Determined to assert his authority as a hip-hop great, he almost immediately resorts to using a cheap metaphor that describes sexual violence (and dominance) against women. These lyrics call to mind the stereotypical hypersexual Black male whose penis represents a dangerous weapon. These lyrics are particularly problematic since they are aggressive acts of emasculation and power over feminine sexuality. Kanye both congratulates and slut-shames the woman for her sexuality, giving women an impossible paradigm to operate under. In a culture where slut-shaming leads to suicide, Kanye’s misogyny sets a dangerous example about the value of women and their sexuality.
“You see there’s leaders and there’s followers/ But I’d rather be a dick than a swallower.”
“New Slaves” starts off with so much potential, with lyrics like, “You see it’s broke nigga racism/ That’s that ‘Don’t touch anything in the store’/And this rich nigga racism/ That’s that ‘Come in, please buy more.'” And then he drops this bomb. We get it Kanye, we live in a capitalist society, dominance and power are prized, and competition occurs. But is the sexual metaphor necessary? When such a stark dichotomy is simultaneously created and devalued, Kanye West demotes women or anyone who identifies as queer to the lowly status of followers – enforcing male privilege in very real ways.
“Fuck you and your Hampton house/ I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse/ Came on her Hampton blouse/And in her Hampton mouth.”
As if one misogynistic lyric weren’t enough, he does it again on “New Slaves.” Given the provocative title of the song and his social commentary, it’s clear that Mr. West is aware of the problematic stereotypes he reinforces with lyrics like this. Knowing his complicity in perpetuating these harmful ideas about Black sexuality certainly doesn’t make it better. Regardless of whatever artistic license anyone is willing to give, he uses his platform to describe the mythical Black rapist and contributes to a very real rape culture. The socioeconomic critique Kanye makes in this song is overshadowed by his sexually violent words and sexual violence is always wrong and harmful.
“Chasing love all the bittersweet hours lost/ Eating Asian pussy, all I need was sweet and sour sauce.”
As if Asian women didn’t already face enough fetishization and stereotyping in media, six tracks in Kanye compares this sexual act to eating take-out food – a line that is as racist as it is misogynistic. As witty as he thinks he’s being on “I’m In It,” this line only furthers the degradation of Asian women into very specific sexual “boxes” our society has created. It is hurtful and reductive.
“Uh, Black girl sippin’ white wine/ Put my fist in her like a civil rights sign.”
The first (and only) time Mr. West mentions a “Black girl” in this album is to make a cheap sexual innuendo. As if we haven’t already been devalued in the media and society, you want to use this line Ye? This is a common problem with Kanye’s brand of Black “consciousness”; on the same album where he rails against the prison industrial complex and racism in “New Slaves,” he also seems unable to avoid unproductively throwing a Black woman under the bus in “I’m In It.” Not to mention the complete disregard for the potent symbolism of the Black Power fist.
“Last night my bitches came in twos/ And they both suck like they came to lose.”
At this point it seems almost moot to complain about the use of the word “bitch” in hip-hop but we’re going to do it anyway because these bitches come in twos! As opposed to coming in threes, fours or solo, in “Send it Up,” King Louie, one of the young Chicago rappers West has taken a shine to, went to the bitch store and asked for a set. These aren’t women, but sexual objects that only exist to please the same man who has spent nine songs explaining how performing oral sex on him is something “losers” and “followers” do. Kanye West displays all the appropriate signs of hating women and his rapping only contributes to the problematic treatment of women as beautiful creatures that are used for sex. Similarly, in a society that treats women as second-class citizens who are underrepresented in our institutions, underpaid, and undervalued, these lyrics are especially offensive.
I am often conflicted about my love of hip-hop and my feminism. While I’ve been known to excuse things or ignore offensive lyrics in the past, the older I get, the more I realize that if no one speaks out about these things then we will never live in a better, healthier society where women and girls are no longer demeaned, degraded and dismissed.