On Yeezus and Black Feminism

kanye west yeezus

Editor’s Note: While we like to keep profanity, violence and misogyny to a minimum on our blog, Kanye West’s Yeezus is explicit in nature. Please be aware that the lyrics re-printed here may be very offensive to some people. 

The self-proclaimed Michael Jordan of rap, Kanye West released his sixth solo album last week to much internet fanfare. Yeezus, Kanye’s newest album places 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 “d***” to women.

While I admit that Kanye’s never been the most feminist of artists, I do believe he’s a smart, clever guy who’s not afraid to question gender dynamics by openly wearing pink, showing his vulnerability on 808s & Heartbreak, or making astute cultural observations on awesome songs like Late Registration’s “Crack Music” or The College Dropout‘s “Spaceships.” I would like to enjoy his music again because his creativity and innovation as a producer and musician is admirable, but I’m tired of compromising my principles in favor of music that makes me want to slow twerk. So, Kanye, I think I speak for many women when I say I’d like to live in a world where North West doesn’t have to grow up with mixed messages about how to express her sexuality or feel alienated by her father. Unfortunately, Kanye’s not really making it easy when he makes an album in which women are only portrayed as money-grubbing hos, money-grubbing exes and sexual objects – with no regard to their own sexual desires. Here are some of his biggest lyrical offenses:

“Black d*** all in your spouse again/And I know she like chocolate men/She got more n****s 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 act as an aggressive act 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 d*** than a swallower.”

“New Slaves” starts off with so much potential, with lyrics like, “You see it’s broke n**** racism/That’s that ‘Don’t touch anything in the store’/And this rich n**** 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.

“F*** you and your Hampton house/ I’ll f*** 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 pu**y, 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 b****es 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 “b**ch” in hip-hop but we’re going to do it anyway because these b****es come in twos! As opposed to coming in threes, fours or solo, in “Send it Up” Kanye went to the b**ch 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.

by Shannon Shird, Community Outreach intern with Progressive Pupil and M.A. Candidate, The New School, International Affairs

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6 Comments

  1. Dominique

     /  June 25, 2013

    WOW is all I can say! I am
    A volunteer domestic violence responder and I have often felt the same way as you. I enjoy the rhythm of the music but the lyrics upset me too much to enjoy.
    Thanks nicely done!!

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  2. Sabayt

     /  June 26, 2013

    I think most people really missed what the album is about. Which is why it is so polarizing. Basically he turned himself into what the media has portrayed him to be on this album. A racist misogynistic asshole. Which is the genius behind it. He became the monster that the mainstream media and blogs has said he is. This is the concept of the album. People have lost the ability to take music at face value, especially Hip Hop. Everything in Hip Hop has to be so literal these days. Instead of critiquing it as art, it is critiqued as real life.

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  3. A Male Feminist

     /  June 26, 2013

    I seriously fail to see how “openly wearing pink” or “showing vulnerability” in any way questions gender dynamics… A more accurate description would have been “who’s not afraid to question my personal preconceived notions about gender”. Gender stereotyping (i.e. saying that it’s not the norm for a man to wear pink or show vulnerability) is part of the problem… you realize this, yes?

    I also don’t completely agree with your analysis of the line (not saying I’m right and you’re wrong just offering an opinion):

    “F*** you and your Hampton house/ I’ll f*** your Hampton spouse/ Came on her Hampton blouse/And in her Hampton mouth.”

    Now don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty vulgar… but I don’t think he’s talking about rape. You can typically “F***” someone consensually…. I mean the first line that you commented on pretty much feeds off of this one as well… it’s about emasculation and power, but the emasculation of the guy who’s wife he’s referring to… and the power is in the consent. Basically, he’s saying that he’s so powerful that he can say “Yeah, you can afford a house in the Hampton’s and not only can I too, but I’ll have sex with your wife in yours.” That’s still extremely misogynistic for almost all the same reasons the Cochran line was, not to mention referring to women as property… but it’s not rape…

    Also, in reference to the Cochran line…
    That lyric did not “call to mind the stereotypical hypersexual Black male whose penis represents a dangerous weapon” at least for me anyway… It seemed more to me like the weapon was his “ability” to sleep with any woman he wanted to. If a line about “black d*** all in your spouse again” automatically makes you assume that it’s happening violently then the only person with the preconceived notions here is you…

    Also:
    You misuse the word “queer”… not everyone who identifies as “queer” is attracted to men/ performs oral sex on men. So when you say that it “demotes women or anyone who identifies as queer to the lowly status of followers” you’re slightly inaccurate.

    Great post none the less.

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  4. Great analysis. When people ask why I don’t listen to rap anymore all I have to do is show them this article. It broke everything down perfectly.
    In response to a reply above, we can’t afford to not take violent, mysogenistic lyrics literally. I’m not down for this type of “art.”

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  5. Amen Ra

     /  June 28, 2013

    I think this article was a great ready and really offers a great perspective from a black woman, who is society is often glorfied for their beauty but their voice that is often ignored or stifled. Bless up Queen!

    Like

    Reply

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