Friday, October 10, 2008

Uh oh, Ye.

Kanye West debuted his new video for Love Lockdown on Ellen this week. And some diehard Kanye fans aren't pleased.

The reason? In the video, Kanye juxtaposes a modernist white background against representations of African warriors, percussionists and nude women. Loin clothes and spears, galore.

See the video:

And then, my friend Salim's response:

So, let's hear it. Did Kanye cross the line this time? Is this just art for art's sake? Or is he making a subtle artistic critique?


R. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
R. said...

My dear Salim! Your disappointment and sorrow is so profound--I'm sitting here crying because I can feel how much that hurt you. Don't lose hope! There is still hope in hip hop. It may not come from West, but there are still (and there will continue to be) creative, politically-engaged, critical minds that speak powerfully through hip-hop.

That said, I'm behind you S and Jay 100% for Kanye blowing it majorly with this video. To back up a step-- The song in itself is interesting musically, but doesn't come even close to the critical and self-referential lyrics that we've come to adore and expect from Kanye. So even before Kanye provides visuals, he is starting off with a song that is not politically or socially charged in the usual way.

Then the video. W-T-F. The images had NOTHING to do with the lyrics. Nothing. And if one really sat around and tried to connect the idea/lyrics of "love lockdown" to the images of "African savages," at best you'd get "African savages=imprisoning/holding love hostage. Not flattering. And a really big stretch.

So why this choice? I waited the whole damn video for something to explain the people on the screen, and that explication never came. More, I was seriously disturbed by the end with the naked, painted women and the camera flying in and out between their legs. It was even less "authentic" and outrageously absurd than the "stock-footage savages" featured in the rest of the video. I really can't explain that element away with the beat-matches-the visuals bailout--all that can be is an excuse to yet again put black womens' bodies on humiliating, pornographic display for the voyeuristic pleasure of the (privileged, white, male, western) viewers. Congratulations Mr. West, you've given White supremacist Western capitalist patriarchy a huge boost with your video.

Kanye crossed the line in a major way. He should know better, and he does know better. I can only hope that he realizes how much power he holds in the popular realm, and takes a 180 from this ugly road.

kameelah said...

i am not saddened; it's to be expected. i am confused. when has mr. west ever been progressive insofar as his representation of the african diaspora? yes, the images of africans are disturbing, but a) these are not too different then how africans are traditionally displayed and b) mr. west's depictions are a natural extension of his already myopic representation of black folks and women. he is not necessarily a maverick in this area of positive representation. i am not sure how this video versus all the other stuff he puts together (i.e. the flashing lights video, gold digger, etc) is the breaking point. he consistently has "stock-footage" of women, why are we surprised here? this time he designed to festishize africans, but the act of turning people into fetishes and exotic treats is not uncommon in his work and the work of many artists. this does not let him off the hook. rather, i am arguing that he was given too much credit to begin with.

maybe i am incredibly cynical, but i never saw kanye as a political simply because singing a song about diamonds and saying bush doesnt like black folks while pushing reckless consumerism seems hypocritical.

we can harp on about the white capitalist patriarchy but the reality is that black folks are consciously complicit in the reproduction of these images, and as such need to be held responsible.

Anonymous said...

I think Kanye used those images to show contrast and that contrast is debilitating.

Following a couple layers of the music only, you've got the modern voice-synthesizer and then the drumming and some piano.

The video visualizes the type of space that the music occupies. He matches the post-modern to the synthesizer. He also matches those cuts with how he ran away from an almost haunting and cyclic relationship. "so i wanna move/ but cant escape from you/ so i keep it low/keep a secret code/ so everybody else don't have to know"
the visuals the audience gets is a 'post-modern-clean' sanitized from a haunting past.

Then, what type of space does the drumming occupy visually???

He uses images that are metaphoric to his imagined past. Past meaning the chaos and the hurts "im not loving you/ way i wanted to/ where i wanna go/ i don't need you/ i've been down this road too many times before". Past also meaning an exaggerated time before the post-modern in which he definitely fetishizes a few: African people, women and matriachy, cultural production- to show a linear timeline of progress.

He could have used a universe full of imagery for the drumming (and this is where it hurts) but in order to make the post-modern win, he had to exaggerate on the past to show contrast, to depict that no matter how clean he is from the hurts of the past, they still haunt him and permeate his new space.

I think it is intentional to use these exaggerated, fetishized, and degrading images so that visually "keep your love lockdown/ love lockdown" translates into taming a people, a culture, a past love-- all of this is contrasted by the sanitized post modern.

In the video, who wins? The post- modern Mr. West or the chaotic, untamed past? In reality, how will this video impact how the wider/whiter/wealthier audience understand hip hop, Black people,and consumption?

If I make any kind of sense, I have no idea, I just need the space to process that video as well. Thanks for posting. Did Kanye direct it??