Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Def Jammin' with Kanye

A few of the recent posts have been about Kanye West’s “All Falls Down” and primarily focus on the idea of wealth, but I feel like the idea of racial discrimination has been overlooked. But instead of the actual song, I think it would be more effective to analyze the spoken word poem “Self Conscious” that Kanye performed on Def Poetry Jam a few years ago. The lyrics are basically the same but the first and second verses are switched. 
With the first and second verse switched, the meaning of the poem also changes. Although he starts off speaking about himself being “self-conscious,” the tonality of his voice suggests a greater struggle than the song does. In the lines at the end of the first verse, “We shine because they hate us, floss cause they degrade us/ We trying to buy back our 40 acres/ And for that paper, look how low we a'stoop/ Even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a coupe,” “us” refers to blacks rather than the wealthy. Kanye is suggesting that because of the oppression upon African Americans, wealth is a way for blacks to attempt fight against condescending views. It becomes obvious that the switch in the subject from the wealthy to blacks when he mentions, “we trying to buy back our 40 acres.” He is referring to the promise made by the U.S. of gifting “40 acres a maybe a mule” to the freed slaves in 1865. Because he says, “buy back,” it suggests that even though there was an attempt at equality in the past but discrimination has caused it to regress. Throughout the verse he expresses the idea that wealth is a way to mask one’s self esteem, but in the last line of the verse, “even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a coupe,” he suggests that even when blacks are able to become rich a successful, discrimination still exists. The line “you still a nigga in a coupe” is a double entendre because it can literally mean a black man sitting in a fancy two-door car, or signify a chicken “coop.” This is significant because it suggests an entrapment that African Americans are exposed to through the discrimination of race.

These lines establish the concept of race that will follow in the next verse. Unlike in the song “All Falls Down” which starts with the verse talking about a “self-conscious” girl, the spoken word poem puts this girl in a different light. Instead of reading it as just a girl who hasn’t figured out a plan for her future, it is read more specifically as a black female struggling in society. Moreover, the next verse beings with the lines “I say fuck the police, that’s how I treat ‘em/ We buy our way out of jail, but we can’t buy freedom.” “We” refers to the wealthy African American community, which is significant because even though they have the money to pay their way out of jail, they can’t “buy freedom” because they are constantly oppressed because of their race.

Seeing how this post is getting a little long, this line may be an interesting topic of discussion: “Drug dealers buy Jordans, crackhead buy crack/ And a white man get paid off of all of that.”


  1. What Kanye is rapping about, racial discrimination, does exist. However, in his case, he is rapping about things that don't apply to him. He was never a thug dealing crack running from the police, only to benefit the white community. This does exist, but he is a wealthy African American to whom this does not apply. Therefore, he is rapping about an issue he does not know about first hand. Although his message may be true, having not experienced what he is rapping about, these lyrics are all hypothetical.

  2. While it may be true that Kanye is not a "thug, dealing crack, running from the police," as we have discussed in class, these rappers are simply creating a persona. This is not necessarily Kanye's life story, but rather an issue that his persona is facing.

    Furthermore, I believe that comparing "All Falls Down" the song, to the poem, is an interesting idea. In the poem, Kanye adds, "This morning I spent a lot of time picking out my clothes, I'm going to be the best dressed rapper in hip hop." In addition, he speaks in a nervous and shaky voice throughout much of the first verse especially(self conscious). These two extras, we do not see in the song version of "All Falls Down," but add to the self conscious feeling. In contrast, Kanye has more of a confident voice in the song, which although we can still recognize the self conscious feeling through his diction, contradicts his overall tone.

    While in this case, I feel that Kanye's rap version of the song is much more enjoyable tonally, his poem version utilizes a voice that better fits the self conscious message of the lyrics.

  3. I think the last line that you added in the post, is a clear indication of Kanye's focus on racial discrimination in the world today. Jordans are popular shoes in the black community, so his use of Jordans suggest that he is referring to black drug dealers. When he says and the white man get's paid off of all of that, he can mean two things. One, that since Jordans are sold by companies owned by white men, they are profiting from the drug dealers, or that they are profiting of of the drugs that are giving to the drug dealers. Black drug dealers have to get their supply of drugs from people higher in their industry and most of those people higher up are not black, but white.
    And while Kanye west is creating a persona, what he is saying does still apply to him as a person because he is a black male. He mentions the view of black people in the eys of others, and since he is black, he would be viewed the same way.

  4. I believe the last line of your post relates a lot to the conversation we had in class about how the even though the black rappers are making money, the white man is still making a profit because they own the record companies. In this instance though, he is talking about how the white man is above the black man in the drug trade. He is saying no matter how much money the black drug dealers are making, the white men are still going to profit off of them, whether it be the executives at Jordan or the higher ups in the drug trade.

    In response to the conversation about how this applies to Kanye, I agree with Tia that it does apply to him because he is a black man. But I don't think it relates as much as it could because he was never a drug dealer or raised in poor conditions. However, I guess that does not matter because it is a persona that Kanye creates for himself; it's not actually about him, per se.


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