Kanye West On Whether Rap—And Black Musicians—Still Have Second-Class Status

Kanye West doesn’t give interviews frequently, so there’s a lot to chew over in his chat with Jon Caramanica in the New York Times. The discussion about West’s pendular swings back and forth between lush, soul-influenced sounds and the minimalism of his upcoming album Yeezus is fascinating, but I was struck by two other sections where West is at his most political. In the first, West levels a critique of the Grammys and other awards ceremonies that he believes are biased towards white performers:

You’ve won a lot of Grammys.

“[My Beautiful] Dark [Twisted] Fantasy” and “Watch the Throne”: neither was nominated for Album of the Year, and I made both of those in one year. I don’t know if this is statistically right, but I’m assuming I have the most Grammys of anyone my age, but I haven’t won one against a white person.

But the thing is, I don’t care about the Grammys; I just would like for the statistics to be more accurate.

You want the historical record to be right.

Yeah, I don’t want them to rewrite history right in front of us. At least, not on my clock. I really appreciate the moments that I was able to win rap album of the year or whatever. But after a while, it’s like: “Wait a second; this isn’t fair. This is a setup.” I remember when both Gnarls Barkley and Justin [Timberlake] lost for Album of the Year, and I looked at Justin, and I was like: “Do you want me to go onstage for you? You know, do you want me to fight” —

The origins of the phenomenon West feels like he’s a victim of may be a matter of race or of a generation gap in taste: for all that hip-hop’s conquered popular music and won over critics, that doesn’t mean that the tastes of the members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences have adjusted at the same rate.

But West’s concern for history, and his remarks about how he sees himself as an activist, particularly in the moment when he condemned George W. Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina during a national telethon—as West puts it, “When you think about it, I was wearing like, a Juicy Couture men’s polo shirt. We weren’t there, like, ready for war.”—are also revealing. West may care about racial equality, and one of the many things he wants it for is equal economic opportunity. “I am my father’s son,” he tells Caramanica. “I’m my mother’s child. That’s how I was raised. I am in the lineage of Gil Scott-Heron, great activist-type artists. But I’m also in the lineage of a Miles Davis — you know, that liked nice things also.” It’s a sentiment perfectly in keeping with West as a middle-class, suburban hip-hop pioneer who’s made some of his greatest work on the subject of second-generation black affluence.