Ryan: Kanye West and the Great Society

Graphic by Alexander Somoskey.

Donald Trump has been name-dropped by nearly every major rapper of the last 30 years, starting with a reference by Beastie Boys on their iconic album Paul's Boutique, the Sgt. Pepper of hip-hop.

He's been mentioned by Jay Z. Ludacris. Young Thug. Nelly. Kendrick Lamar. Juicy J. Rick Ross. Eminem. Big Sean. A Tribe Called Quest. Scarface. Lil Wayne. The Coup. Master P. Ice Cube. Mos Def. Raekwon, Ol' Dirty Bastard, and various other Wu-Tang Clan affiliates. R. Kelly. Pete Rock. Nas. E-40.

And don't forget this surreal moment in our nation's history.

Then-candidate Trump on SNL ... dancing to a Drake parody.(Screenshot from YouTube)

When Bun B referred to Trump on the Chopped-n-Screwed anthem "Pocket Full of Stones," he was keeping with a tradition of rappers admiring Trump. This only changed a few years ago.

But then there's Kanye West, who proudly donned the red MAGA hat after discovering Candace Owens and being called "a jackass" by our nation's first black President. Then Kanye was hugging President Trump in the Oval Office? While wearing a Make America Great Again hat, supposed symbol of white supremacy, Nazism, hate, evil?

(Screenshot from YouTube)

People flipped. Everyone did. Longtime critics suddenly — and bizarrely — embraced Kanye as an ally, while longtime defenders disowned him, abandoned him like nail clippings, often mocking his struggles with mental illness and labeling him, if you can believe it, a white supremacist.

Then, in a moment that changed music history, Kanye released the single "Ye vs. the People."

Ye vs. the People (starring TI as the People)www.youtube.com

In it, he challenges what he sees as the unspoken rule that black Americans have to vote Democrat. He had hinted at the idea on his track "Black Skinhead," from the hauntingly gorgeous album Yeezus, but now he was addressing it head-on, with the passion of a man going to Confession for the first time in a decade.

Why should black folks have to abide by any set of cultural or political or artistic guidelines to begin with? And, he argues, the pressure to adhere to this longheld framework is itself undergirded by a subtle and cleverly masked racism, imposed by a group of people who portray themselves as the champions of race and enemies of white supremacy and destroyers of dumb yokel rednecks with their Rebel flags and monster trucks and fully-automatic AR-15 assault weapons. All of which, it turns out, is some next-level projection.

Kanye also confronts the presence of these expectations and stereotypes in hip-hop. The idea that rappers must invoke a negative persona in order to succeed. And the moment they deviate from that image they are rebuked or ignored, even though the persona is damaging to the black community as a whole. Which is especially ironic given that the people who voice the most outrage tend to be highly privileged, supposedly progressive white folks who love to rant about white privilege and black oppression.

Is it better if I rap about crack? 'Cause it's cultural?
Or how about I'ma shoot you? or f**k your b***h?
Or how about all this Gucci, 'cause I'm f****n' rich?

Best of all, Kanye has answers. And they differ from the erudite solutions offered by, say, A Tribe Called Quest, who, like Kanye, have modeled a healthy, positive image of blackness for the black community.

A central theme within "Ye vs. The People" is empathy as power, rebellion, freedom.

Make America Great Again had a negative perception
I took it, wore it, rocked it, gave it a new direction
Added empathy, care and love and affection
And y'all simply questionin' my methods.

This concept is an extension of the powerful devotion to positive energy that Kanye adopted around that time, a purview he has cultivated into a wild new form of electronic gospel.

But his personal transformation was tough.

That [MAGA] hat stayed in my closet like 'bout a year and a half
Then one day I was like, "F**k it, I'ma do me"
I was in the sunken place and then I found the new me.

This is a struggle that many Americans undergo. Researchers call it the spiral of silence. The idea that the news media and social media present biased opinions as though they are fact, and when the message conflicts with a person's opinions or values, they feel isolated, alone.

Kanye and T.I. during the making of "Ye vs. the People"(Screenshot from YouTube)

As Kanye raps in "Ye vs. the People"

A lot of people agree with me but they're too scared to speak up.

Because we have an incredible ability to sense public opinion. So when we suspect that we hold a belief that rails against acceptable thought, we tend to keep quiet about it. That silence makes the opinion seem even more taboo, resulting in a more widespread silence.

In reality, many of these supposedly taboo opinions are not only popular, they are normal and practical and logical. Healthy, even. And the real danger is in demonizing them. But too many people are afraid they'll be ostracized for expressing their beliefs.

Like how — despite what we've been led to believe — most Americans cannot stand political correctness.

But the small minority of people who champion it are powerful and loud. They're like that cardboard city in North Korea, just visible enough from the border to make it seem like a thriving community. They're the Wicked Witch of the West, or Iago from Othello, or Plankton from Spongebob Squarepants.

So far, they have been successful. Although "success" by their metric is anarchic and primal, all destruction and loudness and people nervous to speak their mind. And the cost of rebellion can be devastating.

By the time Kanye West wrote "Yay versus the People," he had gotten sick of this power dynamic. So he broke the spiral of silence."

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In the words of German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, "Whoever has language has the world."

Humans alone have it.

But in order for us to know freedom in our world, our language has to be public, shared, active. Because each of us thrives constantly with language, a stream of it always in our mind. Aristotle defined "thought" as the infinite dialogue between the soul and itself. Conversation is the exchange of thought between people. When we converse, we simultaneously release our infinite dialogue and accept the other person's. By speaking, we shape the world and free ourselves.

*

Another way to say it is that Donald Trump might have inspired the song that could very well signify the end of Hip-Hop, which is not only the most popular genre of our zeitgeist, it's the most popular, and successful, form of musicin American history, which is the most important era of musical history.

If the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, and Drake literally outpaces the Beatles, then, well, you get the point God forgive me. And Kanye is bigger than Drake. So who better to have the final word on the capacities of Hip-Hop than Kanye West?

Nobody.

Every genre must come to a close. There's a reason why people aren't eagerly awaiting the next great disco album, or flocking to arenas to hear the newest bluegrass superstar, or asking to get their hair done like the latest syringe-armed guitarist of Guns N Roses.

(Screenshot from Instagram)

The great era of Rock 'N' Roll ended roughly about the time Radiohead traded their guitars and drums for synthesizers and sequencers, not long after Kurt Cobain took an insane amount of heroin and cradled a shotgun in his guesthouse, only to be discovered several days later by an electrician. Even worse, Nickelback soiled Cobain's legacy with godawful anthems, and who have their own weird and contradictory and hilarious connection to President Trump.

These days, Rock N' Roll lives mostly via nostalgia, as evinced by the explosion of cover bands. Notice how you don't see any hip-hop cover bands. You will, someday. But, for now, Hip-Hop reigns supreme. And Kanye is the King.

The brilliant Nina Simone once told a reporter that "An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times."

Because music accords itself to the gravity and creative truth of the era. And currently we entrust hip-hop with this complicated maneuver.

But the past year, Kanye has been crafting a new sound through his Sunday services, weekly jam sessions with acoustic musicians and a choir and everyone dressed in white, praying through song, herding us into a better place, looking above for guidance. If it's anything like his track "Ultralight Beam," it will bring calm to our divided culture.

Mark my words: The resultant album will usher in an entirely new era, a magical flash in human history.

So far, hip-hop has been the defiant child of R&B and Electronica, the grandchild of Spoken Word and Steve Reich Minimalism, with tinges of Punk. Not for much longer. Kanye will see to that. And, weirdly, President Trump has helped inspire this transformation.

Meaning, Donald Trump will have had a hand in reinventing music as a whole, in spreading a movement of positive reformation. Love him or hate him, it does not matter. What other politician can make that claim?

There's an optimism to this that Dave Chappelle captured in his now-infamous Saturday Night Live monologue, just days after Trump was elected, asking Americans to at least give the man a chance. And again in his special "Equanimity," when he said

I swear no matter how bad it gets, you're my countrymen, and I know for a fact that I'm determined to work shit out with y'all.

In a moment of now-tired irony, the usual suspects heaped a barrage of hate at Chappelle for these remarks. But their outrage does not matter, in the grand scheme of things. Because it is an incredible time to be alive. It's beautiful. We should never forget that, no matter how petty or outrageous daily life gets.

At the moment, we are a country that is — everywhere, secretly — hurting. But we are Americans. Together. This is America. And, every day, God delights in our greatness and our empathy and our endless gift for love. So open your heart and listen. Say what you need to say.

New installments of this series come out every Monday and Thursday. Check out my Twitter or email me at kryan@mercurystudios.com

If we can build skyscrapers, we can rebuild bridges

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Editor's note: This article was originally published on TheBlaze.com.

I am sick and tired of hearing about our limitations. The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge this week is an amazing hero story of the cops and first responders who saved an untold number of lives by doing exactly the right thing quickly. But I’m really tired of hearing about how long it’s going to take us to recover from this catastrophe and how bad it’s going to be.


The immediate impact for Americans regarding this bridge collapse seems dire. If you're waiting for a new car to come in from overseas, prepare to wait longer. The Port of Baltimore stands as the nation’s leading import-export site for cars and trucks. It’s also the leading nexus for sugar and gypsum, which is used in fertilizer, drywall, and plaster. A record 52.3 million tons of foreign cargo was transported through Baltimore just last year.

To expect more from our leaders is rational. But to expect the most from ourselves is essential.

The bustling port is now cut off after the 1.6-mile-long bridge crumbled and fell into the river early Tuesday, blocking the only shipping lane into the port.

The officials have said the timeline for rebuilding the bridge will be years. The Port of Baltimore creates more than 15,300 jobs, with another 140,000 jobs linked to the activity at the port. This is a major disaster and will continue to cause significant problems on the East Coast for U.S. importers and exporters.

The bridge collapse means it will not be possible to get to the container terminals or a range of the other port terminals in Baltimore. Maryland Secretary of Transportation Paul J. Wiedefeld told reporters on Tuesday that vessel traffic in the port would be suspended until further notice but noted the port is still open to trucks.

Michael Mezzacappa, an attorney and expert on property damage cases in the shipping industry, told the New York Post that the collapse will have a major impact on shipping and traffic routes in the East Coast for the foreseeable future. “It’s not going to get fixed any time soon,” Mezzacappa said. “It’s going to take a lot longer than anyone expects. This is going to be a major problem for the Northeast.”

Remember the American spirit

I am absolutely sick to death of all of these stories that say things like that. Have we forgotten who we are? Have we forgotten what we’ve done?

Let me remind you of the American spirit, a spirit so potent and so vibrant that it has scaled towering mountains, mountains nobody thought they could cross.

It’s the spirit that constructed marvels of engineering. Have you ever been to the Hoover Dam? Have you seen the New York City skyline? The skyscraper was invented here for a reason. Here we are on the threshold of tomorrow, and none of us knows what is going to happen. But I'm getting the impression that we’ve been so beaten down that we believe we’re not going to make it tomorrow.

Have we forgotten who our ancestors are and what they did? If you look through our history even briefly, you will see a group of people who never take no for an answer. You will see a people who can do anything.


I want to stop just briefly in 1930. The Great Depression had its icy grip on us. It was a time that felt like a flickering candle in the vast darkness just barely holding on. Yet, it was in this crucible of adversity that Americans did great things.

The Empire State Building rose. It wasn’t just a structure of steel and stone. It was a beacon, a beacon of hope and American resilience and ingenuity. The way that thing was built — no one has ever seen anything like it before and since. In a record-shattering one year and 45 days, an army of workers, as many as 3,400 men on certain days, transformed this audacious vision into a cowering reality.

If you look through our history even briefly, you will see a group of people who never take no for an answer.

The Empire State Building wasn’t constructed. It was conjured into existence with a symphony of clanging metal and roaring machines and the inexhaustible spirit of its builders. The men perched on steel girders that were being flown in by giant cranes whispered tales about how they could still feel the warmth of the freshly poured metal beneath them. That beam was still warm, even though it was poured in Pittsburgh, put on a train, then put on a boat, then on a truck, then hauled up into the air.

They could fill the warmth because we moved that fast. It was a feverish pace of construction. It seemed to defy the laws of time and physics.

For a long time, it was the tallest building in the world — an architectural achievement. It was also a declaration to the world that America was a land where the impossible became possible, that we are a people of determination, innovation, with a relentless will to succeed.

These aren't merely historical footnotes. They are blazing torches illuminating our path forward. They remind us that when we're faced with adversity, we don't just endure it. We overcome it. We don’t wait for history to chart our course. We write it with the sweat of our brow and the strength of our backs. That’s who we are. Have we forgotten that?

What are we waiting for?

We find ourselves at another crossroads faced with the challenges that threaten to dim the bright future that we all dream for our nation, for our children. The spirit that built the Empire State Building, laid down miles of railroads, cut through the Rocky Mountains, and sent astronauts to the moon is still inside of every heart of every American, somewhere.

Awaken that spirit. Scale new mountains. It's not just rock and earth. Scale the mountains of innovation. Build. Not just physical structures but a future that upholds the spirit of adventure, hard work, and ingenuity. Stop tearing everything down. Let's start building.

Why are we waiting? If this isn't a national emergency, I don't know what it is.

And I don't just mean the bridge. I mean all of it. You might say, “Well, our government has to lead.” Really? Does it? Maybe that’s our problem. America is led by its values and principles that are found in the souls of those who still remember who we are and who we serve. Americans lead the way. The government always follows.

You might say again, "Well, we can’t act without the government." Nonsense! Where are the bridge builders who will stand up today and say, “I'll get it done!” As soon as that happens, you’ll see who is leading and who is stalling. The government is the one that stalls the engine out. To expect more from our leaders is rational. But to expect the most from ourselves is essential.

There is nothing we can't achieve when we all stand together, united by our dreams, and driven by the will to see them fulfilled. Don't listen to anybody else who tells you differently.

6 things every voter needs to know heading into the 2024 election

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Election season is coming up and every vote matters. Over the last four years, our country has experienced some of the lowest lows it has seen in a long time. From horrors at the southern border to government overspending, it is clear: our country is in trouble. Everybody needs to get out and vote.

When you look at the numbers, there are some noticeable trends in who actually votes... and who doesn't. According to Pew Research, the more mature crowd (30 and up) gets out there and does their civic duty, while the younger crowd (18 to 29) just doesn't make it out to the polls. If you are a young or first-time voter, the process can seem daunting. You have to jump through some bureaucratic red tape before you can head to the polls, which can be frustrating and discouraging for someone who has never done it before.

If this describes you or someone you know, you're in luck. We compiled everything you need to know to get ready to hit the polls this election season in a convenient guide below.

Get an I.D.

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The first thing you'll need is a valid state I.D. These can take a while to acquire, so if you don't yet have one, it's time to get on it. Not all states require I.D., and every state has different requirements. You can check to see if your state requires an I.D. to vote here.

Register to vote

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Every state, except North Dakota, requires prospective voters to register, so it is important to make sure you are registered in the state and county you reside in. Every state has a different registration process. You can find your state's registration website here.

Confirm date of election day

You want to make sure you arrive at the polls at the right date and time. Most states have a set election day, and often there are even a few days or weeks of early voting that lead up to it. Check out this list of election dates to find out your election day and mark it in your calendar.

Find your polling location

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You can find polling locations on your state's voter information website, which can be found here. Keep in mind that you will likely have to find a location within the county where you reside. These locations often include public schools, public libraries, city halls, and other public buildings.

Research candidates on the ballot

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Before you vote, it is important to be educated in what you are voting for. Find out who will be on the ballot (and don't be surprised when it's not just the presidential nominees), and do a little digging. Don't assume that because a candidate has a little "R" next to their name they share your values. You can visit this website to find out who will be on the ballot in your local area.

Actually go vote

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There is nothing else to to but get out there and vote! Go out there and make your voice heard!

What do clay pots have to do with to preserving American history?

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Editor's note: This article was originally published on TheBlaze.com.

Why should we preserve our nation’s history? If you listen to my radio program and podcast, or read my columns and books, you know I’ve dedicated a large part of my life and finances to sourcing and preserving priceless artifacts that tell America’s story. I’ve tried to make these artifacts as available as possible through the American Journey Experience Museum, just across from the studios where I do my daily radio broadcast. Thousands of you have come through the museum and have been able to see and experience these artifacts that are a part of your legacy as an American.

The destruction of American texts has already begun.

But why should people like you and me be concerned about preserving these things from our nation's history? Isn’t that what the “big guys” like the National Archives are for?

I first felt a prompting to preserve our nation's history back in 2008, and it all started with clay pots and the Dead Sea Scrolls. In 1946, a Bedouin shepherd in what is now the West Bank threw a rock into a cave nestled into the side of a cliff near the Dead Sea. Instead of hearing an echo, he heard the curious sound of a clay pot shattering. He discovered more than 15,000 Masoretic texts from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D.

These texts weren’t just a priceless historical discovery. They were virtually perfect copies of the same Jewish texts that continue to be translated today. Consider the significance of that discovery. Since the third century B.C. when these texts were first written, the Jewish people have endured a continued onslaught of diasporas, persecutions, pressures to conform to their occupying power, the destruction of their temple, and so much more. They had to fight for their identity as a people for centuries, and finally, a year after the end of the Holocaust and a year before the founding of the nation of Israel, these texts were discovered, confirming the preservation and endurance of their heritage since ancient times — all due to someone putting these clay pots in a desert cave more than 2,000 years ago.

I first felt a prompting to preserve our nation's history back in 2008, and it all started with clay pots and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

So, what do these clay pots have to do with the calling to preserve American history? I didn’t understand that prompting myself until the horrible thought dawned on me that the people we are fighting against may very well take our sacred American scriptures, our Declaration of Independence, and our Bill of Rights. What if they are successful, and 1,000 years from now, we have no texts preserved to confirm our national identity? What kind of new history would be written over the truth?

The destruction of American texts has already begun. The National Archives has labeled some of our critical documents, like our Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, as “triggering” or “containing harmful language.” In a public statement, the National Archives said that the labels help prepare readers to view potentially distressing content:

The Catalog and web pages contain some content that may be harmful or difficult to view. NARA’s records span the history of the United States, and it is our charge to preserve and make available these historical records. As a result, some of the materials presented here may reflect outdated, biased, offensive, and possibly violent views and opinions. In addition, some of the materials may relate to violent or graphic events and are preserved for their historical significance.

According to this statement, our founding documents are either “outdated, biased, offensive,” “possibly violent,” or a combination of these scathing descriptions. I’m sorry, the Declaration of Independence is not “triggering.” Our Constitution is not “outdated and biased,” and our Bill of Rights certainly is not “offensive and possibly violent.” They are glorious documents. They should be celebrated, not qualified by such derogatory, absurd language. Shame on them.

These are only the beginning stages of rewriting our history. What if they start banning these “triggering” documents from public view because they might offend somebody? Haven’t we torn down “triggering” statues before? What if we are no longer able to see, read, and study the actual words of our nation's founding documents because they are “harmful” or “possibly violent”? A thousand years from now, will there be any remnant to piece together the true spirit behind the nation that our founders envisioned?

The Declaration of Independence is not “triggering.”

That is why in 2008, I was prompted to preserve what I could. Now, the American Journey Experience Museum includes more than 160,000 artifacts, from founding-era documents to the original Roe v. Wade court papers. We need to preserve the totality of our nation’s heritage, the good, the bad, and the ugly. We need to preserve our history in our own clay pots.

I ask you to join with me on this mission. Start buying books that are important to preserve. Buy some acid-free paper and start printing some of the founding documents, the reports that go against the mainstream narrative, the studies that prove what is true as we are continually being fed lies. Start preserving our daily history as well as our history because it is being rewritten and digitized.

Somebody must have a copy of what is happening now and what has happened in the past. I hope things don’t get really bad. But if they do, we need to preserve our heritage. Perhaps, someone 1,000 years from now will discover our clay pots and, Lord willing, be able to have a glimpse of America as it truly was.

Top 10 WORST items in the new $1.2 TRILLION spending bill

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Biden just signed the newest spending bill into law, and Glenn is furious.

Under Speaker Johnson's leadership, the whopping $1.2 TRILLION package will use your taxpayer dollars to fund the government through September. Of course, the bill is loaded with earmarks and pork that diverts money to fund all sorts of absurd side projects.

Here is the list of the ten WORST uses of taxpayer money in the recently passed spending bill:

Funding venues to host drag shows, including ones that target children

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Money for transgender underwear for kids

Funding for proms for 12 to 18 year old kids

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Border security funding... for Jordan and Egypt

Another $300 million for Ukraine

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$3.5 million for Detroit's annual Thanksgiving Day parade

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$2.5 million for a new kayaking facility in Franklin, New Hampshire

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$2.7 million for a bike park in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia, a town with a population of less than 2,300 people

$5 million for a new trail at Coastal Carolina University

$4 million the "Alaska King Crab Enhancement Project" (whatever that means)

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