Monthly Archives: October 2013

King Kong, Kanye, and Me

King Kong

“They see a black man with a white woman at the top floor, they gone come to kill King Kong.” – Kanye West, Black Skinhead

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I remember the first time I saw King Kong. I’m not sure if it was the quaint, goofy-looking classic from 1934, or the 1976 version with a seriously hot Jessica Lange. What I do know is that I was watching it as a kid on local TV in St. Louis, Missouri.

The looks of unmitigated terror appeared suddenly on the faces of the crowd that had come to see Kong, the spectacular star of the show, then rippled out across the streets of New York City in tandem with our protagonist’s bottomless rage. He ripped and smashed his way across the urban landscape, and in the blink of an eye, Kong had gone from being an unmissable bit of vaguely threatening and therefore palpably exciting exotica for the bored bourgeoisie, to a raving, uncontrollable beast. Windows were smashed, cars morphed into tangled mounds of steaming metal, and (I could only assume since this was a PG movie) people died. I was rooting hard for Kong though, and that’s even more true now.

You see, in the decades that have passed since that evening in my grandmother’s living room, I went on to attain what is, by anyone’s measure, an elite education: Hotchkiss, Harvard, Columbia Business School. I’ve worked for some of the blue-chippiest companies on the planet, beginning with the one that pretty much defined the concept of Wall Street. Started from the bottom, now we’re blah, blah, blah. Except it’s not true.

Despite my inscrutable educational accomplishments, obvious intellectual curiosity, well-documented affability, and noted charm (ask somebody and see if you ain’t heard), since my early career days I’ve felt the imposing presence of The Cage. DuBois called it The Veil, others refer to it as The Glass Ceiling. Pick a nominal metaphor. The point is, it sucks, and I use that word deliberately. As a black person in the U.S., it’s all around you: a cage initially fortified by blatant racism, now maintained by the institutional variety and reinforced by the ignorance of its passive beneficiaries. You can feel it, even if your face isn’t actually smashing into it at that very moment, and the cold realization that you can only move but so far begins to suck the very life out of you. Near the end of my time at one of those companies I was so despondent and angry that I wore all black to work every day…for three months. Some of us just aren’t content living in captivity. I’m not. Kong wasn’t. And neither is Kanye West.

Recently, Kanye appeared on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night talk show, ostensibly to clear the air between him and the host after Jimmy did a parody of Kanye that Yeezus made known he did not like. After hearing of this, I decided to check out Kanye’s latest “rant” for myself. Considering my knowledge of the man, I expected that I’d hear multiple declarations of his own greatness, I anticipated being treated to wild parallels between him and famous historical figures, and I presumed that all of it would proceed from his lips at a dizzying pace, with not a hint of irony. That’s par for the Kanye course, and yes, it was all there. What was also quite apparent however, was that along with the awesome amounts of self-aggrandizement, I was watching a man who was trying desperately to free himself from a cage too small. See for yourself:

Kanye made a name for himself as a beatsmith and rapper with a big sense of style and an even bigger mouth. The public and the media ate it up. Critical accolades poured in, with some even crediting him with bringing back the musical aesthetics of hip-hop’s Golden Age. Everybody loved the Louis Vuitton Don. What Kanye has been trying to tell us for a while now though is that he hasn’t been the Louis Vuitton Don in a long time. In fact, he wants to put his name (or his mother’s to be more accurate) on your back, but has found himself running up against barricade after barricade. In his own words: “To have a meeting with everyone…and everyone kinda just looks at you like you’re crazy…And you just cannot overcome it.”

Sing, dance, and rap well, and you're a genius. Complain that you're being limited...now you're some kind of crazy clown.

Sing, dance, or rap, and you’re entertaining. Do it well, and you’re a genius.
Complain that you’re being systematically constrained…now you’re a clown.

It is in this sobering context that I see his legendary Twitter diatribes, the famed New York Times interview with Jon Caramanica, and yes, this latest appearance on Kimmel, as hallmarks of a man who has decided to stand defiant, beat his chest, and devote the core of his being to demolishing the bars keeping him from the full measure of greatness. The anger has been building for a while. His indictment of George W. Bush during the Hurricane Katrina telethon was an early sign of the rage within. The Taylor Swift incident was another. The mean old gorilla threw shit all over the pretty little girl’s dress. Look, some people may get hurt during this process. Anger is no friend to discipline. But it takes fury to break out of the perfumed hellholes reserved for the likes of people like me and Kanye, and accordingly I have just one word for those that happen to be nearby when we finally bust out.

Run.

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