Words By Andre LaFontant
In 2010, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy had the hip hop world thinking they’d witnessed the greatest work of an already great artist. A year after Kanye West’s epic album dropped, Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover, took those same critics on a hike with his album Camp. While Mr. West was lauded for his artistic tumble down a rabbit hole, Childish was perpetually roasted for his perceived marshmallow persona. Fast forward to 2018: these two artists have completely redefined themselves within the hip hop community.
No longer considered too corny to function, Donald Glover reinvented himself as a multi-talented phenom. From creating the unprecedented show Atlanta, to breathing new life into cultural fixtures like the laid back space pirate Lando Calrissian and the soon-to-be king Simba, it’s hard to imagine he has time for making game-changing music.
But it’s not 2010 anymore. Now, the world’s revolving around a Gambino clock face. If you’ve refused to notice, the Atlanta rapper’s “This is America” music video has reached nearly 64 million views in just four days of circulation on YouTube. Donald Glover, once thought too whitebread to have his finger on the pulse of Black America, is relentlessly sought after for his creative ability to breathe life into the hardest conversations.
Mr. West recently went viral for his thoughts on black issues, but not for the reasons my 2010 self would expect. His “slavery was a choice” comment in the now-infamous TMZ interview might go down in history as Ye’s most inflammatory line, narrowly beating out his 2005 quote that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
Maybe there is such a thing as a Kardashian curse. How else could you explain such an O.J. statement coming from the same human who created College Dropout and Late Registration? Clearly, a hex sped Kanye into the sunken place like a Ford Bronco whose brakes were cut.
Once the chosen one, Ye has flipped sides like Anakin. Now, he’s supporting the Cheeto-in-chief through incoherent tweets and interviews like the aforementioned TMZ debacle. Jay-Z’s “Story of O.J.” seems quite apropos for his wayward ‘little brother,’ seeing as Kanye’s time in the spotlight has blinded him to the sentiments of his core fanbase. Donald Glover, on the other hand, has deeply rooted himself in progressive black discourse by transforming his art.
If we don’t take what Kanye said about slavery literally — hold the pitchforks for a second — there is a historical precedent for his words. As Huey Newton once said, “Any unarmed people are slaves, or are subject to slavery at any given moment.” In the TMZ interview, Ye fell flat on his face speaking about mental slavery and the ways he thinks that it’s preventing black people from breaking the glass ceiling of American society. The way Ye fumbled his words demonstrated his mental ineptitude when it comes to starting progressive conversations. Maybe Mr. West registered for American History a little too late.
While everyone was trying to shake Mr. West awake, Mr. Glover was the star pupil in American History class. This week, everyone and their auntie’s been dissecting “This is America” for its sprawling historical and biblical allusions. His music video comments on the peril of paying too much attention to the song and dances that people like Kanye West perform. While art is great to consume, there should be a concerted awareness of the ways it both distracts us from and acts as a conduit for understanding real issues.
It’s up to the public to act as their own artists and genuinely redefine how they express their views on our society. If we’re armed with a sound mind, it’s impossible to become a droning slave to detrimental group thinking. Whatever Kanye is dreaming up won’t become my nightmare, just as whatever swamp snacks his dragon buddy Donald is serving won’t find a place on my intellectual plate.
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