On The Historical Echoes of Kanye West's Notion of Freedom


My DP1 – History of the America’s students are now reading Reconstruction by Eric Foner and one of them pointed out the above tweet to me by Kanye West. What’s the connection between the two? Well, let me juxtapose it with this quote by Thaddeus Stevens, bold section added by me:

We especially insist that the property of the chief rebels should be seized and [used for] the payment of the national debt, caused by the unjust and wicked war they instigated…

The whole fabric of southern society must be changed and never can it be done if this opportunity is lost. Without this, this government can never be, as it has never been, a true republic…

Nothing is so likely to make a man a good citizen as to make him a freeholder [landowner]. Nothing will so multiply the production of the South as to divide it into small farms. Nothing will make men so industrious and moral as to let them feel that they are above want and are the owners of the soil which they till… No people will ever be republican in spirit and practice where a few own immense manors and the masses are landless. Small and independent landholders are the support and guardians of republican liberty.

To give the above quote by Stevens context. It’s also worth noting that in class we’ve been discussing different conceptions of law – whether it be the preservation of private property or that of justice (however so conceived) and how political expediency plays a major role in the determination of which is used.

Given the discourse that #blacklivesmatters and public intellectuals like Ta-Nehisi Coates have brought up surrounding reparations and the context of the Thaddeus Stevens quote, I thought the connection between the two though rather apt. How so? Well, freed slaves unable to get access to good or significant amounts of land because private property – even if garnered by hook and crook – is considered inviolable means that while they may be legally free (though the Black Codes of the time made this not so) they still exist at the economic whim of their masters and are thus only slightly raised in stature. Having been dispossessed and exploited without recompense, this group was unable to accumulate the capital for communal development in a similar manner to way that yeoman, plantation, merchant and financier cultures were. Worth mentioning is that this population was also at the mercy of myriad actions subsequent to this particular epoch that had a similar thrust. Kanye here seems to be pointing out that the economic liberty and freedom as propagandized today via capitalism or yesteryear via the Free Labor ideology, is something murkier than such ideologues would suggest. Freedom requires a greater degree of an even economic playing field lest aspirations of Republican liberty turn into the reality of plutocratic tyranny .

From this perspective the above Kanye quote is spot on and furthermore the Tidal music streaming service that ‘Ye is a founding investor in is not merely a selfish means for obtaining a larger share of profits for his product – though this is true – but also reflects the greater relations of labor in the music industry. Specifically the manner in which large companies like Apple, via iTunes, and Spotify, Pandora, etc. society that capitalizes on the products of black artists/entrepreneurs. The are, in a significantly different way but still comparable nonetheless, the manors of today. Towards this end the demographics of the majority composition of “founding” artists – Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Alicia Keys, Chris Brown, J. Cole – is significant. Are there some white artists that have joined, yes, but the underlying truth remains the same – music producers are incredibly dependent on the owners of content/distribution and will not get a “fair share” unless they have greater access and strength in the market.

An even deeper reading could suggest that those which have manipulated government policy by forcing them into a formal of capitalist exchange that they are severely disadvantaged in for their personal financial well being are deserving of expropriation. I’m not suggesting that Kanye has become someone who advocates for massive redistribution of wealth, but considering the level of Roaring Twenties level of income disparity in this country wherein 1.5 million households (over 3 million children) live in extreme poverty and the U.S. Debt is as of writing this 16.3 trillion dollars, one can see the argument underlying Kanye’s short tweet.


Thaddeus Stevens, “Thaddeus Stevens Calls for Redistribution of Confederate Land,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed March 2, 2016, http://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1533.


Picchi, Aimee, “The surging ranks of America’s ultrapoor,” accessed March 2, 2016,