The boundless Kanye West pushed even further last night when he bypassed traditional television and online channels and instead premiered his “New Slaves” music video on the sides of 66 buildings all across the world.
The video presentation was as revolutionary as the jarring lyrics that Yeezy spits on the song, which throws racism and consumerism into a blender and pours out a tall glass of hard-to-swallow self-reflection. ’Ye’s politically charged poetry may come off contradictory to new fans who only recently caught on to the Givenchy-wearing, $250 Air Yeezy-selling rapper, but for those keeping score, “New Slaves” is rooted in West’s 2004 The College Dropout days just as much as his post-Watch the Throne trip.
From the first line, ’Ye draws parallels to his debut. “My mama was raised in the era when/ Clean water was only served to the fairer skin,” he rhymes to start.
Even before she tragically passed away in 2007, Kanye’s mother, Donda West, inspired a great deal of his character and his music. Hearing his mother’s stories of a segregated America clearly shaped the MC’s views. It’s an inspiration that drives “New Slaves” just as it did 2004’s “Never Let Me Down,” where Kanye tells us of his grandfather and mother who protested during the Civil Rights era. “At the tender age of six she was arrested for the sit-ins/ And with that in my blood I was born to be different,” Yeezy raps, before warning us: “Racism still alive, they just be concealing it.”
The connections are plentiful. In “New Slaves” Kanye tackles being broke and not being able to “touch anything in the store” and being rich and encouraged to “buy more.” “What you want a Bentley, fur coat, a diamond chain/ All you blacks want all the same things,” he says on the new track.
It all sounds strangely familiar to “All Falls Down,” which came at a time when the rapper was obsessed with pink Ralph Lauren Polo shirts; years before he graduated to Maison Martin Margiela. “But I ain’t even gonna act holier than thou/ ’Cause f— it, I went to Jacob with 25 thou/ before I had a house and I’ll do it again/ ’Cause I wanna be on ’106 & Park’ pushin’ a Benz,” he rhymes of his then-spending habits, putting jewelry and a luxury car at the top of his wish list.
There are even remnants of his classic “Jesus Walks” single on the new tune. On “New Slaves,” West once again employs Curtis Mayfield’s famous “n—as” vocal sample from 1970’s “(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go,” but he doesn’t stop there. With the second verse on “Slaves,” West breaks down the prison-industrial complex by blasting contract-throwing corporations and the disproportionate number of blacks in jail. It’s an evolved line of thinking he touched on with “Jesus Walks,” rapping about racial profiling (“They be asking us questions, harass and arrest us”) and on “We Don’t Care,” rhyming about the lack of jobs and drug economy (“We forced to sell crack, rap and get a job”).
With its bare synth line, brooding bass and pounding drums,”New Slaves” is perfectly suited for 2013. But for anyone suggesting that Kanye West is riding a new train of thought, you might just be surprised digging up his earlier work.