NO, Kanye West is NOT the Male Lauryn Hill

Ms. Lauryn Hill released The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill five months after I gave birth to my son. I often held him while singing along to “Zion“. Ms. Hill’s voice and the lyrics were cathartic as I quietly struggled through what I now suspect was postpartum depression. With Miseducation, I fell more in love with Ms. Hill than I was when she was a member of the Fugees.

When I moved to Atlanta in 2003, seeing Ms. Hill in concert was one of my top five Atlanta To-Do list items. I don’t recall the exact date when I first saw her in concert, but I do know that I’ve seen her perform in Atlanta at least four times – at the Tabernacle, Center Stage, Chastain Park, and Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood. I also had a picture taken with her after hearing her speak to a surprised group of middle school youth at an end-of-year ceremony.

I saw “polo-and-backpacks” Kanye in concert for the first time in 2004 at Atlanta’s Centennial Park. I also attended the shows for the Watch the Throne Tour in 2011 and The Yeezus Tour in 2013 and had plans to attend the Saint Pablo Tour in 2016. I’ve bumped Kanye’s albums from The College Dropout to The Life of Pablo. I stopped listening after Pablo.

For a while, I felt – as did/do many people – Kanye was misunderstood. He was just being an eccentric artist. That was the reason – excuse – I gave. Whenever he’d speak in circular patterns at awards shows or during interviews, I’d interpret his comments and post them to my Facebook page. Eventually, some of my Facebook friends would look to my page or tag me in a post and ask me what he was trying to say. They jokingly referred to me as the “Kanye Whisperer”.

I have followed and been a fan of Ms. Hill and Kanye in various capacities. Both are artists whose work I admire, love. Both are artists whose creativity sets them apart from other artists, no matter whether that creativity is wrapped up in one studio album (and one equally and differently impressive live album…I said what I said.) or in multiple albums and production credits. Both have had some challenging life experiences. Both of them have disappointed fans.

But they are not the same. Kanye West is NOT the male Lauryn Hill.

Critiques of Ms. Hill being difficult to work with and for and being late to shows have lingered for most of her post-Fugees career. These critiques have been reignited this year Robert Glasper’s commentary about an alleged 2008 interaction and late-starting and canceled shows for her 20th Anniversary Miseducation Tour. Ms. Hill has responded to the critique, but some fans understandably find her inconsistency inconsiderate.

When Kanye was hospitalized in November, 2016, many expressed prayers for his health. But his behavior since his release have had fans, foes, and other hip hop artists see-sawing between calling for him to be saved by a Black woman to saying, “Fuck him and that Donald Trump hill  he wants to die on.”  People are convinced that he’s not “the old Kanye” – the one who said George Bush doesn’t like Black people; the one who interrupted Taylor Swift. He’s now the Kanye who meets with and idolizes President Trump, wears Make America Great Again hats, says slavery was a choice, and rants on social media, interviews, and on Saturday Night Live. Kanye is beyond inconsiderate.

At one point, I was one of Kanye’s biggest fans. I still am one of Ms. Hill’s biggest fans. I understand why people have been disappointed in and by their words and actions. But let’s be clear, suggesting that Kanye West is the Male Lauryn Hill is a false analogy. The disappointment in Ms. Hill and Kanye West are not the same. There are levels. Ms. Hill being late to or canceling shows is inconsiderate but is not comparable to Kanye’s idolization of Donald Trump, MAGA hats, and statements about slavery and the 13th amendment.

Kanye West is NOT the male Lauryn Hill. But this comparison sheds light on the unbelievably high (and unbalanced) standards to which we hold Black women. The public support that Kanye has received over the years would never have continued had he been Ms. Hill. The desire to understand where he’s coming from would not be extended to him were he Ms. Hill. Questions about his mental health and sincere calls for him to get help would not be asked or made if he were Ms. Hill.

We hold Black women to such a standard that repeatedly being late to concerts is equated with dangerous idolization and rhetoric that could potentially influence the continued marginalization and oppression of Black people. And no, I’m not reading too much into the suggestion that Kanye West is the male Lauryn Hill. We’re not reading enough into the subtle ways we tell Black women their behavior and words must always be impeccable in order to deserve a modicum of the support that we give Black men. We have canceled Black women’s careers for behaviors that we rationalize with Black men (e.g., Chrisette Michele told us she was no political genius, and we still give her the side-eye.). We have canceled Black women in our communities for behaviors that we forgive when demonstrated by Black men.

Kanye West is not the male Lauryn Hill because he’s been coddled, supported, and prayed for – in spite of and because of his words and actions.

Maybe Lauryn Hill should be the female Kanye. At least then she’d get to be late to and cancel concerts and be coddled, supported, forgiven, or pray for.

It’s time we Black men to the same high standards to which we hold Black women and nurture Black women the same way we nurture Black men. It’s time.

-Qiana M. Cutts

 

 

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An Open Letter to Renee Fisher…from a Pre-Menopausal Black Woman (and Fan of Kanye’s…Music – Who Hates the Treadmill)

Dear Renee Fisher,

I read your Open Letter to Kanye West and was compelled to respond with a different [read: subjective] perspective of Kanye West and his eccentricities. While your introduction to Kanye was through an article in US Magazine and Yahoo News, I have been familiar with him for quite a while. Since his album The College Dropout was released in 2003, I have been a fan of his music and talent as a producer [He was on the scene much earlier than 2003.]. No, I’m not always a fan of what he says or does but I respect his artistry. From the US Magazine article and Yahoo News, you learned the following: He stormed the stage when Taylor Swift was accepting her award for Best Female Video at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards [not the Grammys]. He is Kim Kardashian’s fiance and the father of their daughter North [I refuse to use the term ‘Baby Daddy’ here as it has so many connotations of which I am hoping you are not aware…because that would change the context of this post. (Yes, I realize there has been much decontextualization of the phrase to suggest its applicable across race, class, etc. BUT…context means so much and in this letter, the context is suspect.)]. And during an interview with Ryan Seacrest, he made a statement about First Lady Michelle Obama that added more members to the ‘I Don’t Like [read (for some): HATE] Kanye West’ club. There is much more to Kanye West than what you learned from a magazine article, BUT prior to discussing those factors, I must address the issues that situate your introduction to him.

In 2009, Taylor Swift won the MTV VMA award for Best Female Video for “You Belong to Me” over some noteworthy competition (Beyonce, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson, and Pink). I watched in amazement when Kanye ran on stage during Taylor’s acceptance speech and said, “Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you. I’ma let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time.” OUCH! I doubt Kanye knew just how much of a defining moment that would be for both him and Taylor. People were outraged. The blogs, news feeds, entertainment websites, etc. went crazy with Kanye criticism. Even President Barack Obama weighed in on Kanye’s statement and called him a “jacksass”. I agree, Kanye definitely made a jackass move. I felt bad for Taylor and so did Beyonce, who called Taylor on stage during her [Beyonce] win for Video of the Year to let Taylor “have her moment”. Wait, Beyonce won Video of the Year? So her video really was the best video nominated? Hmm…let’s see. Both “Single Ladies” and “You Belong to Me” have been parodied numerous times. However, only “Single Ladies” has been parodied by one of the most iconic sketch comedy and variety shows, Saturday Night Live. Only “Single Ladies” inspires grown men, senior women, and flash mobs to put on their heels [or flats] to perform their version of the song. Only “Single Ladies” won several other awards including the award for 2008 Popjustice Readers’ Poll Best Dance Routine; 2009 MTV Video Music Awards for Video of the Year, Best Choreography, and Best Editing; 2009 MTV Europe Music Awards for Best Video; AND 2009 BET Awards for Best Video. These awards are in addition to many other nominations, recognitions, etc. “You Belong to Me” won…uhm…well, it won the VMA Best Female Video award. Apparently, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” IS one of the best videos of all time. Soooooo, while Kanye’s interruption likely was not the best decision, he was right. It’s his context that was wrong.

Through US Magazine and Yahoo News, you also learned that Kanye has a daughter with Kim Kardashian. Yes, they have a daughter. No, they are not yet married. Yes, she has been married previously. Yes, they are engaged. There’s not much more to say about that. However, as we in the oh-so-cultureless popular culture world say, “It is what it is.”

One of your main issues with Kanye as identified in the letter was the statement he made about First Lady Michelle Obama during an interview with Ryan Seacrest. He said, “Nobody’s paying attention to what the Obama’s are wearing. Michelle Obama can’t Instagram a pic like what my girl Instagramed the other day”. No, the First Lady cannot Instagram a picture like Kim did and we would not expect her to do so. I agree with you on that point. However, when listening to that section of the interview in its entirety [as I doubt you have done] and considering that statement within the context, Kanye’s words could be interpreted in several ways. As I understood it, Kanye suggested that his fiancé is an inspiration to the fashion world, more so than the First Lady. Well, to some extent and in some contexts, he is right again. Wait…before you say I’m crazy…read on. No matter our opinion of Kim (and I don’t understand the negativity), she is an influential person in fashion. People pay attention to what she wears. Now, this is not to say that the First Lady is not just as influential, but she is influential in a different context. For the popular culture audience, what Kim wears is more likely to have more of an impact than what the First Lady wears. If I’m looking to purchase a cute dress, I’m more inclined to purchase one from the Kardashian line at Sears before I purchase one from Tory Burch or J. Crew [one of the First Lady’s favorite stores]. Why? Tory Burch is out of my price range and J. Crew is more for the close-to/post-menopausal, upper/middle class, ultra conservative, soccer mom. And I’m a little more pre-menopausal, working/slightly middle class [Yes, I’m a professor…but I feel working class.], liberal, screaming football mom. Of course, whenever the First Lady wears an item, it sells out of the stores. So yes, we DO pay attention to the First Lady’s clothing. She is VERY influential. And we appreciate that, in addition to wearing the high fashion pieces, she wears affordable pieces from stores like the Gap, H&M, and Target. But let’s be honest, when a pre-menopausal 18-40ish female thinks fashion, it’s very unlikely that she first thinks First Lady Michelle Obama. Again, it’s all about context. So maybe Kanye’s most significant gaffe in his brief mention of the First Lady was that he did not consider context.  

There were a few others ideas expressed in your letter that had me scratching my head. First, the suggestion that popular culture is not culture is ludicrous (to me). Second, Kanye made the statement about the First Lady, not Kim. So as woman, I was surprised and dismayed that you used the letter as an opportunity to highlight your perceptions of Kim as just a “giant booty”. Third, I’m not feeling the mention of Kanye as being minimally worthy of “taking up space with talking dogs”. There’s just something about the contention that a person is not as worthy as an animal that makes me feel some type of way. [The ‘some type of way’ is one of those cultureless popular culture statements.]

Your definition of culture indicates that culture is a “human intellectual achievement” that defines society and serves as a legacy for future generations. It is the contributions of arts, government, and science/mathematics left to us by the Roman Empire, the Pharaonic Egyptians, and the ancient Asian dynasties. Popular culture, on the other hand [as I interpreted your statements], is a mere following of untalented, minimally intellectual, working class and poor people who love only fashion, sports, writing, and reality television. With this contention, I have to disagree. Popular culture IS culture. There are a number of academic journals, websites, conferences, etc. that serve as spaces to examine the many ways in which popular culture impacts on our daily lives. Popular culture scholars analyze the intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexuality, religion, etc. with media, technology and access. Popular culture shapes our world and contributes to arts, government, science/mathematics, and politics. The fact that you were able to write and circulate your open letter to Kanye West is due to popular culture. So don’t knock it…when you benefit from it.

Kim Kardashian is a beautiful woman. She is famous for being a beautiful woman, or as Kanye acknowledged, “My girl’s a superstar all from a home movie“. For some reason, many people seem to be upset that she’s famous for being famous. Based on your comments, I wonder if you are one of those people. Your words demonstrated that we women are indeed tougher on one another than we are on men. You described Kim as being nothing more than a fantasy and critiqued her for capitalizing on her looks. You further noted that we are only fascinated with Kim because of the clothes she wears [read: You agree with Kanye, huh?]. But is that a bad thing? Are we not fascinated with models because of the clothes they wear? Are we not fascinated with designers because of the clothes they design for models to wear? Going back to the discussion of popular culture being culture, are we not still enamoured with Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Princess Diana because of the clothes they wore? Yes, Marilyn was an actress. Jackie O. was a First Lady. Diana was the Princess of Wales and a community activist. However, when we first think of these women, do we not remember them primarily because of the clothes they wore? Do we not view them as fashion icons [read: popular culture icons]? So please tell me, what’s wrong with being the source of fascination all because of what you are wearing? [read again: I’m not sure if you noticed this, but your focus on Kim as a mere result of the interest in what she’s wearing gives some credibility to Kanye’s statement. She IS fashionably influential.] 

Finally, I get that you were trying to suggest that Kanye is insignificant, as a talking dog would be (to you). But the attempt to define him as a classless, unintellectual, pretentious, self-absorbed, and insignificant person missed the mark and is in need of rebuttal. Since you are not sure what classism is, there is no need to address that part of your letter. I would describe Kanye in a number of ways, but unintellectual is not one of them. I will even agree that he is sometimes pretentious and self-absorbed. But he is also passionate, outspoken, creative, driven and extremely talented. For many people, the pretentiousness and absorption seem to outweigh the other personality traits. Not for me. For me, Kanye is complex. In a recent interview on Jimmy Kimmel, Kanye stated, “So you are going to love me, or you’re going to hate me, but I’m going to be me”. He’s going to be Kanye. He makes statements about political figures when others in the public eye will not. He loved [and lost] the most important woman in the world to him in 2007 [and arguably hasn’t been ‘right’ since that time]. He looks forward to parenting his daughter and adores his fiancé.  He aggravates people with his actions and words, most recently by sporting the Confederate flag on a jacket. He is imperfect. He thinks highly of himself as an artist. He gives back to his community [although there are reports that indicate otherwise]. He is complex…and yes, he is significant [as evidenced by your letter, my response, and the media frenzy that constantly surrounds him]. Don’t get me wrong, you are not alone in your disdain for Kanye. Many people have applauded your letter and reposted it to various sites. I am not surprised. From news outlets to blogs to social networking sites, people love to hate [such a strong word] Kanye West. I’m just not one of those people.

As I read your letter, I had to read it in its context: coming from a White post-menopausal anti-popular culture woman whose introduction to Kanye probably was incited by the boredom of being on the most awful piece of exercise equipment imaginable – the treadmill. Of course, Kanye rubs some people the wrong way, but there’s good in him [especially in his music] like there’s good in all of us [despite our flaws]. Try to see that G.O.O.D. Music in him. And the next time you’re on the treadmill in need of motivation, instead of thumbing through a popular culture magazine or scrolling through search engine news feeds, listen to Kanye’s “The New Workout Plan“. Or listen to the entire The College Dropout album. I’m not saying it will make you any less disgusted with Kanye, but it will definitely make your treadmill time go by a little faster and keep you from being “sucked into” the cultureless world of popular culture.

Qiana

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