A Feminist Music Collective

How Kanye Keeps Me Woke

As we start to navigate this new year of music, concert tours, festival lineup announcements and more, it is crucial to do one final look back on one of 2016’s biggest music stories. The latter part of 2016 showed us that Kanye is on the Trump wagon.  He also stopped his tour to deal with some mental clarity, but now he is in a good place again and just wants “everyone to be happy,” according to TMZ.

Many of us love Kanye for his music. That’s why me and tens of thousands of others went to see him at his San Jose concert in November. However, a smaller number of people, myself included, still love Kanye despite his opinions and actions.  For me, his talent and power outweigh the things I do not necessarily agree with.

Attending Kanye West’s historic concert where he proudly admitted that he was a Trump supporter reminded me of how we can incrementally make progress by trying to understand his mind. For starters, Kanye West is undeniably an iconic figure.  Like any legendary artist, his inspiration and fame come from an eclectic, sometimes offensive point of view.  On this tour, Kanye saw himself as a Pablo Picasso (read: The Life of Pablo) and I liked that because Picasso himself often chose the road less traveled. But as the concert continued, Kanye went farther and farther down a less traveled, controversial road.   

The “Famous” rapper stopped each time the crowd started getting hyped, well, since it is the Bay Area, let’s say hyphy. He’d stop to make a point, then another point and then another. You get the picture.  He effectively held the audience accountable by 1) saying something controversial, then 2) continuing to perform as the crowd immediately got hyphy and finally 3) stopping the music to reiterate they were still dancing to his music even if they did not agree with what he was saying.  He knew his statements were shocking and he knew people would not agree, yet he was right when he said, “but ya’ll are still dancing.”  

Photo by Kevin Mazur

More than a handful of concert attendees did, indeed, walk all the way out of the SAP Pavilion as Kanye declared himself a Trump supporter.  Many were shocked, but many more thought that is was so Kanye of him. What a strategist - to do that in California, the Bay Area, where the majority in the venue is the minority. This is a man that knows his audience more than they know themselves.  His unpredictability forces people to think, whether it is to be mad, to agree.

Kanye is strategic and philosophic, with a twist of manipulative. He understands how Americans think, how millennial think, and he knows his audience better than they know themselves. He is a genius. He performed wearing a red cap with a stage that was lit with a red ambiance - a clear reminder to me of Trump and his ridiculous red tie and ‘Make America Great Again’ hat.  Red is the color of passion, power and anger. Maybe it was metaphorical. Maybe it was coincidence.  Either way, it stuck with me.

Clearly Kanye’s thoughts and words at this show were not reticent, but that is nowhere near a first for him. Since he has millions of loyal followers that have stood by him through all the controversy, I would say the controversy has worked in his favor. He got a rise out of people, and that was part of his plan. He has had more than one opportunity to use his fame-given platform to make, let’s say, unique proclamations.

Nonetheless, people dig it. And so the patriarchy continues.  It continues because he is a man. A man with power. A man who knows exactly what to do with that power and has complete disregard for how it can directly affect other people (Amber Rose still waiting on that apology).  

As The Wimpact, we are trying to change the music scene for generations to come.  You have artists like Kanye telling you to essentially  ignore the fact that we live in a racist country. You have dozens more artist who are perpetuating sexism, homophobia, racism - you name it - on a daily basis. As we have entered the new Trump Era, it is more important than ever to pay homage to those who actually stand up against hateful belief systems.

Simultaneously, I also recognize the effect on society that influential Trump supporters have. This is why The Wimpact, with all of our members and allies, matter in times like these.  We have to demand equality in the music industry by holding artists and powerful figures accountable for their words and actions, Kanye included.

One of the best ways to get through times of hate is to be aware of what you are consuming, whether it’s through listening, reading or the public figures you follow. Nearly all of us have the privilege of making our own choices, so we also have the great power of controlling what we consume and what we feed our brains.  Listen carefully, be aware and understand what you may be manipulated to believe.


Author’s Note:

When I read Chris Hedges’ Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle it reminded me that as a culture, a society and as individuals we disintegrate intellectually when our knowledge is defeated by the illusions created by corporations and an embedded celebrity culture projected by the media.