catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 16 :: 2005.09.09 — 2005.09.22


Kanye for Christians

School is now in session

Just in time for school, Kanye West brings hip hop even further into the mainstream with an ambitious new album. Apparently surviving a serious car accident, rapping his first hit single through a wired-shut mouth, getting an explicitly Christo-centric song played in dance clubs everywhere, wowing audiences at music awards shows in 2004 and 2005 and selling over 2 million copies of his first record, College Dropout, is just the beginning of Mr. West?s achievements. Now he?s submitting his Late Registration, an album that will surely make Kanye West a household name.

Unfortunately, it may be years before West makes it into dinner conversation in most Christian homes. Like U2, Kanye?s keen ability to communicate the hope and strength of the Christian spirit to the masses will most likely be lost on a broad group of Christians in America, many of whom think rock and rap music isn?t worth listening to unless it can be found in Christian bookstores or on safe-for-the-whole-family radio. One could easily imagine church congregations singing ?God show me the way because the Devil trying to break me down? from the overhead projector on Sunday mornings, but Kanye West?s ?Jesus Walks? found its place in the more welcoming places of America: the dance floors and clubs where anything goes, even Jesus!

Kanye West has found a way to bring his faith into the American conversation without preaching, without putting people off. Instead, he gets people up on their feet and marching along.

To the hustlas, killers, murderers, drug dealers even the strippers
(jesus walks with them)
To the victims of Welfare for we living in hell here, hell yeah!
(jesus walks with them)
Now hear ye hear ye, want to see Thee more clearly
I know he hear me when my feet get weary
Cuz we’re the almost nearly extinct
We rappers are role models we rap we don’t think
I ain’t here to argue about his facial features
Or here to convert atheists into believers
I’m just trying to say the way school need teachers
The way Kathie Lee needed Regis that’s the way yall need Jesus
So here go my single dog, radio needs this!
They say you can rap about anything, except for Jesus
That means guns, sex, lies, video tapes
But if I talk about God my record won’t get played—Huh?
Well, let this take away from my spins
Which will probably take away from my ends
Then I hope this take away from my sins
And bring the day that I’m dreaming about:
Next time I’m in the club, everybody screaming out
?Jesus Walks?
(jesus walks with me)

One would like to think that these words are coming out of the Christian music industry, but Kanye West could never be satisfied with such a small platform for his ideas. His message is too big for an industry that has carved out a niche market of trite moralisms and stock religious sentiment.

By his own admission, Kanye West?s music is bigger than any industry, music or otherwise. The industry is just a way to get Kanye West?s musical message out there. Though the success of West?s first album has been very good for him financially, Kanye is not in it for the money. Late Registration makes it especially clear that financial success isn?t going to change West?s way of doing business. In fact, for an artist with Kanye?s drive, it will be used to carry him to even bigger audiences.

Though Kanye admits at the end of Late Registration he?s sometimes tempted to leave the limelight and go back to his days of relative obscurity and poverty, the ambitious artist put his growing resources to good use, hiring Jon Brion (producer of Fiona Apple and the artist responsible for the Magnolia, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Punch Drunk Love and I Heart Huckabees soundracks) to help produce the album. Brion?s lush use of strings gives Kanye?s sincere and sometimes awkward rapping a certain dignity that complements rather than competes with West?s unyielding vision. West also uses his fame and financial success to introduce new artists and to bring various artists from rock and rap together on Late Registration. West has a way of finding the soulful elements in other peoples? music and making it new, whether in the samples he uses or in his collaborations with other artists.

This soulful quality might be what Kanye West is talking about in the album?s centerpiece, ?Crack Music.? A darkly ominous beat slices and thuds as West and friends recount their own version of the drug crisis that grew in American cities throughout the eighties and early nineties. The story dovetails with the rise of rap music and Kanye makes a connection between the rough urban experience and the music that comes out of it:

Now the former slaves trade hooks for grammies
This dark dixon has become America’s addiction those who ain’t even black use it.
We gonna keep baggin? up this here crack music

The idea of bagging the brokenness of the black situation and selling it to the masses for
a profit continues throughout the album. In the hit single ?Gold Digger,? West focuses on money and motivations. After cautioning his listeners about the type of woman who?s only after money, Kanye pleads with the listener to stick with the ?broke niggaz? because often it?s the broke guys with ambition who make ?a Benz out of that Datsun.? In ?Diamonds From Sierra Leone,? West acknowledges the conflict of rappers who make the easy transition from selling drugs to selling albums, trying to forget their poverty by buying lots of nice things, but at such a cost to others that it only repeats a vicious cycle of brokenness. The soulfulness that oozes through the cracks of Kanye West?s music comes with a keen awareness of both hip hop?s spiritual origins and its wearisome problems.

Though West takes music very seriously, he loves a good punch line. In fact, the recurring theme of broke-ness is tied together by a sort of joke throughout the album. Comedian Bernie Mac plays the leader of the ?Broke Phi Broke? fraternity who leads a group of money-deprived folks in group chants about not having any money or women or cars because, ?say it with me, ?We can?t afford no gas!?? Toward the end of the album, the fraternity discovers that Kanye West no longer belongs in the ?Broke Phi Broke? group.

Leader: I’ve called this private meeting today because there is an imposter among us. There is an imposter among us. This brother right here has been out making beats on the side, yes he has. Pretending he’s broke walking amongst us. This brother has been eating every day, can you believe that? Eating every day. Pretending he’s with us, he’s not one of us. I did not want to believe this, but I walked into the brother Kanye’s closet and I found new shoes. I found new shoes! Kanye, would you like to step forward and explain these new shoes?!

Kanye (stammering): I was-you crazy, I wasn’t, I didn’t, um, I was just um, I was-

Leader: No, you speak up, brother!

Kanye: I was gon’ stick-I’m tryin to stick to my roots and-

Leader: What?

Kanye: I wanna stick to my roots, and-

Leader:What?! You march your new shoes out of here, Kanye.
Don’t you ever come back in ‘em. Don’t you ever come back smellin’ all good, taking showers and shit like that, all right? We don’t appreciate that down here at Broke Phi Broke.

With this skit, Kanye West presents the conflict he finds himself in. How will he continue to spread his message to more and more people while remaining true to what brought him there in the first place? Though Late Registration drifts slightly away from the raw vigor of College Dropout, it is a confident march into music history. At the end of the album, Kanye seems aware that his new-found success comes with new conflicts. He could be just another flavor of the month, here one day, gone the next. But Kanye has faith that what he?s got will always be in demand, ?Inspiration for they life, they souls, and they songs.?

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