Kanye West & The Lowkey History Of Hip-Hop Philosophers

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.
Kanye West is tweeting. This isn’t the kind of thing that should make news in 2018 when so many people, including A-list celebrities, tweet all the time. But Kanye isn’t your average A-lister, and these aren’t your average tweets. Announcing upcoming album releases from artists signed to his GOOD music label (including Teyana Taylor’s long-awaited album and a collaborative album with Kid Cudi) and revealing some of his growth strategies for his Yeezy brand has been par the course in terms of his Twitter content. But Ye’s timeline has also been filled with philosophical isms about “free thinkers," “independent thought,” and perhaps most shocking of all to his followers, his love for Donald Trump. He has tweeted about everything from being good at ping pong to the sunken place, which is likely just his home, at a rapid pace.
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Reactions to Yeezy’s outpouring are varied, and not many of them are positive. Some people are calling Kim Kardashian West’s husband out for being problematic, especially in his unapologetic “love” for Trump. Others are questioning his current mental state. Headlines are calling his incoherent stream of consciousness bizarre and erratic. A narrative about his psychiatric hospitalization in 2016 and a possible opioid addiction has started to run parallel to his tweets after a conversation with Hot 97’s Ebro earlier this week. It is the latter response — the one that assumes West has simply “gone crazy” — that I am most interested in, because he isn’t the first rapper to be on the receiving end of side eyes for daring to dive into existential philosophy.
Hip-hop was created as an outlet for Black and brown people to grapple with the realities of life as we experience it. Poverty, racism, violence, and even sex have always been a welcome part of that narrative. We have given emcees the freedom to ruminate on those experiences at length in both their personal and professional lives. However, the Black people who choose hip-hop as their art are rarely allowed to examine metaphysical beings without an echo of doubt, suspicion, concern, or trivialization. One of the unfortunate byproducts of sexism is the demand that people who identify as masculine be self-actualized and self-assured out of the womb. To reveal that one has spent time considering how more “love” and “free thinking” can improve your life is an admittance that at some point you didn’t have it all together. The aftermath is that critics symbolically wave them, and their nuance, away.
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When the late rapper Tupac Shakur began to seriously question his own mortality towards the end of his career and life, the reputation that he had built as a troubled martyr for Black communities was suddenly overcast with an ominous shadow. Rap group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, who collaborated with the likes of Mariah Carey at the height of their career, received backlash for incorporating Ouija boards and other occultist themes into their music and public personas. Every iteration of Snoop Dogg’s career sees him reckoning with a different form of religion, from Rastafarianism to Christianity on his latest gospel album. These spiritual undertones are often lost in the haze of weed smoke that fans prefer to hang onto in their idolization of Uncle Snoop. DJ Khaled’s positive affirmations have been used to comically market everything from weight loss to tax services. And when Diddy seemed to suggest that he wanted to be called Brother Love, the internet went wild with eye rolls and jokes.
Tupac was very in tune with the threat of death he lived with everyday; a threat that was actualized when he was murdered at the age of 25. Bone Thugs embraced channels thought to facilitate communication with the dead only after songs like “Crossroads” publicly mourned the loss of loved ones, like their mentor Eazy-E. Snoop’s spirituality is linked to his marijuana usage, not a contradiction of it. Philosophy has always had a home in hip-hop. Rappers are complex, too. As such, the possibility that Kanye isn’t “off his meds” and simply working through the big ideas in his head via Twitter deserves to be taken seriously.
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Before his Twitter takeover began, West announced that he would be writing a book about philosophy called The Simulation in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter. A few days later, he clarified that said book would be written in real time via his Twitter account. And so it has come to pass that West has circumvented the traditional publishing system in order to say what's on his mind. It may have bitten him in the ass, though — he has lost nearly 10 million followers in the process. It's likely that the ideas an editor would have been able to challenge him to flesh out and clean up in a book format were impulsively word-vomitted for the world to see. I have fewer answers about his recent pictures wearing Trump's signature Make America Great Again hat. But I think we can safely bet on Kanye's intentionality and faculties being in tact.
However, I am not using this argument as means of justifying the ways in which Kanye has rightfully pissed people off this week. Instead, I think that when we move away from his insanity clause, we can honestly question his motives and hold him accountable for the ways in which he fucks up. Rather, it raises a question of how rappers, specifically Black rappers, are allowed to express themselves in the public sphere. When we refuse to walk away from the flighty ideas of people we don’t think should have them, we can get to the root of their cause, for better or for worse.

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