“If this is a taste of what’s to come, I’m eagerly anticipating the feast of God’s Country.”
WORDS BY ROBBIE DADOMO-EDGINGTON
Kanye West’s latest single can best be described as a marriage between the styles he explored on Yeezus and Jesus is King. Titled Wash Us In The Blood, it’s obviously a continuation of the more overtly Christian themed work he has created as of late, but with more of an aggressive style and focus on systemic racism.
It is a bit reductive to describe Wash Us In The Blood as Jesus raps on Yeezus beats, a comparison I’ve seen made a fair few times, but there is certainly some truth to it. In essence, the song is a call to a higher power (specifically The Holy Spirit) to come down and free the people from suffering. Due to the nature of this suffering however, this track has just as much in common lyrically with Yeezus as it does sonically. For instance, Kanye’s condemnation of the prison industrial complex from New Slaves: “They tryna make new slaves/See that’s that privately owned prisons’ is once again present here with: “Genocide what it does/Mass incarc’ what it does”. Coupled with Arthur Jafa’s video for the track, in which Kanye sports a similar look as in the Black Skinhead video, it’s very easy to make comparisons to Yeezus, but frankly, Yeezus was far from the first time Kanye spoke on racism, or rapped on a hard beat. It’s just Kanye doing what he does best.
The video itself is a fascinating thing, a collage of the black experience in the US, drawing on sources far and wide, from smartphone footage of protests, police brutality, dance, street fights, old clips of gospel singers and musical artists, a segment from a Kendrick Lamar video and even footage from GTA Online. This description only scratches the surface, but it gives a sense of the scope of the video, and how the black experience is more than racial injustice and oppression, yet these truths remain inescapable and cannot be ignored. For every moment of joy and light there is suffering and injustice. The relevance of specific clips, and the video as a whole, is left to the viewer to decide.
Rather than having a specific, singular message, the images in the video leave a significant impression. One particularly striking image is of a giant wave made up of chains; the primary association is of course slavery, which is a major theme of the song itself, but the image also recalls the recurring double meaning of chains that crops up in Kanye’s work, like Saint Pablo: “Four hundred years later, we buyin’ our own chains”. This recurring motif offers a valuable insight into how racism and racial inequality is still as prevalent as ever, despite the myth that we in live in a ‘post-racial’ society, and how it pervades all aspects of culture and consumption. The words ‘Kanye West’ and ‘slavery’ admittedly have some controversial connotations, but at least in this track, the commentary on the systems that maintain the hierarchy of oppressor and oppressed, and perpetuate modern day slavery, is a powerful statement on an uncomfortable truth.
Mr. West’s self-referential verse discussing the disparity between the true Kanye and ‘Calm-Ye’ is a humorous look at the expectation vs. reality contrast that he experiences as an artist and public figure. Soon he’s talking about fake news, which is kind of a double edged sword, because on the one hand its hard to not associate the phrase with tin-foil hat conspiracy theorists and Trump, but on the other hand, it is a valid point of view that we shouldn’t blindly follow what we are told without questioning or considering notions of bias. This doesn’t quite have the impact of the simplicity of the rest of the track with lines like: “Whole life bein’ thugs/No choice sellin’ drugs”, but his delivery is on point and the mounting sense of pressure as the lines get tighter and faster adds intensity and energy to an already infectious track.
Wash Us In The Blood is the first single from the upcoming album God’s Country, but seeing as this is Kanye West we’re talking about, we shouldn’t take any details about upcoming projects for granted until we have the album in our hands or in our ears, and even then that hasn’t stopped him from making changes in the past. If this is a taste of what’s to come, I’m eagerly anticipating the feast of God’s Country.