Sunday, April 29, 2012

Kanye West: A Modern Day Ginsberg?

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.


  1. I tend to agree with you that Kanye West and Allen Ginsberg have some lyrical similarities. Allen Ginsberg creates a beat in “America” through many devices, one of which is that he often starts groups of lines off with the same word. Furthermore, Allen Ginsberg takes an aggressive and yet sarcastic approach in “America” by saying, “America when will you be angelic?” and at the same time saying, “When can I go to the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?” Likewise, Kanye West creates a beat through different strategies, one being his use of rhyme. However, he creates the rhyme through changing the words slightly so that they fit each other, “insecure” becomes “insecurrre,” “career” becomes “careerrr.” Furthermore, he also takes a slightly aggressive approach with hints at sarcasm. When referring to a woman who does not have enough money to buy a Lexus, he says, “She named her daughter Alexus.” In both “America” and “All Falls Down,” Allen Ginsberg and Kanye West tend to use many similar lyrical approaches.

    However in comparing Allen Ginsberg’s and Kanye West’s public personas, the comparison is drawn between someone who tends to side with socialism, and someone who makes a career in rap, a career built perfectly for capitalism. Another rapper, Sam Adams says it best, “I should let myself succeed.” While a record label needs to sign him, it is on Sam Adams to succeed. Kanye West earned his fame rapping, in a capitalistic society. Although there is a segment of rap dealing with politics, and a small portion of that focuses on socialism, Kanye West is not a part of this group. Kanye West’s song “Niggas in Paris,” a song about spending ridiculous amounts of money in Paris on ones own accord, stands tribute to his distance from the socialist portion of rap.

    Therefore, while Kanye West has much in common with Allen Ginsberg and many other beat poets lyrically, he remains different from Allen Ginsberg in public persona.

  2. The similarities that West and Ginsberg share, in my opinion, are that they both express their opinions in very forcefull manners. Ginsberg is very radical in expressing his opinions in his poem "America", as West is very liberal in his comments about politics and other artists.

    However, where Ginsberg and West differ in expressing their strong opinions are that Ginsberg's are though out and written, where as West's are verbal spur of the moment comments, which he has made apologies for after.

  3. I definitely see the similarities you are pointing out, but I find it a difficult comparison to make. I feel that Ginsberg is going for a totally different affect than Kanye. Kanye's persona is mostly about money, partying, and having fun. His lifestyle supports an unbalanced capitalist society, that based on Ginsberg's poetry, I can't see him supporting the lifestyle Kanye lives.


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