It’s 2020, and we’ve entered a new era in Kanye West’s career that fuses Ye’s faith with signature hard-hitting beats. The prolific rapper and producer released his new song “Wash Us in the Blood” along with an accompanying video uploaded to YouTube (directed by Arthur Jafa). Of course, Mr. West has recently been trending for other reasons, like his last-minute presidential run and subsequent drop-out, along with his bizarre interview with Forbes.
On the first single for his upcoming tenth studio album God’s Country, West enlists the help of trap megastar Travis Scott, a frequent collaborator. Released eight months after West’s gospel-influenced Christian rap album Jesus is King, “Wash Us in the Blood” is a much-welcomed detour that abandons the superficial preachiness that plagued his previous record in favor of something poignant and synchronous to the times we’re living in.
Over a brooding, nocturnal beat (which many have compared to the gritty, industrial instrumentals off of Yeezus), West and Scott react to the current state of affairs in American society. The visceral music video displays intense, and at times disturbing, footage of police brutality, riots, and hospital patients with COVID-19. Avant-garde, animated visuals of West are integrated into the video, distorting his appearance and providing a sense of anonymity to his image. It’s a thoughtful attempt to emphasize his experience as a Black man in America. He may be a billionaire and celebrity icon, but even he is often exploited and caricatured by white America. Kanye has rapped about this throughout his career, like in the College Dropout track, “All Falls Down”. “Even if you in a Benz, you still a n**a in a coupe.”
Lyrically, both West and Scott rap from their perspectives as Black Americans. On the song’s chorus, West prays for everyone suffering under racial oppression and subjugation. His incorporation of Christian messaging on the chorus feels genuine and is in stark contrast to the self-serving undertones on Jesus is King. Instead of coming across as impersonal and frustratingly vague, Kanye’s prayers are urgent. Throughout the track’s verses, both West and Scott talk about current systemic racism and speak for the disadvantaged, connecting it to the United States’ history of slavery and racial genocide.
Travis Scott’s feature is concise and poignant, highlighting how America’s police and prison institutions continue to oppress Black Americans today. He questions the ethics of state-sanctioned executions, bringing up how they go against one of the Ten Commandments, “thou shall not kill”. He then acknowledges that the status quo of these institutions won’t change on their own, and they’ll continue to go after people like him, continuing a pattern of disenfranchisement and anguish. “We dodgin’ time in the federal / squad box you in like a sectional / we walk through the glass and the residue”.
In West’s subsequent verse, he goes on to talk about how his image and personality is often misconstrued by America’s media. “They wanna sign a fake Kanye / they tryna sign a calm Ye.” On one hand, it isn’t surprising that West would name-drop himself in his own song; we all know he’s done that before. On the other hand, it may rub some listeners the wrong way, as he’s focusing on himself and being defensive of his own image (and presumably some of his controversial statements), which some may interpret as a diversion from the song’s broader subject-matter. However, what appears to be another ego-fueled rant on the surface actually connects to the track’s overall theme.
He goes on to explain how, recently, media entities will exaggerate and even edit his interviews to make his words seem more contentious. “They wanna edit the interviews / They wanna take it to interludes”. To make it clear, I don’t agree with many of his past statements, or his (former) support of Trump. But he’s right in that there is something fishy, and sometimes even predatory, about the way the press often reports his words and actions, as there’s often implicit questioning of his Blackness. They often attempt to make his overall presence a spectacle for mostly-white audiences, utilizing his atypical opinions.
The most obvious example of this is their coverage of his previous support of Trump. Liberal-leaning media will often reinforce the idea that Black Americans are expected to vote for Democratic Party candidates. One selective nugget of truth from the Forbes interview is when Kanye states, “to say that the Black vote is Democratic is a form of racism and white supremacy.” He’s right; Black Americans don’t “owe” a vote to anybody. After all, the core establishment of the Democratic Party is still intertwined in the financial dealings of the rich, white elite, and still supports institutions that oppress Black Americans, like the prison-industrial complex and police unions.
“Wash Us in the Blood” is a return to form for both Kanye West and Travis Scott. The instrumental is special, and the lyrical content is substantive. It is a provocative single (and video) that will make listeners think if their ears are open.
Article By: AJ Frigoletto