The Desire to Escape
Tales of fame and fortune always have to start at the core, where it isn’t always as clean and free at the top. Kanye West’s Spaceship is parallel to the American slave songs of Frederick Douglass’ time in both lyrical content and motivation for writing it. The songs slaves sung eased the burden of the life they were living, as they served as methods of letting out their innermost feelings. Many songs discussed some biblical figure carrying them away from the injustice of slavery to a home of love and freedom. They could be considered cries of help.
“Spaceship” contains Kanye venting about when he worked at a place (The Gap) filled with racism, monotony, and injustice and how he wished he could get away from it all, to be emancipated from his environment. He had to find time to pursue his forte, music, despite working grave shifts to stay afloat and being consistently harassed by his coworkers. Any noncompliance could risk his job. This song was Kanye’s cry for salvation, not too different from the songs Frederick Douglass heard throughout the Southern plantations. This song, as well as the album it was on, presented the world with a new type of rap.
Kanye West’s first album in 2004, The College Dropout, infused soul, comedy, and cleverness that was the polar opposite of the gangsta rap of artists like DMX, Jay-Z, Nas, and many others. Instead of viciously spitting lyrics about alcohol and nice cars, Kanye rapped about things like school, poverty, oppression, and family. With songs like “Spaceship”, the critics around the globe praised the album for breaking down the boundaries of rap and showing emotion and intelligence through his lyrics. Rolling Stone stated in a review, “Kanye expanded the musical and emotional language of hip-hop ..
. he challenged all the rules, dancing across boundaries others were too afraid to even acknowledge.” It sold 441,000 copies in the first week. Rolling Stone rated it as the best album of the year, Kanye was awarded the Grammy for Best Rap Album, and Time magazine even put it in its list of the Best 100 Albums of All Time. This isn’t even the full collection of its accolades! Because of this one album and its 21 beautiful songs, artists like Kid Cudi, Childish Gambino, and Chance the Rapper, men who don’t fit in with the whole “gangsta” persona, were inspired to let their voices be heard.
Among debut albums, The College Dropout is considered nearly untouchable in innovation and brought the world hip hop with soul never heard before. Although this album can appeal to people all around the world, Kanye’s target audience were people who could relate to his struggles and experiences, mainly teenagers and young adults. Spaceship reverberated with people who work tedious jobs, live with people who constantly hector them, and contain ambitions that are constantly demolished by the world they live in. A song like this inspired people to break away from the chains that bound them and give something more interesting and enjoyable a chance. Spaceship was Kanye, as well as guest rappers GLC and Consequence’s story of their experiences with modern day oppression.
The music that Kanye brings can help people through their daily lives, whether it’s cheering them up with some witty humor, or feeling the empathy Kanye distributes with songs that describe tough times humans go through. For an album that has sold over 4 million copies in its lifetime, it’s remarkably personal. Spaceship has changed the world, young adults stuck working until 4 AM at Mcdonalds, and me. There have been some things in my life that I’d quit enjoying and have defiled my state.
I stuck with those things due to societal pressure and the unwillingness to change my situation due to myriads of excuses I made up. For example, I’ve had a few years where I did sports like soccer and basketball that consumed a huge amount of time and that I hated. After really listening to this song, this album, and other music like it, I’ve learned that I am fully capable of dragging myself out of this idle situation and make a change for the better. A few of those things I have pulled myself out of and now I am less stressed and happier. It just took some encouragement. Additionally, this song has taught me that things aren’t always as it seems.
Kanye discusses that often people put on a facade for their situation. On the surface something may seem fine, but deeper down, it’s not. I remember driving back to the airport in Jamaica from our cozy little resort on the beach after a relaxing vacation. I noticed all of the people living in miniscule tin shacks and wearing ragged clothes. Jamaica had always been presented to me as this jolly, relaxed, carefree place yet underneath the surface was a world of poverty and conditions far from humane. Nearly six minutes of rap taught me that I could break free from detrimental things in my life and that the world isn’t always as clean as advertised.
As you can see, Kanye West went far beyond the seed with The College Dropout and heavily altered the world of music. His debut album was given universal acclaim, he helped teens and adults move through their dull lives, and taught me two important lessons. Spaceship shows that when people don’t try to do anything to improve their lives, the world creeps closer to the hopeless, oppressive world that Frederick Douglass endured and despised. He proclaimed, “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” He’s essentially saying that in a world where poverty and ignorance are far too common, where specific groups of people are outed and hated, the world won’t progress and no one will actually be safe.
This Kanye West song discusses similar feelings and dreams that African American slaves sang about, like the wish to fly away from the crooked lands they inhabited. Both Kanye and the slaves used soulful songs to help them brook their lives. The world may only improve if those living in it question what they see on the surface.