“I just wanna feel liberated, ay, ay, ay.” From what Ye? You can sense his urgency to escape in that line. West’s inflection is wounded and stressed. The constraints that he wants to free himself from are dragging him. His voice is barely kept afloat by the autotune. The machine stabilizing the man. What is West trying to escape?
The long artistic history of Kanye West shows a man struggling with the condition of the modern black male in the 21st-century world. His wider introduction to the world was the now infamous “George Bush don’t care about black people” moment during a Hurricane Katrina television fundraiser. In his second album, Late Registration, the track “Crack Music” touches upon a correlation between crack epidemic of the 80’s and hip hop. “New Slaves,”off 2013’s Yeezus, is a powerful critique of racism and its consequences that mires blacks in poverty. Kanye West is no stranger to the constraints of capitalism and its violent consequences.
So it should come as no surprise to anyone that in West’s seventh album, The Life of Pablo, the constraints of capitalism have come to the forefront again. Yeezus was an abrasive response to society. Fusing harsh, dissonant noises with ridiculous lyrics, it was a clear “Fuck you!” to societies norms. Norms that are entirely constructed by the capitalist society that we live in today. Pablo gives us a Kanye West turning to religion to free himself.
The opening track, “Ultra Light Beams,” kicks off with 4 year old Natalie Green leading a prayer. West wants no “Devils in the house,” instead he wants “the Lord.” Burdened down by the violence of a system that preys on the necessities of the weak, West turns to his faith to “deliver us serenity, deliver us peace.” Chance the Rapper, one of the many standout contributors in Pablo, raps about moving his family away from the violence of Chicago to Zambia. Chicago, a city plagued with one of the highest murder rates in the nation, is a prime example of just what sort of violence Chance and Kanye West want to escape. Redlining, race covenants, crack epidemic and the failed Drug War. Policies that have robbed the black community in Chicago of wealth and life. So when Chance raps about moving his family back to Africa, he is echoing Marcus Garvey’s “Return to Africa” movement. It is a sentiment that echoes the need for black communities to build alternative institutions in order to thrive. A need because mainstream institutions deny access to the African-American community and thrive on the exploitation of them. West is riding on an”ultra light beam.” The success and joy that he is currently enjoying is thanks to religion. His success is not thanks to mainstream society, rather that society punishes him as a black male. It is, then, his own personal belief in God. Religiosity has saved West and he desires to continue seeking liberation from the bondage of capitalism.
Religiosity has been important to West. “Low Lights,”the sixth track on Pablo, is a two minute testimonial embracing Christianity. Gospel singer Kelly Price delivers the powerful testimonial. “It feels so good to be free, to be accepted for who you are and loved no matter what.” Christianity’s central tenets of forgiveness and redemption is what liberates West from the constraints of a capitalistic society. It gives West the freedom to be who he is, regardless of whatever social transgressions he may be committing. He has found a family that loves him and a woman that he loves. It has given him two children. It has given him fame and fortune allowed him to express himself creatively. He will be redeemed and forgiven in the end, because for Kanye West he is a man of God. Kanye West is announcing to the world that social norms and mores are falsely constructed. Simply put, they are not real.
These mores are here to be broken and to be challenged. They were largely built as Western, capitalistic societies continue to exploit people of color, regarded women as second-class citizens and repressed gays, lesbians and transgenders. Leftists are here to challenge a society that accepts the indiscriminate and extralegal death and destruction of entire villages by drones.
Kanye West is a reflection of capitalism. His latest album demonstrates why socialist movements are necessary to continue building a more perfect and equal tomorrow. Breaking free from the chains of capitalism will have us all feeling liberated.