Monday, September 05, 2005

"The smartest man in pop music"

Jim DeRogatis puts the latest outburst of Chicago's Kanye West -- criticizing President Bush on national TV during telethon -- into context in your Chicago Sun-Times:
A week after being hailed as "the smartest man in pop music" on the cover of Time magazine, and four days after the release of his second album "Late Registration," which is expected to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart tomorrow with sales of nearly a million copies, West appeared beside comedian Mike Myers as one of several entertainers who urged Americans to donate to relief efforts during a telethon broadcast live on NBC and its affiliated networks Friday night.

West did not perform, nor did he deliver the statement that had been written for him, which visibly shocked Myers. Instead, in a nervous and emotional voice, the 28-year-old rapper first criticized the media's portrayal of African Americans in the devastated city of New Orleans and the warnings issued by President Bush and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco that looters would be shot on sight.

"I hate the way they portray us in the media," West said. "If you see a black family, it says they're looting. See a white family, it says they're looking for food. ... They've given them permission to go down and shoot us." ***

West emerged as its new political firebrand, with a larger audience and more access to the mainstream than any rapper since Public Enemy's Chuck D, who declared in the late '80s that rap music "is the black CNN."

Like Chuck D, West grew up in a middle-class family that did not turn its back on the harsh realities of life in the ghetto but viewed political action and education as the paths to reform. His mother, Donda West, recently retired as chairwoman of the English Department at Chicago State University. His father, Ray West, is a former Black Panther active in the South Shore neighborhood, now serving as a Christian marriage counselor.

Unlike Public Enemy, which was famously criticized for embracing some of the anti-Semitic views of the Nation of Islam, West's beliefs reflect those of millions of mainstream Americans strong on family values, the merits of hard work and Christian teachings. Indeed, the message of "Jesus Walks," the phenomenal hit from his 2004 album "The College Dropout," is that anything is possible with the help of Christ, a theme that allies him with many of Bush's core supporters.

But Friday, West's statements were much closer to those being made by critics of the Bush administration from across the racial and political spectra. And while he is being criticized by many on the right -- and will no doubt pay a price with some lost album sales and less radio play in more conservative markets -- he did Americans a service by putting the issue on the table for national debate.
West's new album is available here.

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