Kanye West’s #Vision2020: Is there Room for Music in Politics?
Late June this year, Kanye West released his first single since the drop of his latest album Jesus Is King in October of 2019. The single, Wash Us In The Blood, featuring his protégé Travis Scott, takes an aggressive stance on the political, humanitarian and societal shape of the U.S.A in 2020; using their platforms as two of the most listened to Hip-Hop artists in the world, the lyrics are backed by a smart, forceful beat produced by the legendary Dr. Dre – a musical trio worthy of carrying the task of communicating what cannot be conveyed through words alone.
The single is undeniably sonically impressive; with the three minds behind its creation all being renowned producers themselves it’s no surprise that even the emptier moments of the track are still as catchy as the explosive apexes throughout the song. Sounding closer to the tones of his divisive 2013 release Yeezus than anything we’ve heard since; the production contributes to a seemingly carefully calculated chaos of juxtaposition against the evangelical lyrical content of the song. These two contrasting ideas help to create a track that embodies both Black American social issues and Black culture; the music video, directed by a previous collaborator of West, Arthur Jafa, visualises both of these themes perfectly. Of the collaboration ‘Love is the Message, the Message is Death‘ which featured various videos and images of Black vulnerability, culture and violence against West’s Ultralight Beam, Jafa claimed that he wanted to create cinema that ‘replicates the power, beauty and alienation of Black Music’ – the music video for Wash Us In The Blood is evidently an extension of this ideology, executed confidently in reclaiming footage that represents African-American identity. The paradoxical nature of the music, lyrics and the video all contributed to a buzz around what was coming next for Kanye West – but no one could have predicted what the single could have been promoting.
Four days after the release of Wash Us In The Blood, West confirmed his run for presidency via Twitter with the hashtag #2020VISION, starting a conversation that only Kanye could: is there a place for music in politics?
Of course, there’s room for politics in music; protest in various genres, performances and artwork is, and has been commonplace within the music industry, and especially in Hip-Hop. But the question as to whether music belongs in politics is, interestingly, very distant to anything we’ve seen before. Given the then-recent release of his politically charged single, general speculation that the ever-unpredictable Kanye West was announcing a run for presidency as merely a PR stunt wasn’t surprising – but what if it was actually the reverse? Was the single a PR stunt for political popularity? Which of these avenues would Kanye genuinely commit to? Both, of course.
July 8th saw the rapper feature in Forbe’s magazine with an interview that outlined his own campaign, ideologies and ‘tossing the MAGA hat’; it was all looking pretty serious at this point, but experts began to lay certainty to the fact that West may have been all too late for a Late Registration. The interview was certainly radical, but nothing surprising from Kanye; nothing except an unwanted resurfacing of his views on abortion. The following day, organisation Planned Parenthood spoke out against West’s ‘offensive’ comments regarding women’s ownership of their own bodies, in which he claimed that he’s ‘pro-life because [he’s] following the word of the Bible’. With the lyrics to Wash Us In The Blood being overtly religious (“Holy spirit, come down / We need you now”), the rapper’s ideologies seemed to align in both music and politics – and the line between PR stunts and renaissance endeavours became ever-blurred.
After filing with the FEC on July 16th, Kanye’s presidential run became official. Under the name of ‘Kanye 2020’, the rapper had followed up on what could have merely been as seemingly routine series of inexplicable tweets – it was really happening. As long as he could commit to the July 20th deadline to get on the South Carolina Ballot, Ye would be in the running for president. Political experts such as John Mark Hansen, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, still seemed unconvinced by the reality of Kanye’s bid for the White House. As if to see through the speculation, tweets and an official filing with the FEC, Hansen claimed that West’s intention ‘is that he gets to say he is a presidential candidate, he will get some additional publicity, and he can afford it.’
It was the following week, however, that saw Kanye’s plan take a seemingly clearer path. After his first rally and many more tweets, Kanye West officially missed the July 20th deadline to register as a candidate for South Carolina, leaving fans, experts and the curious in the dark about the future of the self-proclaimed ‘biggest Rockstar of all time’. It didn’t take long, as twitter saw.
On July 21st, West tweeted that he’d decided to ‘focus on the music now’ after appearing to realise the unrest his comments on abortion had generated within his musical fanbase – he then revealed the track list and release date, July 24th, for a new album; DONDA. The album, named after his late mother, would feature new and old tracks, with some fans recognising titles such as Hurricane as a leaked track from the unreleased 2018 project, YHANDI. As its release date came, fans were left empty-handed as the closest West came to the album was revealing the album cover. A vibrant artwork designed by CSM graduate Pierre-Louis Auvray (@forbiddenkn0wledge on Instagram), the tweet has amassed over 250K likes – unsurprisingly!
As of today – well over a month after the supposed album release date, and where we could have expected West’s presidential campaign to be in full-swing – Kanye has been relatively silent, both musically, politically and on twitter. With no White House to campaign for, and no album to be released yet (Kanye albums are 129 days late on average! @HipHopNumbers on twitter), he’s been far from a man of his word – but in true Ye fashion. Where music fans were doubting his presidential run as a PR stunt, and the politically curious speculated his prospective album to be purely for publicity, it just so turns out that neither were correct. And that’s where 2020 has truly been the most Kanye year yet for the rapper.