Youth Culture Window
Kanye West has taken the liberty of proclaiming himself to be the “voice of this generation.” When the often angry, politically-charged, and foul-mouthed rapper releases his fourth album on November 25th… I guess millions of teens will hear what he actually has to say.
The Making of a Mogul
Kanye West is relatively new to the rap scene, but it hasn’t taken him long to make a name – and millions of dollars – for himself. He got his start in the music business working behind the scenes making beats and mixes for other rappers until Jay-Z picked him up for Roc-A-Fella Records.
West soon grew weary of making music and money for others, and in 2004, he released his first album The College Dropout, followed up by Late Registration in 2005. On September 11, 2007, his third album Graduation was released, placing him in a much-hyped competition with fellow rapper 50 Cent, who also released an album that same day. Kanye outsold him in a landslide win, putting his total number of albums sold in the millions.
For his work, Kanye has earned just about every award in the music industry. His songs can usually be found at – or near – the top of music charts. This week is no exception, as Love Lockdown, a hit single off his fourth and latest album 808 and Heartbreaks, is ranked #9 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and #4 on iTunes’ TOP SONGS. His success has ensured that his music, and its message, can be heard on millions of teenager’s iPods, cell phones, and online social network sites.
Maybe that’s why he claims to be the “voice of this generation.”
In a recent interview, West proclaimed to the world, “I realize that my place and position in history is that I will go down as the voice of this generation, of this decade, I will be the loudest voice. It’s me settling into that position of just really accepting that it’s one thing to say you want to do it and it’s another thing to really end up being like Michael Jordan.”
Humble, isn’t he.
Being “the voice” of this generation or any other is an important role. His words made me pause and wonder what it was he thought he had to say, because Kanye is famous for his music, but he’s infamous for his antics.
A Painful Chronology
One of his first controversial stunts centered on his fierce backlash directed at the American Music Awards in November of 2004 when he didn’t win Best New Artist of the Year for Jesus Walks. “I felt like I was definitely robbed and I refused to give any politically correct bullsh** ass comment. I make the music from my heart ... and to be able to get Jesus Walks on the radio and everything that's happening, I was the best new artist this year, so get that other bullsh** out of here.”
Tell us how you really feel, Kanye.
After this outburst, he let his mouth get him in even more trouble. Perhaps his most notorious incident involved him going “off script” at NBC’s A Concert for Hurricane Relief held in September of 2005, after Katrina ripped through Louisiana and Mississippi. While introducing an upcoming segment with Mike Myers, West said, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” (Here’s the video of his remarks.)
Later, in an interview with Newsweek, West was asked about the conflicting messages in his songs. In one song he writes about Jesus, but in another, he writes about sex and the objectification of women. He denounces the slavery-like conditions of African workers in the diamond mines, but wears a huge rock around his neck. His justification? “I definitely have conflicts. Am I able to walk like I’m Jesus Christ? No, but I do a lot more right than wrong.”
That’s a popular – and convenient – theology.
Most people might lay low for a while given the fallout and criticism he received for this political slant.
Early in 2006, Kanye (dis)graced the cover of Rolling Stones when he donned a crown of thorns and posed as Jesus Christ. The article was titled, “The Passion of Kanye West.” In the article, West compares himself to Christ. “If I was more complacent and started to let things slide, my life would be easier, but you all wouldn't be as entertained. My misery is your pleasure.”
More recently, it appears as though Kanye is actually making his misery other people’s misery as well.
When words failed to provide him with a strong enough statement, he adopted a more hands-on approach to his offensiveness. In mid-September of 2008, Kanye and his bodyguard were arrested after an altercation with the paparazzi in the Los Angeles International Airport.
It appears as though his scuffle with the paparazzi has been replayed on the other side of the Atlantic…the week before his latest album’s release. On November 14th, British police arrested him following a ruckus with some photographers, but released him later that same afternoon.
What to Expect
The new album has been classified as “pop art” by West, which is a new genre, because he feels that his new music doesn’t fit into other previously-defined genres. However, listeners will still hear songs that call women “bitches,” while others describe the life of materialism that is unavoidably empty. There’s also a song on the album that’s dedicated to West’s late mother and manager, Donda West, who died from complications associated with cosmetic surgery.
Unfortunately, parents and youth workers can also expect these new songs to make it straight onto the playlists of teenagers across America. The album’s drop date was moved up to November 25th to take advantage of sales around the Thanksgiving season, and will be repackaged for a new wave of sales on December 16th for the Christmas season.
So, what are youth workers and parents of teens supposed to do with the “voice of this generation?” We at TheSource4YM.com strongly advise parents who have lingering doubts about Kanye’s music to dialogue with your kids about what they are looking for in a role model. This generation is one that seems to value authenticity, respecting people that are real or genuine. Let your kids take a look at some of the blatant contradictions in Kanye’s life. Is he really the spokesperson they are looking for?
As always, parents should investigate the lyrics and messages for themselves before allowing their children to purchase the CD or download the tracks. This kind of study gives parents and youth workers an even stronger platform to stand on when we converse with our teenagers about the values embedded in today’s music. We need to be willing to take a listen because we know for a fact that raunchy music negatively impacts teenage listeners.
Not only must we listen… we must also talk! We cannot allow Kanye West to be the only voice this generation hears. And when we speak, it must be often (Duet 6:1-9), loving, and genuine.
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.
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