Why Kanye West May Prove to Be the Perfect Punk Rock Rapper

Categories: Commentary
This weekend Kanye West released two new singles off his upcoming album, Yeezus, in the most grandiose possible fashion. On Friday, he announced the video for his newest single, "New Slaves," would be projected onto 66 buildings across six cities around the world in one night. Crowds gathered by the hundreds, the Wicker Park screening in Chicago shut down traffic for nearly an hour. In the video, a tight close-up shot of West's face stared blankly back at attendees, almost as if he was on the other side of the fishbowl for once. He spit vitriol at socio-economic racial double standards, the mainstream media, and the prison-industrial complex over a minimalistically sinister beat. That thousand-mile stare took over Vine and Instagram feeds all night. Saturday, he performed it on Saturday Night Live along with the previous unreleased "Blk Skn Head."


See also:
-Kanye West on Saturday Night Live: Five Reasons I Will Stay Home and Watch
-Dallas' Symbolyc One Tells Us What It's Like Working With Kanye West
-Justin Timberlake and Kanye West's Feud And Avoiding Famous-Guy Backlash

As a daughter of '80s post-punk hipsters, I was raised on bands like Depeche Mode (who were the first band I ever saw live at age 12), Souxsie & The Banshees, and Joy Division. As I grew up, I came to find my own identity in hip-hop music and culture. For these reasons, "Blk Skn Head" might just be everything I've ever wanted in a rap song. It's dark, it's furious, it spits in the face of racial class-system hypocrisy. Sampling chords from Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" and drums from Marilyn Manson's "The Beautiful People," Kanye screams and shrieks through verses under a voice filter that can only be described as the harsh antithesis of his 808's & Heartbreaks autotune phase. This is Kanye at his most fed-up and fearless.

Some have argued that this new sound is derivative. Also, water is wet and this is Kanye West we're talking about. Everything he's ever done has been a little derivative, but you can't deny that he puts his own signature on every style and sound he references. Like Death Grips or more specifically, Apathy's 13-year-old "Personal Jesus" cover using the same samples, Kanye is exploring industrial and drone-influenced rap music. That doesn't mean anyone's been able to pull it off like this before. Like Saul Williams or Killer Mike, he's addressing heavy racial injustices in his music. But this is content that's bigger than hip-hop, and most often goes ignored by the mainstream media. So to hear this kind of subject matter on NBC, even on an edgier late-night show like SNL, is a major triumph in spreading the message behind it.


Whether it's Beastie Boys or Odd Future, music journalists have been searching for "the most punk-rock hip-hop" since 1977 when the two genres were born and blossomed parallel to each other. I know a lot of hip-hop heads who hate this. They'll argue that when truly transcendent hip-hop music like this comes out, by likening it to punk, the media tries to take credit for it away from hip-hop culture.

And in turn, take credit for it away from black culture. But in reality, six years before The Stooges, The Ramones, Richard Hell, or '77 New York punk, there was a band called Death. Punk rock belongs just as much to black culture as hip-hop does. At the end of the day, they are one in the same: music born of rebellion. If these singles are any indicator, as a body of work, Yeezus may very well prove to be the most well-done fusion of the two genres to date.

Due to a recent chain of events over the last couple of weeks, many have been quick to peg the possibility of Kanye West suffering some kind of nervous breakdown or mental episode. It's not entirely far-fetched. He's been running into signposts, publicly ranting about being a terrible celebrity from inside of a pyramid, and over the last few months being accused of abandoning his baby-mama-to-be by running off to Paris to record this album. At the Adult Swim upfronts, he went on a tangent about refusing to do any SNL sketches, at the show's suggestion that he should humanize himself. West suggested in return that perhaps he's been demonized.

The record will show that Kanye West creates his best material as a result of some of the most alienating positions he tends to put himself in. Take for example, the Taylor Swift VMA public relations shit storm he survived. Do you know how he survived that? He ran off to Hawaii and made an incredible album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. At times when he's most mocked and hated in the public eye, he creates music so powerful, it can't be denied. In his own words, he'll use the arrogance as the steam to power his dreams. This time around, it's looking like it's powered the worst nightmare of anyone who's ever tried to get in his way.

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17 comments
FreakShowBand
FreakShowBand

Kanye Is A FREAK! and if he is ripping off al jourgenson does that make him the most dangerous man to the nwo now??? it will be interesting to see what happens with this,.. is there that much money in being anti nwo and anti corporation??? is this a smokescreen? 

olddude
olddude

not sure where you're getting 77 for a starting point for hip hop and punk. and you forgot kanye ripping off the al jourgenson vocal styling.

MASTERKILLER
MASTERKILLER

is this some extreme satire? there's nothing punk about a multi-million dollar mainstream artist "alienating" his fans because the people dont just understand the TORMENT of being a celebrity, or he JUST now decides he cares about social injustice. punk started for people who were already alienated and at the receiving end of social injustice, not some spoiled rock star. his new "edge" comes off as sincere as Bono and the rest of the assholes in U2, pun intended. You really care? Stop making music and get to work. Give your money to charity. He's got plenty.

By the way, check your facts a little better. The Stooges started in 67/68, with their self-titled record and "Fun House" dropping 69 and 70 respectably.  Death played didn't form until 71 nor did they record anything until 74, which went unreleased for nearly 20 years.

Chris Altschuler
Chris Altschuler

Rock n rap is horrible. Makes me wanna hurl. Just cause rap sucks don't mean you gotta bring down Rock.

Curt Eichelberger
Curt Eichelberger

actually.. I watched like it was someone crashing train wreck.. wondering when he will either end up in jail or on his own reality show.. " no one understands Kanye west"

Curt Eichelberger
Curt Eichelberger

oh god.. not this.. really? LL cool j, from the 80's, NWA, Public enemy, or lets go now.. Die Antwoord, or even king gampo.. west is the worst.. that mess he put on SNL was not only unlistenable, but down right and insult to all forms of music.. skinny puppy called they want their samples back..

lzippitydoo
lzippitydoo

Punk is right! perfect description of Conyay

MASTERKILLER
MASTERKILLER

do you see the lush irony of how much money must have been spent on that video premiere stunt vs. the content of the song. blasting your dumb ass face across skyscrapers isn't putting food in kids' mouths or better books and teachers in schools.

olddude
olddude

@MASTERKILLER hes got a point, punk is anti-everything kanye every rapped/is about. living outside the norm and rebelling against the system in a mansion, with 1000$ bottles of champagne in a custom lambo that got hurt at your no talent wifes million dollar mansion isnt exactly punk. even the no-talent wife isnt a junkie. 

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