But messages in "Black Skinhead" and "New Slaves," the two songs he debuted in a fiery appearance on "Saturday Night Live" last week, also include an indictment of crass classism and materialism. Poor and rich, non-fans and fans, black and white with their baggage of underlying racial preconceptions -- hypocrisy is everywhere, in West's eyes.
You see it's broke nigga racism
That's that "Don't touch anything in the store"
And this rich nigga racism
That's that "Come here, please buy more"
What you want, a Bentley? Fur coat? A diamond chain?
All you blacks want all the same things
Used to only be niggas now everybody playing
Spending everything on Alexander Wang
The kicker is that as he is singing that, he's selling his own branded line of $200-plus designer sneakers. West's longtime nickname is "Yeezy" and his shoes, made by Nike (NKE - Get Report), are called Air Yeezys. The allure of those pricey kicks among his loyal fans is an important factor in the calculations of this album's marketing campaign. West had a pair on his feet on the stage at "SNL," blurring the line between show and commercial.
Now wait -- pop music relies on sales, you say, artists have always shopped themselves to their audiences, like so much commodity. So what's the beef? No beef, at all. Just pointing out there has historically been a Chinese wall between an artist's music and its purely commercial uses. I think West is still firmly on the artist side of that divide, but it's getting to be a tougher call and no denying.Hype for his new album, like most hip-hop records these days, is also pumped by collaborations. Daft Punk, with a new album of its own that I wrote about two weeks ago and Skrillex are said to be among those featured.
Then there's the album's title: "Yeezus." OK, let's all just heave a collective sigh over that one. It's not the first time he's played the great martyr card. West appeared on the cover of the Feb. 9, 2006 Rolling Stone wearing a crown of thorns. Jesus to his fan-disciples, a prophet, a miracle worker victimized by the media, misunderstood by the masses...we get it. But he is an artist, after all. So I say, fair enough. Other people have used the Jesus provocation to sell records: John Lennon, who casually told reporters the Beatles were "bigger than Jesus" and then later, in "The Ballad of John and Yoko," put himself very deliberately in the Christ role. Some people will be offended by the title of "Yeezus;" most will not be, but will recognize the peril inherent in such an association, the potential for inadvertent self-parody not the least.