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Jeen-Yuhs, Afrofuturism & Baudrillards Hyperreality: Examining Kanye Wests Role in Black Culture

"Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?"

-Charles Bukowski

What are your natural drivers? What compels you to action?

Inspiration is a compulsion. It’s a divine driver, a transcendent call to action. It was inspiration that led Einstein to his discoveries that warped our perception of reality, & it was inspiration that put man on the moon.

Inspiration is something very personal to you, like staring at stars in the night sky or waves on the beach. You’ve been inspired and have inspired all throughout your life for a variety of different reasons. Inspiration is a jolt of energy, the same jolt that compels a bee to make honey or a mountain to form, it’s an evolutionary drive we have yet to understand that is connected to existence itself. When you are guided by inspiration the task is the end goal, you feel like you’re doing what you’re meant to be doing.

Eddie Murphy once talked about watching television as a child in Brooklyn and seeing Richard Pryor on the screen, he said he instantly felt in his being that it was exactly what he was supposed to be.

Eddies goal wasn’t to be in the categories of rich and famous stand up comic at first, it was just to be what Richard Pryor was. The categories were placed on him by society, he was purely inspired in the most abstract sense because something in his being compelled him. That's the role of culture: to inspire, progress, develop & evolve civilization. Thousands of kids watched that same special but not everyone had that feeling and ultimately there is only one Eddie Murphy. You can only know what’s possible once you’re able to conceptualize it, and to conceptualize something, oftentimes, you have to see it in order to be inspired.

There are few artists who have inspired me throughout my life as much as Kanye West, and the older I get, especially after the Jeen-Yuhs documentary, the more I admire what that man has been able to accomplish, artistically but more sociologically than anything. Kanye talks about Black Future Month but it's also important to see what role he has had in shaping Black History and modern culture.

Kanye is a renaissance man whos influence in the current digital enlightenment is reflected in an entire generation of people, from how the internet looks today, to mainstream artists like Donald Glover, Jaden Smith, A$AP Rocky, Tyler The Creator, and Drake, to what modern street wear looks like, what modern film looks like, what the modern soundscape sounds like, our approach to design, aesthetics, & digital consumerism, basically all of modern culture is globally influenced by Kanye West on some level.

Kanye talks about combatting the “war on traditional thinking” and it’s usually reduced to everything but the revolutionary way of life he is ideologically at the forefront of, even if he was not alone in creating and shaping it. Kanye is different because he is standing on the cultural shoulders of giants by being unapologetically himself, regardless of what the world has to say about him, and he ended up becoming the richest black man in the world while doing it.

Reality is a field of infinite potential, in that reality we exist within a man made structure Jean Baudrillard dubbed a hyperreality in his book Simulacra and Simulations, which heavily influenced the Yeezus album. This Hyperreality has been projected onto us. Its been built and designed for centuries before any one of us was born. The reality we perceive in our postmodern world is a world saturated with imagery, infused with communications media, sound, and commercial advertising. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, and our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind. The hyperreality has many categories and labels to confine you in, but what if you were unrestricted & uncategorized?

In a world that attempts to control and manipulate people with low self esteem, Kanye represents the idea of breaking out of categories and labels. He represents following what inspires you, doing whatever you feel like doing, not being controlled or limited by people’s perceptions or opinions of you, believing in yourself, going after everything you want and doing it at the highest level possible.

There’s a movie called Alice coming out in March starring Keke Palmer, the movie is based on a true story about a woman who escaped slavery in the 1960s, only to find out it had been abolished for almost a century. This was not uncommon, there are several stories of slaves escaping slavery decades after abolition only to realize that it had only been maintained because they believed they were slaves. The only remaining shackles were mental after the law had deemed them free, the owners just manipulated the slaves lack of information of the world outside of the plantation they were born into.

Slaves would be put into what was described as a "hellish state" which is being confined to ignorance, made to feel inferior, made to not think past their mere survival, and then turned into beasts of burden. Their only drivers were those of their masters wishes, their only compulsions were survival instincts, it was illegal for them to read and write, they were mentally shackled above all else. Their thinking was literally put into a box.

In the modern day, certain people never leave the two block radius they were born into their entire lives, or they remain in their social media feedback loop and that becomes their entire worldview. That’s why a lot of people become drug dealers or do heinous acts that corrupt the broader community, they really don’t know any better because they literally haven’t seen any better, they can’t conceptualize any better.

It’s hard to imagine your own game when you’ve been born into someone else’s game. They wrote the code, they wrote the language, they made the rule book, they designed the space, they set the standard, they established what right & wrong looks like, what winning and losing looks like, and they drilled it into your brain from the moment you were born. How could you know anything of the world outside of that?

Artists have always been tasked with creating the culture and finding alternative ways to live outside of the rigid confines and dogma that society would like to categorize us within, and none more so than Black artists throughout the world, especially in the 20th century when Kanye was starting out. Black people were globally leaving colonial bondage and this began breeding new ideologies and artistic movements.

Kanye represents finding your highest aspiration, outside of anyone else’s perspectives or categories of what your aspirations should be, and then doing everything in your power in order to make it happen.

In The United States before there was Hip Hop & Kanye West, the first cultural exploration of the boundaries of category started with Jazz. Jazz is a multitude of things from fashion to philosophy, art, literature, & so much more. Jazz is an entire culture and way of being.

Jazz was originally seen in the same way Hip Hop is viewed today. It was a way of dressing, a way of speaking, a way of carrying yourself in the world that was not confined to the ideas that society had of you. Jazz artists were rebels that would smoke weed. It was the thing all the youth gravitated towards. Jazz directly and indirectly led to the civil rights movement and various icons like James Baldwin, & Muhammad Ali who was a poet as well as a masterful boxer. Jazz artists instilled a sense of black pride and culture as seen in the Harlem Renaissance with Langston Hughes, Thelonius Monk and various other Jazz artists.

This led to Miles Davis, who much like Kanye West, was at the forefront of fashion, philosophy, film, poetry, literature, visual art, & every other possible facet of creativity you can think of because he was in pursuit of transcendence, which was the foundation of jazz culture. He revolutionized film noir, jazz poetry & painting, there was even music to the way he spoke because he was figuring out a way of being in the world that was not confined by the categories that society was attempting to place on him.

Jazz culture led to various multidisciplinary artists like Gordon Parks who was a filmmaker, playwright, author, photographer and composer.

The entire culture of jazz was able to be sophisticated & intellectual while simultaneously being cool. At first Jazz was still slightly Eurocentric by adopting various classical music sensibilities, suits and ties, & traveling around Europe. Miles Davis would hang out with Existential authors like Jean Paul Sartre & date singers like Juliette Greco.

Jazz practitioners were free black men that became global ambassadors, they were able to mesh with their surroundings regardless of their place in the world because their music was universal. They would speak through their horns. Through that they gained access to the entire world and were able to educate themselves firsthand. Jazz musicians became the first true American vanguards, and those artists continued to push the confines of category.

As Jazz continued to grow the artists began adopting various African aesthetics and traditions to their practice. Artists like Sun Ra were breaking out of all categories by adopting traits from Afrofuturism and various African spiritualities decades before Yeezus. Artists like Funkadelic, Jimi Hendrix and Pharoah Sanders also began adopting various Afro futuristic and Ancient Egyptian spiritual messaging in their art. Even Miles Davis began fusing various African sounds as well as changing his fashion later in his life to an Afro futuristic aesthetic.

The African artists began attempting to find Africans relationship to technology and place in the future from an African lens, with African architecture, and African infrastructural and technological development, by African artists, architects and coders. It was about reaching to the past and bringing it towards the future in an amalgamation towards the most conducive way of being, genetically, culturally and biologically, not just assimilating to a western version of being.

Breaking from the confines of category was a consistent trait in the African diaspora. On the other side of the world in Jamaica, Marcus Garvey said a black king would be crowned in Africa and that started the entire Rastafarian faith when Haile Selassie became emperor of Ethiopia. This was a monumental occasion for the Rastas in Jamaica who saw Haile Selassie as the second coming of Christ. The Rastafarian faith was built on black pride and self sovereignty, it was about self sufficiency, being in harmony with the way of being and discovering individual culture by way of just existing. The Rasta’s believed the codes of being were in the Rastamans DNA. This grew into Reggae music that was started by Lee Scratch Perry and various producers in Jamaica as a spiritual and political movement, and it was ultimately popularized in the mainstream by Bob Marley. The Reggae artists were developing their own culture outside of the confines of the reality projected on them, with Bob famously saying "emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds"

DJ Kool Herc was a Jamaican producer who took his musical reggae rhythms, as well as philosophical, ideological and cultural perspectives from Jamaica back to America for the dawn of Hip Hop.

Hip Hop started on August 11, 1973 on 1520 Sedgwick avenue at a birthday party, as a way to make DJ Kool Herc some money on the side. It was a way for really creative kids to stay off the streets, at peace and make them some money. Hip Hop merged jazz philosophies, Rasta and reggae philosophies, sensibilities and more into the crafting of an overarching cultural melting pot of the various cultures in the 5 boroughs of New York.

Hip Hop created a generation of Renaissance men. It was a way of being, it cultivated these kids into masters of bending sound, they became wordsmiths like Nas, philosophers capable of cogency & savant style storytelling, they were masterful artists that beautified their environments, the rundown trains and coal smeared tunnels became world wonders with kaleidescopic colours to marvel at, the broken homes and shattered glass were turned into the finest art with Basquiat famously using broken doors he found on the floor and various garbage to paint on, & ultimately becoming the highest selling artist in human history. The kids would train their bodies through acrobatics, and martial art maneuvers they incorporated into their dances, they created their own fashion and aesthetic movements, they were taught to beautify their world, question their society, and make money while doing it.

The kids looked for solace in the arts in every way they could and it created the booming New York art market like the infamous East Village art movement with Renaissance men like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Fab Five Freddie & more, it all stems back to the rise of Hip Hop.

Basquiat was a musician, a painter, an actor, and a whole host of other things. He was also at the forefront of fashion, thought and aesthetics. All of these artists paved the way for Kanye, and Kanye paved the way for an entire generation.

Hip Hop was born out of NOI and Black panther ideals of doing for self, building your own, self governing, creating your own products, economy & being self sustaining, Jazz cultures approach to art, fashion and aesthetics, afrofuturism, as well as Rastafarian ideologies of self sovereignty, and Kanye West is Hip Hop personified, as well as the richest black man alive today. He's a visual artist, a rapper, a producer, and a performer, he embodies all of the pillars of Hip Hop and he represents the newest frontier of Black culture.

Kanye wasn't taken seriously by people because most of Hip Hop at that time had been gangster rap. Even though Ye was middle class, he had come from a harsh environment in Chicago, he just chose to dedicate all of his time into creating the illest beats the world had ever seen, and he was trying to earn his respect as a rapper. Kanye lived Hip Hop, it wasn't just a job for him. Creating music and drums was a way for him to hone in on his African sensibilities, and later with albums like Yeezus he would channel Afrofuturism & Egyptian spirituality.

Kanye’s philosophy that is depicted in the Jeen Yuhs documentary is the philosophy & aspirations of what Hip Hop could ideally be, & its exactly why he is in the position he’s in. Ye refused to be confined to the categories that society had confined him to.

There can be no creativity if everyone is part of the algorithm. The world has carved out a path for you & it really is a daily choice to follow it, or not.

Jeen Yuhs shows us exactly how many hurdles Ye had to overcome just to get to where he’s at and the philosophies and ideologies that kept him pushing through to making it as the biggest superstar on Earth, and ultimately one of the biggest moguls we’ll ever see.

Kanye had a powerful mother who gave him a solid foundation that made him believe he could do anything he set his mind to, but it clearly wasn’t just filling his head with fantasies. Kanye’s mother invested in her child’s interests and inspirations, his own love for his craft kept him pushing and he was guided by inspiration across the available outlets of creativity.

We’ve all heard the “you can be anything” speech but if you haven’t seen anyone around you do something then it’s hard to conceptualize it. Anyone can say they want to be the greatest musician and designer of all time, but how many people are actually going to dedicate time, energy, and effort into that initial inspirational jolt? How many will sustain that inspiration for decades?

The hyperreality has a vested interest in a society of people with low self esteem. Kanye was not shackled by the limitations of perception. Kanye believed in himself from the start, but it wasn’t just delusion, he dedicated every moment he had into being around the greatest practitioners of every craft he was inspired to practice, he studied it and attempted to master it.

He believes in himself, sets his mind to something, and then does everything in his power to make it happen. It wasn’t just delusional grandeur where you believe you’re superior without having done any real work. He wanted to be the best producer so he spent all of his time producing, studying Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones and working closely with No-ID and Just Blaze. He wanted to be the best fashion designer so he interned at fashion houses in Italy and spent time studying Alexander McQueen and all the greatest designers. He wanted to be the best rapper so he spent all his time rapping and studying Tupac, Mos Def, Jay Z and Scarface. He wanted to have funny punchlines so he spent time studying Dave Chappelle and Jamie Foxx. When he wanted to start singing he spent time studying Michael Jackson. Now he wants to be an architect and he's studying Victor Gruen & various urban designers and communes. Kanye has always been dedicated to being whatever he wanted to be outside of the categories society tried to place him in.

In the modern world we are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, and our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind. Through iconography, media, branding, education, economics, marketing, employment, consumerism, on some level everyone is trying to manipulate your trajectory in life for their will, and even if it’s not always malicious, it is always present.

Our cities are curated in various boardrooms and our futures in it are predetermined. Our cities are designed in a certain way, the economic systems are designed in a certain way, the industries are designed in a certain way, and most of us are maneuvering through the maze.

Advertisements are made to pick at our self esteem, we are made to feel worthless and incompetent so the solution could be sold to us, and we are made dependent on the infrastructure, it’s a ruthless yet genius financial plan to create a generation of human beings with low self esteem. Our ancestors used to be able to farm but most of us have lost that from our repertoire of skills due to the accessibility of grocery stores.

Kanye realized this early and when society told Ye to stop making beats, he went and became a platinum selling producer, when they told him to stick to making beats, he became the number one rapper in the world, when they told him stick to music, he became the greatest fashion designer the world has ever seen. They said stick to fashion so he started building buildings. Ye has been able to consistently & unapologetically be himself, because he remembers who he was before society told him who he should be. He was led by what inspired him. When you are guided by inspiration the task is the end goal, you feel like you’re doing what you’re meant to be doing.

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