Singing the blues with Mr. Kanye West (Anthony Smith aka Postmodern Negro)

Singing the blues with Mr. Kanye West (Anthony Smith aka Postmodern Negro) December 31, 2008

“Find God in all things”

– Saint Ignatius of Loyola

“the blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one’s aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism.”

– Ralph Ellison

A sign of emergence is the art of finding God in all things. In such a world there is no impenetrable boundary between the sacred and secular. God’s presence is found everywhere.  From the back corner of a tucked away Starbucks to the stained-glass windows of a small parish in the hood. God is present in all things.  Each ‘node’ or ‘place’ where God is present is a potential hub for redemptive activity. A place where God makes things alive, redeems, heals, saves, rescues, liberates, and makes whole. Recently I have found God in the recent work of popular hip-hop artist Kanye West. West’s latest album 808’s and Heartbreaks is an expansion of the genre of hip-hop into what I call blues-hop or as he calls it pop art.  He engages in what I would consider a creative form of personal and social lament. Mr. West’s heart is obviously broken. If you have followed his personal story he’s experienced alot of loss recently. This is best expressed in the song “Heartless”:
In the night I hear him talk
The coldest story ever told
Somewhere far along this road, he lost his soul
To a woman so heartless (heartless)
How you be so heartless Oh
How could you be so heartless
This is just an example among many in our culture today where personal and social lament have become marketable. Aside from the com-modification of lament in our culture I am left with a deep question: what is God up to? When I dip my little brown toe into the mainstream of Christian culture everyone is happy. When you listen to Christian radio everyone is happy. Confession: I don’t like saccharine happiness. But of course I don’t want to be a killjoy on the matter. There are alot of joyful people out there. I don’t want to begrudge them their joy. But being ‘happy’ or thinking ‘happy thoughts’ I find to be annoying amidst a culture of loneliness, death, violence, and despair. Yes, I know, it ain’t all bad but for many happy music doesn’t capture the loss we experience on a daily basis. Many of us are heartbroken and the last thing we want to see is a bunch of happy people running around telling us to suck it up and smile. I want to cry, cuss, spit, get on my knees in lament. Not just for my own heart-broken-ness but God’s as well. The prophets of ancient Israel had this gift of tasting the heart-broken-ness of God whenever humans treated each other and the land like crap.  
When we enter into lament we sing the blues with God in Jesus, the ultimate blues-hop artist. Can you be honest with me in this up coming year? Have you recently experienced a broken heart from the state of the world? your own personal life? Sing with God and maybe you’ll find a place to find healing and to be a healer.  Just maybe you will begin to dream again and catch a glimpse of God’s vision of hope in an oftentimes heartless world.

Anthony Smith lives in Concord, NC, and he is a core member of the Charlotte Emergent cohort.




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  • Your Name

    Anyone who has ever experinced heat-break either personal or observed will quickly learn the hoax of “saccharine happiness.”
    My departure from make belief happy Christianity has brought a lot of doubt and turmoil especially when copnfronted with heart-break. Recently I came across this exerpt from a poem that reminds me to always look for faith to restore hope even whe I feel deflated:
    “As swimmers dare
    to lie face to teh sky
    and water bears them,
    as hawks rest upon air
    and air sustains them;
    so would I learn to attain
    free fall and float
    into creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
    knowing no effort earns
    that all-surrounding grace.”

  • Hi, Anthony,
    I went through a bit of an Eminem phase a few years ago. Try explaining that to your kids!
    But yes, I think you’re on to something. How blessed we are to have so many ways to share our joy and our pain. And how rich life becomes when we’re willing to walk eyes-open into both.

  • Anthony, I think you’re right on here, and I’m wondering what Cornel West might say about Kanye’s latest album. West seems to be heavily into the experience of what he calls “the blues people,” and a lot of what you’re saying here ties into that kind of thing he talks about.
    And I really dig the term “blues-hop.” I know Kanye calls it pop art, but I think he’s talking about more than just his music. His live shows, clothing line, producing, rapping, etc…all ties into his desire to be a pop artist rather than “just” a rapper. So I think pop art is a good term for the whole of what he’s doing, in fact he’s probably the only person on the planet doing that specific kind of pop art (as opposed to painting or printing or photography or other kinds of more traditional pop art media), which makes West a real visionary, but I think blues-hop is a much more appropriate term for his music as a specific part of his whole pop art creativity.

  • Finding God in all things truly is an art. Discovering the potentially transformative voice that might be speaking in all things (depending on the ears we heave) is an art form I hope we will continue to develop. Anthony, I hope to hear more from you in the future

  • AMG

    Very nice Anthony. I believe we find God more in our pain than in any put-on happiness. God knows where he’s needed.

  • awesome anthony. i am hoping this pinch hitting experience gets you blogging again! i a downloading the album now.

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