Donda, Dollas, and Dapitalism
Updated: Nov 18, 2021
With the release of Kanye’s 10th studio album coinciding with the end of my boycott of his music I had a lot to look forward to. I had stopped listening to his music and any music in which he was featured for a little over two years (for reasons I’ll get into later) and had gone as far as making playlists of songs that Kanye had sampled based off of the different moods that the songs embodied. For those curious, here they are:
I know, it’s a lot. You’ve prolly already correctly guessed that I was/am a bit obsessed with Kanye’s music. When I first discovered his music the year was 2016 and he already had a bit of a... reputation. To the point where I used to listen to him exclusively while showering (not that way you pervs) just to make sure no one would find out. After a while I became more confident in my appreciation of his music. You might already recoil at the idea of this white kid describing listening to Kanye like I was suffering some sort of oppression, brace yourselves because this section about young me is chock full of cringey bullshit.
I would listen to his music all the time, have a million quotes of his that I loved and could fit into practically any conversation. I still remember the day where I finally started listening to his other music (the ones after the teddy bear era) and I was appalled. My entire perception of his music had been based on an artist who captured the ludicrous luxuries of “Hollywood” lifestyles specifically to parody them and show how detrimental the glamour really was. My initial reaction to his later work had been one of disgust. I couldn’t believe that he had suddenly betrayed the parodying of glamour and had begun blindly embracing the pernicious world he had spent so much time ridiculing. Yes, I was aware that he had also embodied it but with lines like “we all self conscious, I’m just the first to admit it” and “the prettiest people do the ugliest things, on the road to riches and diamond rings”, I had always seen his own involvement as an involuntary bi-product of his talent. After a while I started to love those albums too, thinking that, even if my image of him had changed, Kanye wasn’t the worst and I could still enjoy his music.
And then he put on the MAGA hat. I just couldn’t take it any more. The boycott was on. I’m laughing at myself while typing this remembering how high and mighty I felt while boycotting him, how offended I got over someone whom I never met. Keep in mind that I boycotted many artists and companies, but none like I did with Kanye. I didn’t go around making playlists of the music in Roman Polanski’s movies. Nor would I ever go on unhinged rants about the brilliance of Kevin Spacey’s acting on a weekly basis. Despite being the one person who would always go sit down the moment “American Boy” inevitably started playing at a party, I was still hooked on Kanye, as an artist.
So what happened? Why did I stop boycotting him? To put it briefly, an overwhelming amount of boycotts end before meaningful change or a desired outcome is achieved. I’d like to argue that that’s actually always the case. Unless you're a liberal or a conservative, you’ve prolly never felt satisfied by the result of your boycotting. Before Donda came out, I had realized that the effects of boycotting are mostly harmless, if not actively profitable (see Hbomberguy’s great video on Woke Brands), to the people and companies being targeted. On an individual level, our withdrawal of monetary support does less than nothing when directed towards brands and people who’s net worth is beyond comprehension. Money is never the equivalent of a direct democracy, or even a representative one, you don’t vote with your wallet because these enterprises know exactly how to fool you into forking over more cash and know exactly how to exploit the labor they require to maintain their ungodly growth. If you want to see real change you have to really disrupt these companies in ways that don't involve the same capitalist system they love to manipulate. You should organize with others and operate through violence, not in passive protest. Demand systemic changes with bullets and battle cries, blazing a path towards freedom from capitalist and state control. Ultimately, Kanye is just one guy and I’m just one guy, so why bother continuing this weird hatred of mine when I was so obviously craving to hear his sweet sweet screeching again?
This long winded introduction might’ve already given you a snapshot of my many unhinged rants about Ye as well as my cringey criticism of his life. But this article is called "Donda", so what’s there to talk about Donda? In order to dissect the mind shattering revelation I had from a single line in one of the songs, rapped by a guest artist no less, that somewhat correlates to the very reason I had started boycotting Yeezy in the first place, I have decided to approach the topic with one part focusing on the audience of rap music and another part on the rap artists themselves. Without further ado: Donda. Doooonda. Doooooonda Dooonda. Donda.
So what’s the line that blew me knickers off? Was it really the opening chant? Fuck no! But with all this unnecessary buildup I hope you aren’t disappointed by the sheer simplicity of it.
“Kanye and Jay-Z still brothers they both billionaires.”
What this means for the rap artists
Something I used to say while boycotting Kanye which I still agree with (although for somewhat different reasons) is that the reason every rapper was shitting themselves over disavowing their Yeezus figure was because he had said the quiet part out loud. So many rappers have made their career out of coming from positions of oppression. The combination of economic and racial oppression has forced many rappers to be denied the many luxuries of our Neo-Liberal system. Rapping about expensive cars, jewelry and alcohol is a way of shoving it down the throat of white hegemony that they have become exactly what they were never expected to be: successful. There are countless rap songs that compare the horrors of abject poverty and racial violence to the newfound pleasures of popping bottles and being able to live a life of complete debauchery.
But does debauchery mean emancipation? Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly satisfying to listen to people who have been persecuted be able to shove the persecution right up the overly tight assholes of bigwigs. But just as robbing a bank is a great way to steal money from the powers that be, the spending of stolen money turns it into another profitable venture for capitalism. When an artist like Jay-Z, in his album 4:44, explains how he screwed up by spending recklessly in the same breath as “what’s better than one billionaire, two?” he’s not proposing any meaningful change to the status quo. There are a lot of amazing critiques of our racist societies in the music of Kanye and Jay-Z but they fall incredibly short of actually escaping that very same society. Young me might’ve thought that there was parody in his first three albums, and they are definitely full of humor, but they are the equivalent of Che Guevara shirts sold at Target!
Rappers live on the easy spending of money that record labels generate for them (and often screw over the same rappers while doing so) and their music is absolutely a reflection of this. They are not revolutionaries. Kanye was a red flag wearing a red hat because he showed that class interest can trump anything (pun intended). It doesn’t matter if the GOP is outspokenly racist, they are the ones giving tax cuts to the rich. The fact they are more outspoken in their racism means that it was a lot easier to see why it was fucked up for Kanye to support Trump but Jay-Z is no better. In standing side by side with Hillary “Super Predators” Clinton, Jay-z and Beyonce have shown unequivocal support for the exact same status quo that Kanye had advertised with a red hat. Yes, they’re still friends, why? Because they’re fucking BILLIONAIRES!
What this means for audiences of rap music
Fans have enjoyed the incredibly diverse and fluid genre of rap despite it’s faults for decades. Whether it’s homophobia, misogyny, transphobia, etc… the artists of this genre have always excelled at producing music that makes you dance without having you think about exactly what you're listening to. Now’s the moment where I say that obviously rap is by far not the worst or only offender, it just so happens to be the genre I’m writing about.
When you do listen to artists like “Dead Prez”, “RTJ”, “Rage Against the Machine”, “Black Thought”, etc… you can be delighted, shocked and informed by provocative lyrics that do confront the status quo. They also have their own share of bragging but here comes the nuance. In a capitalist world, there is the inevitability that we all perpetuate capitalism. Our consumption is inherently unethical and plays into the hands of the worst people and companies on this planet. When we discover that the lead vocalist of Rage Against the Machine is one of the wealthiest artists alive we shouldn’t immediately denounce him for being rich. However, when these artists band together to propose solutions that play into the status quo and enable the protection of their accumulated wealth, then you have a Jay-Z or a Kanye.
Jay-Z or Kanye don’t have to become activists for Anarchy or Socialism for you to hear them out. I’m not advocating for people to become pawns in my personally preferred revolution. I respect their work as much as I critique it. Like I said before, I’m just a person and so are they. As audience members we should be able to critically evaluate the way that rappers bring forth their structural critiques and create our own understanding of the world. It is a shame that many rappers choose to simply isolate issues like race or capitalist exploitation rather than view it as the intersectional struggle that it truly is but, hey, we can glue the pieces together because we actually want to.
Don’t expect these rappers to suddenly abandon the red cap and pick up the red and black flag. Don’t be fooled into thinking that they are part of the revolution. Don’t be so condescending as to refer to them as though they are a piece in the puzzle of your own construction. They are people who have shit to say and as useful as it may be, they are not on your side and at this point you don’t need them to be. You can learn from what they have to say, enjoy the lyrical mastery they command over the English language or just enjoy it for the sake of enjoying music.
One long ramble later
So all of this is to say what exactly? That we should or shouldn’t listen to rap more closely depending on how we feel? What kind of statement is that! Ok, ok. Hear me out. This is why I decided to start off this article by talking about my boycotting of Kanye. When I was young I thought that Kanye had gone too far. Now, as a (slightly) more mature Anarchist, I can see that Kanye and Jay-z are actually cut of the same cloth. They are billionaire brothers who protect their position despite the veneer of one being more reasonable than the other. I also believe that rap is an incredibly diverse genre that has, in it’s embracing of luxury, falsely proclaimed emancipation through the lens of success of the very same people that have oppressed them. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t enjoy their wealth, we live in a capitalist system so what else are they going to do with that money? But to put this spending in perspective I’ve decided to finish this article off with a quote from RTJ’s single, featuring the lead singer of RATM:
“Look at all these slave masters posing on your dollar.”
PS: And for you reading this who feels revolted, maybe it’s because you now yearn for revolution? If so, then: communicate, organize and never capitulate!