Upon the release of Kanye West’s new music video Bound 2, I, like many fans around the world rushed to see what the self-professed ‘creative genius’ had in store for me.
And like many fans I was left confused, disappointed and somewhat angry at what I initially took to be a video both flawed in its conception and execution.
In my rush to be amongst the first to condemn Bound 2’s visual accompaniment, I allowed myself to get carried away in the collective vitriol and thus fell into the trap of knee jerk journalism; a crime I do my best to avoid committing.
On the surface, West’s video for Bound 2 is nothing but a poorly directed and trashy document of the rapper having tantric sex with his fiancé, whilst NOT riding a dirt bike, through an ever changing artificially recreated landscape.
Confused at why West would seemingly produce a video so out of keeping with his brand and usual aesthetic style, I assumed Bound 2 was simply a creative brain fart, a misguided concept that had eventually produced a laughable product.
Yet, as I allowed my thoughts to settle on the video, I started to realise that perhaps I’d been guilty of judging it too quickly and without contextualising it within West’s recent actions and creative output.
Contextualising Bound 2 as a track within West’s album Yeezus provides us with the first hints of the rapper’s intentions.
Yeezus’ standout tracks, New Slaves, Black Skinheads and I am a God are fuelled by West’s feelings of anger and frustration at what he perceives are creative glass ceilings, those that prevent him from fully realising his ideas.
The title of the album and track I am a God ft. God caused a predictable stir, as any reference to self-deification would do in a traditionally Christian country, yet creating a stir is exactly what West has sought after throughout his entire career.
Though by his own admission, West isn’t perfect, when one thinks of the moments in the rapper’s career which have caused the most controversy, they inevitably occur when West has fundamentally disagreed with something he has seen.
Whether it be Taylor Swift’s besting of Beyonce at the VMAs, or when West went off script to declare “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”, when Kanye thinks something is wrong, he sticks his neck out and says so.
Prior to the release of Bound 2, Kanye was most recently embroiled in controversy due to his decision to print the confederate flag upon the back of jackets in his tour merchandise.
West has openly stated that his intention wasn’t to offend, but to nullify a symbol of racism and pain, by re-appropriating it with himself.
"The Confederate flag represented slavery in a way. That's my abstract take on what I know about it, right? So I wrote the song 'New Slaves.’ I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It's my flag now. Now what you gonna do?"
Earlier this year, in his interview with BBC Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe, West intimated that those in his genre only wear expensive clothing and jewellery to give themselves a sense of superiority and equal footing with the examples of white success they’re surrounded with.
The rapper stated that whilst he was guilty of the same actions, what he and his peers actually sought was equality.
“We don’t want to have a print on the back of our $2000 jacket making us feel like a king for a day. We don’t wanna have the jewellery just trying to make ourselves feel good; we want to be good.”
West’s latest album is a case study of the rapper’s attempt to nullify a variety of racial iconography by appropriating such symbols with himself and his race.
By naming his album Yeezus and having a song titled “I am a God”, West is attempting to re-appropriate the most culturally recognisable white figure in the world. This is no mean feat, especially in a country where self-deification is often met with hysterically aggressive retaliation.
During his interview with Lowe, the rapper expressed his delight at the hysteria ‘I am a God’ was causing and the indignation that such self-deification was met with.
“When someone says ‘I am a God’ everyone says ‘who the hell does he think he is?... would it have been better if I had a song saying I’m a nigger or I’m a gangster? To say you are a God, especially when you got shipped over to the country you’re in and your last name is that of slave owners; how could you have that mentality?”
Black Skinheads is yet another example, where racial inversion attempts to dilute the impact of ‘skinhead’ a word synonymous with the neo Nazi movements that gained prominence throughout North America, during the 1980s.
Collaborating with British fashion photographer Nick Knight, West’s video for Black Skinheads showcased another attempt to commandeer racial iconography, with the video opening to a shot of three hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan, cloaked in all black robes.
Those with knowledge of semiotics will know that the colours white and black are age-old semiotic binaries, white denoting a positive purity and black denoting the negative unknown.
By inverting these binaries, West is seeking to establish contradictory allegories of his own, therefore changing people’s perception of previously harmful stereotypes.
All of this context finally brings us onto Bound 2 and the seemingly vapid video that West and Knight teamed up to produce.
Bound 2 is littered with a variety of the most stereotypical motifs of white American pop culture.
We are first shown the easily recognisable landscapes of North America, with mountains, canyons and deserts. Next come the beautiful white stallions, the lone male figure riding off into the sunset and finally the beautiful woman.
We even get subjected to soft porn when West and Kardashian feign intercourse atop of his dirt bike.
All of these motifs are represented so shoddily, that it simply must be intentional; Kanye isn’t short on money folks and Knight is a more than accomplished director.
Simply put, Bound 2 is an obvious parody disguised as a pastiche; however, there is one exception.
The only aspect of West’s video not associated, as being stereotypically American is the rapper’s presence itself. West may be the lone male rider, whom accompanied by his beautiful lover is slowly riding off into the sunset. But his race doesn’t fit with the conventional stereotype, this is yet another appropriation and a remarkably clever one at that.
The fact that Kanye chose to premiere his video on Ellen, a TV show with an overwhelmingly white demographic isn’t a coincidence either. West is actively striving to break down white American stereotypes by making the average white American confront his integrated versions of them.
The only difference Bound 2 has to the examples listed above, is that it’s so subtly done that in today’s culture of voracious media consumption, most (including myself) mistook the video for trash.
West is well aware of how he is perceived and when asked if he expects everyone to understand his songs meanings, the rapper responded astutely.
“ No, I don’t expect people to understand me. I think there are people who are wired by their parents to understand what I’m saying and then there are those that are wired by their parents to reject it.”
Whilst we all cringed at silly ol’ Kanye, it’s highly plausible the rapper had the last laugh.
Beaming from ear to ear once the video had premiered on Ellen to rapturous applause, West knew he’d succeeded.
We’ve all been had.