KANYE WEST (w/ Jay Z) / “Diamonds”

The title was always 'Diamonds From Sierra Leone' but the label didn't understand what I was doing so they did their own thing. We touch on the conflict - diamonds in the blood, diamonds out in Africa - in the video. We're really going for it. —Kanye West
The reality of ice is cold. Especially coming from the only continent upon which the sun shines at a perpendicular angle every day of the year. (That’s Old Skool Afrocentric trivia which may or may not be true, but sounds hip.) The sun may or may not straight-up shine on Africa, but for sure people die delivering diamonds from the soil of Africa. Wars are fought over diamonds. The continent bleeds; it is rich in resources that the rich crave and since there’s mostly nothing but poor people there, those folk are expendable. Does it matter that someone may have died so that we can bling? Much to his credit Kanye West is raising this issue. Much to his discredit there seems to be more at work than what we are shown. First, there are two versions. Kanye’s first version as a solo piece and the second version as a duo with Jay Z. Second, there is evidence that Kanye’s song may be ah… (I’m trying to be objectively charitable with this), may be a remake of a song someone else did. kanye2.jpg Both versions are included in the jukebox. The solo version focuses on Kanye delving into his personal tantrums—read the lyrics here (scroll down to the bottom). As in much of his writing, there are some very, very clever rhymes as he talks about himself (sometimes in the third person). When I first heard the verses, even though I recognized that they were meant to be rationalizations and justifications for some of his more obnoxious behavior over the last year or so, I still had to give Kanye his propers and acknowledge that he was being self-consciously self-critical, a trait that is almost unheard of for 21st century rappers. But then I heard about the video and his plan to make it a direct expose on so-called ‘conflict diamonds.’ You can see the Diamonds video here. You can read about conflict diamonds here. And I said, whoa, this is going to get deep—and it wasn’t just me feeling a little vertiginous. Check out Davy D here (and be sure to check out the comments at the end). Davy D is one of the most highly respected hip hop radio personalities. Now hit the re-wind button, there’s more. I heard the remake featuring Jay Z. I hope Mtume expounds for a bit on a comparison/contrast of Kanye’s verse and Jay Z’s verse because I don’t have the insight to delve too deeply into all the references and allusions to friendships/fallouts past and present. Suffice it to say, a number of folk were really, really feeling what Jay Z had to say. What I was feeling was Kanye digging deeper on the “bling-in-the-ghetto” / ”conflict-on-the-continent” diamond connection. Moreover, ya boy Kanye straight-up acknowledges that he is part of the problem, saying not just that he is addicted to flossing, but that his addiction fosters death and terror (children maimed, hands cut off) in Sierre Leone. withouthandscopy.gif This 17-year-old lost both hands to rebels' machetes. Waterloo camp, Sierra Leone, 1998. UNICEF/HQ96-0566/Giacomo Pirozzi   Whether he is serious and ultimately willing to give up blinging is a question, but even if he isn’t, he has successfully done more to publicly and popularly raise questions around the issue of conflict diamonds than has anyone I can think of. Part of the reason for Kanye’s success at raising consciousness around conflict diamonds is because he has a gigantic soapbox as a result of his popularity, but another and more important part of the reason is that he has taken the time to educate himself on the issue and had the moral fortitude to stand up and be counted, even if that standing up means he’s pointing a finger at his own ass (or rather at his neck, earlobes, pinkies and wherever else he sports rocks). I don’t know what motivated my man to take this step but I do know there is more than meets the eye to Kanye’s conscious denouncing of conflict diamonds. You ever heard of Lupe Fiasco? Click here for an interview with Lupe. Well, it seems that Lupe is from Chicago and has a song called “Conflict Diamonds.” Now before you jump to conclusions and think you know what I’m going to say next, listen to Lupe’s song (it is also in the jukebox). lupefiasco2.jpg Those are roughly the same beats and exactly the same Shirley Bassey sample from a James Bond movie theme that she recorded beaucoup years ago. Kanye has given shouts out to Lupe. I believe (but I don’t know) Kanye produced the Lupe song. Some believe that Kanye 'stole' the conflict diamonds concept and ran with it, but that theory doesn’t explain Lupe’s beats and the Shirley Bassey sample. Shirley Bassey.jpg We may never know what went down, when and how, but one thing for sure, Lupe’s song and Kanye’s second version are working in the same mine shaft. What may have happened is that Kanye gave the beats to Lupe and both of them worked on their first versions around the same time, and then (possibly) when Kanye heard what Lupe did, Kanye cut a second version with Jay Z, which reductively meant that there would never be any conflict between Lupe and Kanye about who had the better verse because most heads would nod to Jay Z. But that’s just another Negro Conspiracy Theory I’m offering. Now listen to this interview with Kanye phoned in to a BBC radio show in London. Note that it’s about fifteen minutes long and is full of interesting insights and asides, some of which bear directly on the diamonds issue, others of which are interesting just because Americans are overly-interested in the personal lives of celebrities. Now you’ve heard the two Kanye versions and the Lupe version; you’ve (hopefully) heard the Kanye radio interview and read some of the background information including the song lyrics—did you check all the comments as well?—and, finally, you’ve seen the video shot in Prague. I know, I know: why Prague? I don’t know. It’s possibly a gigantic conceit. Why not shoot in Africa somewhere? One reason may be that it was planned before Kanye did the second version and therefore the introspective first version did not require an African setting, or maybe… hell, who knows? And the contradictions don’t stop there. The biggest issue, from a commercial standpoint is that while drama is generally good for record sales, as Jay-Z, Fifty Cent, Nas and many, many others have demonstrated: drama sells, nonetheless, the fact that Late Registration (which is the working title of Kanye’s upcoming release) is, ah, really, really late is costing the record company money. How? Why? Well, it’s simple: the longer Kanye takes to deliver, the more of the music is going to get out and be circulated via the internet. kanye & jamie.jpg You don’t believe me? Well, as some Louisiana Lagniappe, check this funny-as-hell cut with Jamie Foxx called “Gold Digga,” which is alleged to be the forthcoming second single from a June-scheduled album whose release date has been pushed back to August. “Gold Digga” is also in the jukebox—the box is hot this week: three diamonds and a gold digga! I don’t remember any rap song attracting this much of my attention. Like him or loathe him, Kanye is raising the bar. Whether or not he believes what he’s saying, the fact that he’s saying what he’s saying means that millions are hearing it. On this issue of conflict diamonds, Kanye is making a tremendous contribution. Tremendous. —Kalamu ya Salaam PS—please read our conversation on Lauryn Hill and Kanye West.             I feel a major rant coming on          Before I get started (and I feel a major, major rant coming on—don’t say I didn’t warn you), let me address the easy issues first. First, Kanye didn’t steal the song. Kanye put out the original version of “Diamonds” (apparently titled “Diamonds Are Forever”) where Kanye is basically (and I’m going to put this bluntly: if your kids are reading this, I apologize in advance; if you are a kid reading this, prepare your little mind for an incoming dirty word) riding his own dick and bragging about how wonderful and fantastic his record label is. (Because that’s exactly what the world needs: one more rap record where the MC is on his own dick.) Lupe Fiasco (who really should come up with a less stupid-sounding stage name) heard the record and (to Lupe’s credit) decided to freestyle some Sierra Leone stuff over Kanye’s beat. Kanye then heard Lupe’s freestyle and Kanye (to Kanye’s credit) was able to momentarily subjugate his interstellar-sized ego long enough to compare and contrast the two versions, thereafter realizing that maybe the world didn’t need one more song featuring a rapper riding his own dick after all, even if said rapper was He Himself, Kanye the Great. Maybe, just maybe, what the world needed was a song with actual subject matter. Maybe. And so, “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” AKA “Diamonds” (Remix) or whatever it’s being called was born. But because Kanye (or Jay-Z, or someone else with the Roc or someone else altogether) wanted to hedge their bets instead of just putting out the record and letting the chips fall, they stuck Jay-Z on there, practically ensuring record sales because of Jay’s legion of fans who will buy anything the supposedly-retired Greatest Rapper Alive raps on. (BTW, what’s with the heavy breathing thing? Every time I hear Jay-Z lately he sounds like he just ran up a flight of stairs. If you’re gonna put your studio on the third floor shouldn’t you at least have an elevator? And, while I’m on the subject of Jay-Z, what’s with the now-obligatory Jesus references? This song, he’s walking on water. On some other record I heard and promptly forgot the title of, he was performing miracles or something. Is Jay-Z so awesomely, incredibly, stupendously fabulous that nothing short of a comparison to the Messiah Himself will do Jay justice? Or am I reading to much into this?) kanye at mic.jpg OK, on to issue number two. Kalamu asked, why did Kanye shoot the video in Prague. "I'm really into architecture and art, period," West told MTV recently. "You get the sculptures, the cathedrals, the stone floors. It gives you a timeless feel, and we're gonna shoot it in black and white. That look represented the music in ‘Diamonds.’" In other words—and granted, I’m reading between the lines here—Kanye was going for a ‘European’ feel. I’m not going to waste a comment on that. Just know: whatever I would have said if I would’ve taken the time to say it would have been long-winded, rant-like and extraordinarily negative in both tone and substance. Let your imagination run free. Now that those easy issues are out of the way, let me ask the one question that comes to mind after listening to/reading all about Kanye and Lupe and “Diamonds” etc. Is this bullshit really what hip-hop has come to? First, the track is shit. (I’m sorry, I know I’m supposed to be a sensible, reasonable, ‘objective’ writer and all that, but the truth is, I don’t dislike the music I dislike, I hate it. Sue me.) Let me be more specific: as a hip-hop record, the track is shit. It’s cinematic, bloated, overly catchy and didactic to a fault. (Or is ‘didactic to a fault’ redundant?) In other words, it’s crap. From a pop perspective, maybe it’s the greatest thing since smokable cocaine – I really don’t know because my ability to successfully associate ‘greatness’ and ‘popness’ is non-existent. I do know my hip-hop though, and, trust me, the track is weak. As for the lyrics, I’m conflicted. Kalamu is correct: He Himself, Kanye The Great is clever. Very clever. Actually, Kanye is too clever – and therein lies the problem. (Well, part of it, at least.) I saw Chris Rock’s latest show and it was funny. I laughed my ass off. A pleasant time was had by all, yours truly included, then I went home, turned on my iTunes and did what I really like to do, which is listen to music. My point is, I don’t listen to music for jokes. If I want jokes, I listen to comedians. When I listen to musicians—and MCs absolutely, most definitely and certainly are musicians—I want music. There’s a thin line between ‘cleverness’ and ‘smugness’ and, judging from Kanye’s thorough and repeated trampling of said line, Kanye wouldn’t recognize the line even if Jacob himself plated the line in platinum and encrusted it in diamonds, ‘conflict’ or clean. Moving right along. Hasn’t the whole ‘I Know It’s Wrong, But It Feels So Right So I’m Going To Keep On Doing It Anyway’ bit been done already? I mean really, really, really been done already? Like, to death. Like, ad infinitum. Like, just to give a completely random and totally unrelated example, on at least half of the songs from College Dropout (Kanye’s first album)? On the “Diamonds” remix, Kanye goes on and on about kids without arms and the blood dripping from his ice and blah blah blah and blah some more, and that’s all good, I’m glad he’s shining light on some real fucked up shit that’s being done on the Mother Continent. That’s great. But hey, Mr. He Himself, Kanye the Great. I have a really complex and extraordinarily deep conclusion for you: TAKE OFF THE FUCKING DIAMONDS. Again, am I missing something? Why should I waste four-minutes of my time listening to you pontificate in rhyme about the horror that is the international diamond trade if you’re going to keep on wearing the fucking things?! Oh, and another thing. What’s with the ‘we’ and ‘you’ thing? I’ve had it with that. Rappers are always talking about ‘we’ this and ‘you’ that. Who are they talking about? Not me, that’s for sure. I never went to Jacob with $20,000 (or $50,000 or whatever it was) either before or after I bought a house. I don’t dress up to go to the grocery store. (And, judging from the people I see every week in the checkout line at my Sav-A-Center, the one on Bullard in New Orleans East, ain’t nobody else dressing up to go to the grocery store either.) I never spent a nickel on platinum or ‘Rolexeses’ or ‘Lexuses’ or any of that other shit, mainly because I happen to be an actual normal human being who still considers it a minor achievement to get both my rent and light bill paid in the same month. (The previous few sentences are for those who’ve heard Kanye’s first album. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, run right out and buy it so you can be like, “Oh! So that’s what that dude on BoL was talking about” and, of course, so Kanye can replace all his ‘conflict’ diamonds with clean ones.) The point I’m trying to make is (if I have a point at all, and I’m not sure that I do) I can’t relate. At all. Not even almost. Not even slightly. Maybe, instead of putting “Diamonds” out there in general release, Kanye instead should’ve just Blackberryed it to all his rich rapper and movie star pals. (And please do notice Jamie Foxx flossing his ass off in the picture with Kanye. Am I the only one who gets a queasy feeling every time they see some retard wearing the average working persons’ yearly salary around their neck like God-damn $1.99 Mardi Gras beads?) Maybe rich rappers and movie stars and athletes and their accountants and spouses and Baby Mamas and Daddies and hangers-on actually give a shit and/or can relate to the quandary of do I or do I not spend my money on ‘conflict’ diamonds. I don’t/can’t. I’m still trying to pay off my $799 eMac and still wondering if and when I’m ever going to get that rebate check back from Epson for the piece-of-junk printer I didn’t even want in the first place but had to buy because it was ‘bundled’ into the price of the stupid computer. And I’m supposed to be worried about some rich dude’s angst about whether or not someone died for his $200,000 Jesus piece? Give me a break. Kanye, let me let you in on a little secret. It’s a cold, cold capitalist, racist, sexist, ageist world. If you spend $200,000 on anything, the chances are very, very good that someone poor and/or young and/or of color and/or female was in some way shitted on so that you could do so. If it really does bother you, quit the conspicuous and ridiculous consumption. If it really doesn’t bother you, call up Jacob and order a matching quarter-million-dollar Holy Mary piece to go with the one you’ve already got of Her Little Boy. The truth is, once we’ve spent our $15 bucks to have our ear drums massaged by the Greatness that is you, it’s your money. Do what you want with it. But don’t ask us to spend another $15 just to hear you whine about the dumb-ass shit you did with the last $15. $200,000 for a fucking necklace?! That’s some dumb-ass shit to do even if nobody got so much as a paper cut because of it. And just to anticipate the inevitable questions. Do I have a bad attitude? Yes, I do. Have I been sipping the Hater-ade? Yes, I have. Am I bitter? Yes, I am. To paraphrase my main man Flavor Flav: I got a right to be bitter – these assholes killed the music I love. Rant over. It’s past my bedtime. —Mtume ya Salaam P.S. “Gold Digga” is not funny. It’s the same sexist bullshit it was 15 years ago when EPMD did it first. See EPMD – Business As Usual (1990) – Song #8             That’s my boyyyyeeee!!!!          I laughed all the way through your rant. I knows you. When you rants like that it be some funny but you be so deep, unimpressed by the bling, you be looking at the ass around whose neck the stuff be slinged, and you be, like, pointing out, hey the dick-ass got diamonds on!!!! Right on for the right on of keeping it real. I’m glad you acknowledged that Kanye is clever and gladder that you pointed out that he’s using that cleverness to justify wearing his bling. What I was a bit uncomfortable about, you put your foot up and drop kicked back to EMPD where he stole some of his stuff (and before any of our readers ask, I will ask: if Kanye stole it, is it still his/theirs?). Lone Ranger larger.jpg Mtume, I really like that you do that Tonto shit and asked, Kanye what you mean 'we,' ‘cause after all it’s the Long Ranger’s television show—yeah, Kanye make money off of all of that! It’s the old, nouveau-rich bullshit, playing the race card to cover their class collaborations. Now BOTH (them and 'the white man') be fleecing the working class. OK, it’s early in the morning and I’m about to post this shit and all I can say is: Mtume, you a whip. Thanks for putting my enthusiasm in check. Good night, sleep tight. Don’t let the bling-bling bite. Peaceeeeee. (…in the village, but there’s war in the world). —Kalamu ya Salaam PS—Kanye, we hear from our cousins over in England that you read the haters on the internet, so if you’re reading this: we will be glad to post any response (clean/or down-dirty) that you might want to spit. PPS—One last question: would Jesus wear diamonds?             Three quick things           First, I'm not saying that Kanye 'stole' anything from EPMD. What I am saying is, years ago EPMD put out a hit record named "Gold Digger" about, what else, money-hungry females. It's not as much stealing as it's just some unoriginal shit for Kanye to rehash after all this time, particularly given that Kanye is, as we all know, a musical genius. (And particularly given that Ludacris just released a song of the same name last year.) And besides, it's not that clever a concept anyway. "I'm rich, so all these hyper-sexed women with giant butts are trying to take my money." How deep. The retort is always the same: but it's true! Maybe it is true. Maybe it isn't. And maybe I just don't give a shit. Keep your sexual problems to yourself, Mr. Rich Rapper Guy. I'm not your therapist. Second, in your response, you may have lost those who don't know the joke. So for those who don't know, the joke is as follows. One fine afternoon, Tonto and the Lone Ranger were out Lone Rangering when they suddenly found themselves surrounded by an armed band of hostile Indians. The Lone Ranger turned to his faithful sidekick Tonto and said, "Well, Tonto. It looks like they have us surrounded. What are we going to do?" To which Tonto replied, "What do you mean 'we,' white man?" Third, to answer your last question: No. —Mtume ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Sunday, July 10th, 2005 at 12:02 am and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

17 Responses to “KANYE WEST (w/ Jay Z) / “Diamonds””

Jarvis Says:
July 10th, 2005 at 7:40 pm


Now that I’ve wiped the tears of laughter from my eyes, I think I can properly respond to your comments.

Whether or not one agrees with the message in “All Falls Down,” i.e., I know I should be doing better but the temptation to do wrong is too strong, I think one has to agree that you only get one bite at that apple.

The repetition of that theme is likely to earn you a big “whatever, dude.”

I don’t want to dismiss the legitimacy of conflict. I mean, we’re all torn about something or another, aren’t we? But most of us, when we’re sincere, grapple with that conflict privately or we show some real struggle.

Doesn’t seem to me that Kanye has tried living a bling-free life. Instead, he seems to think that as he’s the “only rapper with a Benz and a backpack” that all he has to say is that it troubles him and that will earn him some dap from those who are genuinely concerned about what’s going on in Sierra Leone.

Nothing he has done or even said suggests sacrifice. If the lives of armless babies really means something to you — if it’s more than rhetoric — how ’bout you stop? Otherwise, you’re exploiting them — ironically — in the pursuit of even more bling.

Now with all that said, I wonder if it doesn’t make a difference if we extract Kanye’s ego from the whole equation. Not an easy task, I know, but what if someone unfamiliar with “All Falls Down” hears “Diamonds” and doesn’t know that the latter track has an air of sincerity? Could it help raise awareness?

I think it could. I wonder if part of the issue here isn’t the implication of “realness,” that aspect of hip-hop that suggests that everything the artist raps is supposed to be true to his/her life? So it’s easy to criticize Kanye because he doesn’t even seem to believe what he’s saying. Still, the words might linger and convince somebody to chill with the bling.

Okay, I’m not sure even I believe that. Because as hip-hop is obsessed with realness it’s doubtful that a listener is gonna tune in and NOT know about Kanye the person, Kanye the public figure. Kanye the hypocrite.

I might as well say here that I could never truly dig Tupac because of that huge chasm between his words and actions. The chasm between his allegedly up-with-the-people political beliefs and the hit ’em up lyrics. I get tired of folks like Michael Eric Dyson telling me what a great thinker ‘Pac was or how loving he was when so much of his work was violent. I do however think his conflict was sincere even if he never quite found his way out of it. Kanye, with all his cleverness, seems incapable of sincerity. The family reunion song on “College Dropout” might be the exception

Sorry for the length of this. But I’m feeling you. Kanye, if you’re really concerned about the babies, you might want to stop buying and wearing the diamonds. Seems like that’s the least you could do.

– Jarvis

Nadir L. Bomani Says:
July 11th, 2005 at 2:02 am

mtume, you don’t have to be apologetic for your cussin’ and critical views of today’s latest pop icon. most of the music is already offensive.

kalamu – don’t put too much thought into wild wild west’s flawed attempt at tryin’ to duplicate his other overproduced hit "jesus walks."

the cat from chicago is about as deep as piss in a popeyes restroom. that same ol: you doubted me, now look at my watch. shit was getting tired last album.

and about his debut: i resented the fact that he made college look like some square shit cuz he didn’t finish, but his maw is a professor.

anyway, jesus wouldn’t wear ice because he was a carpenter/message cat who ran with 12 other bruhs from the hood.

can you imagine a jehovah’s witness bringing the ‘word’ to your stoop with bling on?

my bold prediction: after late registration, kanye (the mc) will be as relevant to pop music as any other artist still holding up the roc sign that isn’t featured on "Jaz’s" first album (1989).

Dude just doesn’t have anything interesting to say.  -nadir

     Mtume says:                                                                                         

As I much I hate to say this, Nadir, your prediction is 100% wrong. After repeatedly listening to the bloated monstrosity that is "Diamonds" (hey, I have to — what’s the rest of y’all’s excuse?), I predict more fame and fortune for Kanye. "Diamonds" is catchy, ‘sincere’ and club-friendly. In short, it’s a hit. I take that back. It’s a HIT!

"Gold Digga" is more of the same — the fans are gonna love it, particularly (and this is both ironic and horrific) the female fans. I predict that Kanye is going to have to live with that little dilemma of his ("Do I spend my millions foolishly?" versus "Do I spend my millions foolishly while saying I feel bad about it?") for at least a few more years.

Stephanie Renee Says:
July 11th, 2005 at 6:26 pm

There’s SO much that I wanted to say, but my uproarious laughter at Mtume’s rant has now de-energized me from making much of a comment at all…other than to say that I’ll continue to pray for both Kanye and Lauryn to wade their way out of the deep abyss they’ve created for themselves artistically and emotionally from the rubber-meets-the-road, life kicking yo azz existences they’re ensconsced in right now (Ms. Hill more than Mr. West, of course).

I mean, if a life-threatening car accident and thorough public humiliation aren’t enough to prompt true spiritual transformation and resolution, I dunno what is.

Mtume, I’m with you…t’ain’t no blinging happening with me either. I can’t even bring myself to buy new sneakers more than once every 3 years, so the idea of multi-carat flashiness is just, well, unfathomable.

Lex Ardeña Says:
July 11th, 2005 at 8:07 pm

On the subject of diamonds I would recommend the song Diamonds by Baby Blak, from his 2003 album Once You Go Blak. It’s basically saying the same as Kanye’s track, only a bit more aggressive, since he in no way can relate to wearing the things. Sadly his album only sold a few thousand copies in the US. Probably sold as much or more here in Europe, since it was on the British label BBE.

“Fuck the girl’s best friend, I’m the world’s best friend”

castro Says:
July 11th, 2005 at 11:21 pm

Peace Baba Kalamu and Mtume,

Hip Hop is like Oil…it has peaked, and is being depleted….(sips haterade or as I like to think, a tall cool glass of clear thinking)

Kanye and the rest of them are Amoco/BP/GM/Ford etc…steady desanguining the world. Diamonds is like a Ford SUV hybrid…I’m supposed to be impressed that it gets 25 miles to the gallon…when it still functioning like everything else that is messing the world up.

Hip-Hop has left me numb. Everyonce in a blue moon, somebody like 9th Wonder will snap me to attention…but Kanye has never moved me. Nice beats. Yeah, but I can get the same caliber of beats from listening to Brothers around the way…like Raw Latinum (Bmore/Brooklyn)…

On the other hand, I’m not really discouraged in that I am a steadfast believer in the idea that the energy that moved Blk folks to birth Bebop and Hip Hop will result in another incarnation of Music/Movement expression. My one hope is that we will this go round be better stewards/guardians.

When Kanye is broke from spending money to put fuel in his Platinum plated Hummer and frustrated because his 15 minutes is up, our seeds will pass by on a solar powered bike, beatboxing the cadence to a beat that points towards the future, but samples a Art Blakey solo…..

Marian Says:
July 12th, 2005 at 12:55 am

Ok, I listened to BBC interview. How old is Kayne West? He sounds incredibly young, incredibly hyped on testosterone—but hey, Cesare Borgia was a cardinal by age 22. Cosimo I de’ Medici became prince at only 17. Somehow, this era doesn’t feel like the Renaissance however. I am confused about the tracks here. There’s track 3-that celebrates the cult of Diamonds. There’s the repentant track 4. How is track 5 different? Is it just the combination of the 2 earlier ones? Is Lupe’s version still in the jukebox? Kanye West’s version of “All Falls Down” is one long jeer. It’s so easy to be cynical. But I have to admit that I haven’t the slightest idea what Ms. Hill was talking about. I have to see if I can find the lyrics online somewhere.

           Kalamu says:                                                                         

Marian, I have added names to help distinguish the tracks. I forgot to remember that to many adults, all rappers sound the same. You know it might be easier to appreciate "how" they are flowing if they were speaking a foreign language that you knew you didn’t understand. That way you wouldn’t get hung up trying to "understand" what they are saying, because in rap "how" is often equally or even more important than "what". It may be that part of the reason you don’t get "it" is because "it" (the specific meaning of the words) is not as deep as how they hook the words up within the context of the beats. And then again, like the esteemed JB was wont to say, maybe they are just talking loud and saying nothing. And saying nothing. On the other hand, perhaps it’s coded discourse in a language that is foreign to you.

When bebop was happening there was a whole lot of jive talking going on. Vocalists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Babs Gonzalez, and many others sang what some people called nonsense songs. Their lyrics were often onomatopoetic syllables mixed with slang and the jargon of bebop. These "lyrics" were completely baffling to the uninitiated. Before bebop, within the realm of blues, there was a whole genre known as "hokum" songs. They were funny and sometimes very witty, but again to those outside of that specific sub-culture, the meaning was not only elusive, there seemed to be no sense to it at all. I believe a similar phenomenon is happening with rap.

As for Lauryn Hill’s "Iniquity," I hear it as a critique of the social order that is made using the criminal justice system as a metaphor for society at large. However, I suspect that even if you had the words, the meaning would still not be all that clear to you because the beauty of the track is in how she makes the critique rather than in the insightfulness of the critique itself. Or, to quote an old R&B lyric: it ain’t what you do, but the way that you do it! Seen? Heard?

To read the Lauryn Hill lyrics to Mystery click here


Marian Says:
July 12th, 2005 at 12:09 pm

I did find Lauryn Hill’s lyrics to be a condemnation of the current political and legal environment. (Even I caught the reference to Bush.) However, IMHO, the content is more interesting than the form. If I were more interested in form, the KWest’s entry might be more interesting because he’s layered another rhythmic track on top of hers. Instead, the content is a cynical reaction to caring what is going on in the world. It’s a complaint that Hill is not as exploitive as a young beautiful woman should be. (That’s a woman’s only talent, isn’t it?)

If content is immaterial, then why the verbal jousting between performers? Why is Mtume indignant that these performers’ words don’t match their actions? Meanwhile, I am trying to imagine a scat contest. No content—just pure form. I have at least one Louis Armstrong CD that includes Ella Fitzgerald. Or would a contest with Sarah Vaughan be better?

I am at risk at sounding as if I prefer content – and I’m a true Jazz and modern classical music fan. I love abstracts and ambiguity. I guess my problem is accepting lyrics as mere sound patterns.

senacle Says:
July 12th, 2005 at 12:43 pm

First, love the site. Second, I think both of you expressed valid points about Kanye and just hip-hop in general. Even though I give Kanye credit for infusing some additional consciousness into hip-hop in a way that others like Common haven’t been able to generate a mainstream appeal, I still think kanye’s full of himself. He can act like he’s had to fight all his life, but at some point he needs to realize that he’s successful now — and righteously that doesn’t give him the inherent right to shit on everybody else. With success comes humility. As for “Diamonds,” it is a hit, a club-friendly tune — one made moreso by Jay-Z who totally removes the song from the Sierre Leone awareness that Kanye started with and turns it into some trivial mess. Good night, for real.

Adia Blackmon Says:
July 12th, 2005 at 7:08 pm

Amen and Ashe to that shit (sorry for the appearing sacrilige but it is what I could immediately muster)! I peace both of you brothers up. Thank you for showing the beauty in sharing between generations, learning and teaching. I laughed out loud in response to Mtume’s initial response and then to Kalamu’s celebration of discourse between the first two posts (Kalamu’s and Mtume’s). I was tickled at being saddened, delighted, enlightened, shouting in affirmation, and laughing through tears. Kalamu you have raised an awesome son and Mtume you have raised an awesome father. I still want to love hip-hop but so much of it only makes space for me to be someone’s ho, wifey, or gold digger. I appreciate what you two have done here; I pray Kanye or someone with the same exposure reads it and thinks about how much power they’ve been given because what they say is heard far and wide. I am sitting here in drunken delight at your words, back and forth to each other and to us, and the masterful inserts of your links and pictures. At our seminary baccalaureate our speaker said something about our current government and it sounded like he was going to cuss to which he responded “some things are so profane they must be spoken of with profanity.” Peace.

Caleb Balloch Says:
July 14th, 2005 at 12:32 pm

I had a lot of faith in Kanye West to bringing something new to an over-crunked gansta hip-hop that seemed to have risen several years ago. I followed Kanye as an MC since he released his first single, Through the Wire, because I heard a humble and grateful MC rapping over a great instrumental. Not to mention the fact that it was straight fire. However, after buying Kanye’s first album as it was released, Kanye has filled me with little more than disappointment.

Kanye has neither the rhymes, nor the flow, nor the lyrical content to be considered even a good MC. Using the same word two or three times isn’t rhyming, that’s repetition. Don’t get me wrong, that can be hot, just as Jay-Z did on ‘22 Twos’ on Reasonable Doubt, but certainly not how Kanye does it. The majority of Kanye’s rhymes consist of him changing the syllables of a word to fit the rhyme, such as his famous “securrre”. While this also works sometimes, with Snoop Dogg as example, Kanye lacks the flow that makes you think twice about the rhyme you just heard. When Kanye does it, you know instantly that something was fucked up. After six or seven in a row, it really kills the song. As for his lyrical content, my initial impression of the man could not have been farther from the truth. With his release of Through the Wire, and some-how-leaked version of Family Business, along with several others, Kanye was poised to be the next big hit, and this time it was a guy who didn’t rap about cars and clothes; but about shit that matters. Some how, even before he sold way-to-many copies of his first album, he was already drowning in bling.
As for his producing, that is another story. Kanye dropped into the game as a producer, and did he ever produce some hot beats! He still does it every once and a while now. But the problem with his production is that it doesn’t change. This need was put into words best by Primo and Guru before on the intro of their classic Moment of Truth:

“That makes me know that, we we we we’re doin
We had the right idea in the beginning
And and we just need to maintain our focus, and elevate
We what we do we update our formulas
We have certain formulas but we update em (oh right)
with the times, and everything y’know
And and so.. y’know
The rhyme style is elevated
The style of beats is elevated”

Kanye doesn’t do that. He did have the right idea, he does have some great formulas. But he doesn’t update them. Kanye still has some flashes, like Corners by Common (talk about change!), but on the whole, his production is just getting complacent. It’s the same shit over and over.
Diamond’s production is just too pop for me. The original lyrics were sour, and made it worse. When Lupe Fiasco put out his own, it was decent because he had the lyrical content and the decent rhymes that Kanye lacked. It made you sit and want to listen to the lyrics. As for the third version, had Mtume not shed light on the timeline of things, I would probably have been relieved to hear that Kanye finally has something to say worth listening to, but now I see he doesn’t. As for Jay-Z, he has my respect (not that he wants or needs it), but that verse was shit.

Kanye is a popular artist because he has catchy beats. A lot of the consumers out there can’t really follow the lyrics, or just prefer not to. Hell, in a club, nobody gives a shit about rhymes. Kanye’s album will sell because its hype, but hopefully we’ll find that there is more than that (although from the first two releases, don’t get your hopes up). Kanye’s sophomore album is going to sell; hell, I’ll probably still pick it up eventually. But like Mtume, I’m not going to be breaking anyone’s necks either. Sorry for the rant.


Arjanay Says:
July 23rd, 2005 at 8:55 pm

Hey whoever reply negative about kanye’s Diamonds are selfish forgive me but it is the truth the video is real the lyrics are real I see kanye as an activist. It is like he is educating us the hip hop generation about what is going on in africa this is a cause and not to be played with. I understand that a lot of us don’t spend tons of money on diamonds but we want princess cut diamonds and diamond this on if it is a half of carat rather we deny it or not and some of us don’t want ice but we know alot of people do. THis message that kanye is sending out is to let us know that over here in america we do take alot for granted when there is other serious issues going on. And kanye is known for his beats but alot of people are reseaching sierra leone history and the conflict diamonds did you know that this war in sierra leone and the blood diamond was current up until 5 years ago so take the positive things that he is saying research the information and be an activist educate others about this cause ans stop searching for the negative things in life

Brittany Says:
July 24th, 2005 at 12:26 am

Despite that it’s taking so long to make the album, true fans will go out and buy the cd, even if it can already be downloaded. I love the fact that rappers are reaching out to the poverty or the world instead of the good life. I got Kanye’s first cd and im definitely getting the new one.

Dirty Says:
September 24th, 2005 at 5:47 pm

It really saddens me. Kanye could of made this song much bigger by only talking about diamonds, and how basically evil they are.. and not talking about the ROC. I think he should of just BIT baby blak’s song if he didnt have the orignality, creativity and consiousness to bring the truth to light and really making an impact, cuz shit these dumb mothefukas (not you kanye) are still all up in my face on mtv showing me their ugly ass daimonds…….


PLEASE LISTEN TO ONE BE LO’s AXIS (kanye could of done that song, well maybe it’ll be on his next album?!)

nina Says:
November 30th, 2006 at 1:55 am

i just wanted to know if he was a jehovah

Kanye is too Legit Says:
July 18th, 2007 at 10:50 pm

Y’all don’t know sh*t if your straight clownin on Kanye… He has got that fire’y dank music.

chino green Says:
October 23rd, 2007 at 11:23 am

fuck Kanye, his an exploiter,,i am from sierra leone n am sick of this shit..

Dkicker Says:
April 27th, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Hello, thank you for revealing your ideas in breath of life » KANYE WEST (w/ Jay Z) / “Diamonds”. This is really a very nice website.

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