Kanye West’s performance at The BRIT Awards was apparently done at short notice. Rihanna was meant to perform at the event, but had to pull out the day before. She recommended that Kanye West play in her place, which makes sense seen as she would have probably played their new single, the excellent pop song Four Five Seconds. Kanye stepped in and delivered, but he did not play Four Five Seconds.
Rather than a catchy, well produced and inoffensive pop track, Kanye dropped All Day, a single that’s been rumoured for months; with a few poor quality leaks surfacing online. The track is huge. The beat is brutal and industrial, it’s like something ripped from Yeezus, but with a modern, Atlanta trap vibe. The lyrics take no prisoners, reflecting on the position of Black Americans in society and Kanye’s place in the system. Even the hook, as catchy as it is, is biting and sarcastic;
How much time you spent at the mall? All day, nigga
How many thots do you got on call? All day, nigga
H-how long they keep you in court? All day, nigga
Take you to get this fly? All day, nigga
Tell your P.O. how how long you been high? All day, nigga
Y’all already know I’m straight from the Chi, all day, nigga
South, south, south side! All day, nigga
As if this wasn’t enough, Kanye recruited half of the London grime scene to back him up on stage. Skepta, Fekky, Novelist, Stormzy, Jammer and more were there, all dressed in black, hoods up, flanking Kanye with two fucking flame throwers. It was beautiful.
The BRITs are a recognition that an artist has excelled in white, middle-class mediocrity. If you win one it’s pretty much an acknowledgment that you have sold albums to as many boring people from Surrey as possible and it’s indicative of so much of British music right now. We reward the human advertising boards that are James Bay and Ed Sheeran, yet completely neglect the incredible music being made beneath the surface, often by Black musicians. Wiley, the man who basically invented grime yet has never been invited to the BRITs, tweeted; “Kanye Knows The Brits Ain’t letting dons in there like that so he kicked off the door for us”. This could easily be the only time Skepta and co. appear here, and they only got that through a black American.
Even when you look at Festival line ups, the rap names on the big stages are primarily American. For some reason we’re uncomfortable promoting British black music, despite the fact what’s being made right now is as good as it has been in twenty years. If guitar music was going through as big a period of creativity as grime is currently, NME and the rest would be shoving it so far down our throats we’d be shitting four chord progressions.
As well as bland, the current crop of British mediocrity is also uncomfortably posh. Sam Smith’s Mum is a £500k a year broker, The Vaccines, Coldplay and Florence Welch went to public school, and Mumford and Sons are chums with Davey C (one of them has a fucking hedge fund manager for a dad). Amongst all this wealth, the culture shock, with Kanye rapping lines like “I’m like a light skinned slave, boy, we in the mothafuckin’ house”, was plain to see. Musa Okwonga, journalist, poet, musician and author, tweeted during the performance that “The perfect metaphor for the BRITs was a roomful of people standing stiffly about as one of the best rap beats in ages echoed around them”, and there were numerous uncomfortable faces in the crowd. The best example was probably Sam Smith, looking a little confused and scared because he was never allowed to listen to music like this in their gated community.
So this is a thank you to Kanye West. Thank you for bringing something real to our annual blandness parade. Thank you for shouting out Skepta and giving black British artists a real platform because we’re more comfortable with Ed Sheeran covering hip hop than we are with the black man who wrote it in the first place. Thank you for doing what you do, for not giving a shit and thank you for the god damn flame-throwers.
Fuck Liam Gallagher.