For my money, Mark Anthony Neal is one of this proud nation’s greatest contemporary public intellectuals, and he’s on a too-short list of black ones who get major attention. He uses black culture—particularly black musical culture—as a lens through which he sees contemporary American art, politics, and mores. Here he is on Kanye West portraying Jesus Christ on the cover of Rolling Stone:
The bottom line here is that West is not some pious figure simply tossing stones at the sinful–more than half of those stones West tosses at himself. By making public his struggles with living a devout life, West makes such a lifestyle so much more accessible and valuable to the very folk that need spirituality to get them through the day to day. Kanye West becomes the receptacle for the folk to think of a “Jesus” that is truly of the people.
Neal’s is the sanest take on the Passion of the Kanye, but the (non-)controversy is really a springboard for musings on spirituality, divas, and moral complexity in hip-hop. Please read it.