Dr. Scott Heath is an English literature professor at Georgia State University who teaches a course called “Kanye Versus Everybody: Black Poetry and Poetics from Hughes to Hip-Hop.” The FADER recently sat down with Dr. Heath, who describes the course’s content and how deeply intrigued he is with the rapper and producer, calling him a ”metacritical thinker” and “an incredible puzzle.” The course examines Kanye’s full scope of his work, as well as his interviews, from his humble beginnings as a struggling artist to one of the most closely watched public figures today, but in the greater conversation of American poetry. It also studies black culture by investigating interdisciplinary themes like race, class and gender, within topics such as the Harlem Renaissance, the black nationalist era, and American hip-hop. Connections and comparisons are made alongside the work of famous poets such as Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks, as well as notable black public figures such as Muhammad Ali, Richard Sherman and Richard Pryor. We are all aware of Kanye’s strong cultural influence within music, art, design and fashion. And so the “College Dropout” gets a college course dedicated to him. Check out excerpts from the interview below.
On studying hip-hop within an academic scope:
“I think that young writers around the world—and especially young black writers—are more prolific than they’ve ever been. It just so happens that they’re writing to a beat. And it’s not even new to say it’s essential, Stuart Hall was saying back in the ’90s that culture is no longer of Western Europe. What we call culture now [is the culture of] North America, and if you’re gonna talk about American culture, what you’re talking about is black culture… [hip-hop is] not just poetry, but the ways that we use language, discuss language, think through language.”
On Kanye’s influence:
“He’s one of the few musicians that you get to hear actually talk about hip-hop as art. He talks about designing culture—not just designing fashion, but designing culture… [and he] is among our most prominent and dynamic public thinkers working today. You can detect his real awareness of himself as a represented, even mediated body.”
On Kanye’s relationship with the media:
“He’s aware of the criticism and the critiques that come his way, and he then critiques those critiques. This is a guy who gives interviews where the entire interview is about another interview that he gave earlier. That, to me, is very keenly discursive… Kanye really wants to control his image. He wants to control his reputation. And, you know, it’s off-putting for some, just like how Marshawn Lynch is off-putting for some.”
On issues that are uniquely African-American:
“They talked about it in the ’20s, they talked about it more aggressively in the ’60s and ’70s, and they’re talking about it now… [Kanye's] having to process or deal with other people’s interpretation of what he’s saying and who he happens to be. An exciting moment for me was the students reading Du Bois [W.E.B. Du Bois' theory of double consciousness about how African-Americans see their own identities through the lens of a dominant white culture] and the lightbulb going off and them making the connection to Kanye.”
Following up from his feature in an intimate short film titled Jungle, Drake releases a new project titled If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late via iTunes. While we’re still waiting for confirmation on whether the release is a mixtape or an album, we do know that it contains 17 tracks and features hip-hop heavyweights PARTYNEXTDOOR, Travi$ Scott and Lil Wayne. Released via Cash Money Records, you can now purchase If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late from iTunes.