I don’t want to sound redundant, but let’s keep talking Kanyeezee, and what we saw fall upon us………YEEZUS!!! As I wrote in my last post I wanted to show my support for Kanye’s brashness in the face of conventional wisdom, or lack there of. This time around I want to show you all how the Jewish and African American connection remains strong, consciously, unconsciously or subconsciously. This is where we’ll veer to his album and the song titled “Blood on the Leaves.”
I came across an article on tablet about the many meanings of the song and its various incarnations. In this case we’re talking about the sample used on Kanye’s song, which is a version of the song “Strange Fruit” sung beautifully by Nina Simone. The most popular version we see through the old stock footage is of Billie Holiday. In the version most of us saw, the performing room area is ominously dark. The only brightness is shining on her weathered face as she projects the misery of the song. The pain and anguish is being sung, yet there are arguments maintaining that she didn’t fully understand the content. This doesn’t matter as much because her performance is powerful. We shouldn’t forget that in the era when she sang it, circa 1939, these types of songs were hard to perform in public in front of white audiences.
The song itself was written as a poem by a Jewish schoolteacher who taught in the Bronx. Abel Meeropol’s background and socialist leanings gave him the idea to write this poem. The poem speaks of the blood trickling down the leaves due to the horrid lynchings happening across the country. Lynchings were commonplace by the turn of the century lasting until the later part of the decade of the 1940’s. Lynchings occurred all over the country, although most took place in the American south. However, they also lynched African Americans in many midwestern cities and towns. These horrible spectacles spanned from Illinois to Indiana. There were also the many race riots, which took place in northern urban areas. Also, lynchings were a public event in most of these places where they even produced postcards. These postcards depicted the smiling white faces with the horrid backdrop of hanging black men, and women in certain cases, hanging lifeless and torn in the background. The hanging was the least of the pain as the lynch mob would usually torture and castrate the supposed guilty parties. Most black men were lynched because the locals felt that they dishonored or disrespected a white woman. Note how this is all cyclical as I mentioned in the last post. That is why to this day it’s hard for certain white folk to see a black man and a white woman together. Their DNA is screaming bloody murder, but now they can go vent on fox news with the rest of the morons. And now back to the scheduled program.
Abel Meeropol’s socialist leanings brought about the idea to produce this scathing social commentary. The earliest recordings were made by his wife, yet it reached Billie Holiday and would become immortalized. Nina Simone’s delivery is different, as her voice and cadence is a bit more caustic, while beautiful in a very different way. This is all the background for the song that will become “Blood on the Leaves” by Kanye West. Nina Simone performed the song a few decades after Billie Holiday, but the pain and suffering remained as seen through the Civil Rights and Black Power struggle. He uses the updated version to show that the entire timeline of African Americans is mired in Blood on the leaves. Whether it was an African slave being whipped and tortured, to a sharecropper being beaten by the local white thugs, to the lynchings and violence perpetrated by whites – men, women, and children. If you watch some of the documentaries on the role of integration you see that these African American students were taunted by women and children just as much as men. It is like the monstrous quality which brings a civilization to its decline, like Sodom and Gomorrah.
Kanye’s track begins with Nina’s piano playing and voice as the beat freezes her at the word “breeze.” Then Kanye yelps that he needs to clear his mind, as the track proceeds the heavy tracks of anger and anguish with a rise and fall from the mountain top. The earlier part of the album is loud and energy driven with its many twists and turns of filler and political screeds. It should be noted that in his earlier song “New Slaves” he yells out that he sees the Blood on the Leaves. He is preparing us for the later song, which will address the issue further. Although the song depicts a sexual conquest it’s interesting how he mentions sex as Nina sings of the bodies hanging from the trees. Maybe they are both speaking of the politicization and abuse of the African American body. There is a direct connection from the objectification of black bodies first through slavery and then through lynchings. White men who are low on the class totem pole are still able to unify with other whites and assert their power over black bodies. This connection continued as Civil Rights advocates and the many black boys and girls being beaten down, fired upon with powerful water hoses, fighting the terrible dogs remained objectified by whites.
The thing that pissed the good ol’ white boys during the Black Power movement was due to regaining and retaining the definitions of a black body. The pathology continued and remains to this day thanks to Hip Hop culture. This idea of perpetuating the myth of the menace of the black man and the degradation of black women continues to this very day. Kanye is speaking of these ills, and even though he’s a bit bigheaded to say the least he still proves a point. By using the sample he’s folding time over itself and showing his fans, and the critics and scholars alike, that the blood is still flowing down the trees. This sample based on Abel Meeropol’s poem connects this suffering and search for social justice which Jewish Americans and African Americans fought. With the rise of socialism, the idea of a class struggle and redistribution of wealth for all to partake was practiced by both groups. They both saw the dirt, grime, and blood wiped across their faces as the onlookers snapped photos and laughed. Lynchings and pogroms are natural to human nature, and remain in their perverted evolution today. We all have to take action in order to cleanse the blood, and continue to make powerful music. We need to open our minds, heads, eyes, and ears or we’ll lose all sense of history and be doomed to repeat it. Let’s remove the shackles of blindness and break the bonds of this new slavery.
Billie Holiday’s version of “Strange Fruit”
Nina Simone’s version of “Strange Fruit:
And, Kanye West’s “Blood on the Leaves”