In class we discussed the poem “America” by Allen Ginsberg and its deep resentment towards America of the mid-twentieth century. “America when will we end the human war? // Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb,” Ginsberg writes. When it was fashionable to condemn everything that was considered Communist due to an ongoing Cold War with the Soviet Union, Ginsberg wrote about his positive experiences at Communist Cell meetings where “the speeches were free everybody was angelic and sentimental about the workers it was all so sincere.” It is important to keep in mind that he previously had asked America when it would be angelic; this repetition highlights the fact that most of America lacked certain desirable qualities that Ginsberg could find only in socialist communities.
Meanwhile, in songs such as “All Fall Down,” rapper Kanye West highlights the issues that exist alongside the personal quest for acceptance by the mainstream industry. He renounces our emphasis on material goods and image (“the prettiest people do the ugliest things”), much as the beat poets—Ginsberg and others—did decades before. Additional thoughts on “All Fall Down” are well-described in Jason's and Brian’s posts Mind Over Money and And It All Falls Down?, not to mention my comment response.
Chris’s article posted to Blackboard, David Samuels' American Mozart, brings up similar ideas about Kanye’s role as “a narcissistic monster who tore a massive hole of self-regard in the American cultural quilt.” The article asks “What did Kanye West do to deserve all this?” and answers by citing a controversial telethon outburst directed at President Bush in 2005 and the incident at the 2009 MTV VMA’s with Taylor Swift. Due to his often extreme and erratic behavior, American Mozart describes Kanye as a “petulant, adolescent, blanked-out, pained emotional mess who toggles between songs about walking with Jesus and songs about luxury brands and porn stars.” At the same time, though, his eighteen Grammy Awards attest to his brilliance as a producer and rapper. The article moves on to explain Kanye’s newest work, a collaboration with Jay-Z on the Watch the Throne album, as an attempt to move into the realm of respectability of his critics. This act is a demonstration of him “putting his queer shoulder to the wheel,” so to speak.
Although Kanye has obviously enjoyed mainstream recognition and success as a musical artist, I think he shares more traits (both in his lyrical work and public persona) with Ginsberg and other beat poets than most realize.