You Don’t Understand Kanye, Because You Don’t Understand History

“You Don’t Understand Kanye, Because You Don’t Understand History” by Che “Rhymefest” Smith MUHAMMAD-ALI-SHOWING-OFF-HIS-RIGHT-FIST-CHICAGO-USA-1966-1-C31721

I recently saw a wonderful film called The Trials Of Muhammad Ali. The film documents Ali’s fall from grace as he joined an obscure religious cult called the Nation Of Islam. The Loud Mouth Egotistical athlete once named Cassius Clay, had the audacity to legally change his name to something people of that time in America never heard. In the movie Ali’s own mother appealed to the media to help her son and she alluded to the opinion that he was crazy and brainwashed by this cult.


When Ali decided not to go to Vietnam partly because in his words “no Vietnamese ever called me Nigger”, the whole country turned on him. He maintained a few fans but by and large Muhammad Ali was ostracized from mainstream society, imprisoned and stripped of his heavy weight title. The experience Ali had is historically similar to many visionaries, revolutionaries and misunderstood geniuses. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. could barely find black churches that would accept him in their doors let alone host him to march in their cities.  King’s opposition to the Vietnam War made him a pariah in this country, and especially in large parts of the black community.


As I listen to the recent interviews Kanye West is giving I hear a man talking about how we deserve a seat at the table of “power”, not that fake “they gave me a great job” nonsense. I hear a man saying how hard he’s worked and personally invested in a dream only to be thwarted by the corporations that clutch to their power like cold corpses.

I hear 2Pac saying “they can’t take us out until we decide to leave” (white manz world).
I hear Malcolm X saying “enough singin, time for some swinging.”
I hear Jack Johnson saying “I’m a man and can be with whoever I choose”.
If you listen to Kanye West and all you hear is ego, and whining I submit that as with all of the aforementioned heroes I named, we had to wait for the world to mature in order to understand their message. Kanye is from the future, and the earth must rotate to allow you time to catch up.

10 thoughts on “You Don’t Understand Kanye, Because You Don’t Understand History

  1. Good piece. Could have been a little longer with some more details and opinion.

    I agree with what you are saying. It takes time for a genius to be understood. It sort of like artists. Their pieces could be worth shit, but when they die and years later, the pieces are hung in museums and people millions for their work.

    As a society it takes us time to catch up with brilliance and forward thinking of revolutionaries.

  2. I don’t see why its so hard for people to understand what hes saying, other than their reaction to celebritys being for or against. U mentioning all those other guys should have also been unnecessary, but I guess people need to see comparisons for them to take the blinders off. I see Kanye as a trailblazer, he didn’t have to relay to the world or (black people especially) the conditions at the top, without him doing so we would have never known or cared, because as some put him down they say “its just fashion”.

    My take on Kanye is that in his arena that hes trying to thrive in which is fashion and creating, hes been to the top but theres a stop sign that says only whites allowed at the next level and hes the only black that isnt stopping an being content, I don’t even think Oprah passed that stop sign, she pulled out a chair sat down an started sipping wine and has never got up, how do I know that? White people love her as one of their own. But yeah I’m all for supporting Kanye, but I would be foolish to sit here an think he isn’t selfish, and these 1st black person to do stuff titles are old an tired an don’t mean anything in 2013 if they are uplifting the rest, but I’m all for Kanye being the 1st black man at the power table if hes about what he says hes about. But if he rocks the boat too much in the wrong ways he may get tossed overboard.

  3. Kanye is dealing with something most of us regular black folk will never have to, and that’s racism AND classism. While we do deserve a seat at the table of power, I don’t think he should seek it from white folks who look at him as just another nigga from Chicago. That’s unhealthy for his psych, and he’s totally ignoring his own avenues to an extent. Kanye is simply tired, because I’m sure Ms.Donda told him that he could be and do whatever he wants, when in reality, *sometimes* you can’t. I understand Kanye though: A young black man trying to shy away from the box society puts him in, like a Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, etc.

  4. I respectfully disagree. I like Kanye’s music but the men you mentioned were fighting for a purpose greater than themselves and their own fame. Ali got political, MLK, X and 2Pac all became involved in the political process in one way or another. Kanye has yet to show us he is social conscious. On the contrary, his public political persona is one of ignorance. He may rap about a few issues (more so in his earlier albums), but thats just it. People need to separate the rapper from the person. No one can deny Kanye makes good music (no pun intended). But as an individual he is an arrogant cocky son of a —–. We don’t deny his musical genius, we deny his claims that he is the biggest thing in fashion and a modern day Warhol. Sorry bro, but as a student of history, especially the 60’s and 70’s, I can confidently say Kanye has not had the cultural impact that Andy Warhol had. Not even close. If anything, Kanye is destroying his legacy with his outlandish behavior. To us intellectually informed members of the Hip Hop community it simply appears like he’s trying too hard. The men you mentioned from the past decades tried changing the world with thought and deed. THAT is the difference. Kanye is feeling himself too much. He’s dope, but he’s not at the level he delusionally thinks he is. Tell Yae to stop going for self and operate for the empowerment and enrichment of the impoverished community who propelled him to superstardom.

  5. I hear echos of the reveloutionary voices referenced in the op-ed at root of the point Mr. West has been trying to drive home. However, the egomanical manner in which its expressed obscures the message. His insistance on validation & sanction from the so-called “power brokers” artificially traps him in a subservient position and implies that he lacks the ability to determine his own destiny. Rather than beg for a seat at another man’s table, he needs to accept that his ideas need their own platform and work from the ground up to build an institution that would serve as last legacy to his genius.

  6. A few that have commented before me have expressed opinions I agree with. I will only add that Kanye needs to learn some humility as well as learn to communicate better. I feel Kanye on many things and he says a lot of things that make sense, but his reputation proceeds him. He has done some very unlikable things in the past (Taylor Swift and George Bush) that tarnished his image with many people on both sides. He’s just not likable, so every and any thing he says needs to be thought out carefully and delivered in a way that people can understand or want to listen to. That’s the only way that he’s gonna win people over. He needs to sit and talk with Oprah on The Next Chapter. Plus, he dating a Kardashian. That adds to him not being liked, unfortunately.

  7. And Chief Keef is El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, It’s o.k. to stick up for yo boy, but damn to drag real Black legends into the mud for an idiot trying to pimp the confederate flag for dollars?

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