Listening to New Slaves by Kanye West

After viewing a late night interview of Russell Simmons on the Arsenio Hall show, curiosity stirred me and I quickly googled this artist to read the lyrics to this song. I’m not a Kanye fan. However, a few months ago, after having a discussion on a similar topic with a close acquaintance, I was encouraged to look this song up and pay close attention to the lyrics while listening. I didn’t bother until last night. Let me tell you why.

From what I gathered while watching the show, Arsenio was paying tribute to Def Jam with Simmons at the center. I’ve always admired Russell’s brilliant business savvy, so I gave it a watch. The interview was pretty basic. They discussed and praised his history in music, fashion and business. With the exception of Simmons pitching his new book, everything else I’d pretty heard or read before. Here’s were my interest peaked.

The interview shifted its focus to today’s state of rap music and its explicit nature. As to be expected, Russell proudly praised today’s version of hip hop and marveled at the creativity of the artists, Kanye in particular. Arsenio then asked him about the use of the n-word. I sat straight up in my chair because I just knew Russell was about to break it on down and totally admonish every African-American artist for its misuse. To my total surprise, he did just the opposite. He spoke in favor of the word being freely used in hip hop, down played the word as if it has no power at all and gave hip hop artists a pass by further stating, “if you don’t have a slave in your family, you shouldn’t be using the word at all.”

I almost fell out of my chair. N*gger, n*gga, n*cca, and any other variation of the word all mean the same thing: SLAVE! Artists may try to water it down in music but it still has the same power today as it did fifty years ago. To say it doesn’t proves there is still a great level of ignorance concerning its history and a lack of respect for it. I’m not chiding Russell Simmons. As I stated previously, I admire this man’s work ethic a great deal and the pathways he’s opened for many a people in our community. I just can’t shake his hand on this one. In your free time, take a listen to this song. Let me warn you, the language is expressly vulgar but the information in the song is important.

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Listening to New Slaves by Kanye West

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