Ladies and gentlemen, we have entered a new era of rap discourse. Once upon a time, hip-hop artists settled their differences in the studio. More recently, they took their disagreements to Twitter, providing a new source of entertainment for concerned observers. But Yasiin Bey, who’s always lived about 15 years in the future, has determined the next wave: Apparel.
While Kanye West’s “White Lives Matter” shirts have gotten plenty of press and reactions from peers, fans, and media outlets alike, Bey — who collaborated with Kanye early in the younger rapper’s career — reacted to his old friend’s latest publicity stunt in kind, sharing a photo of his own, similar but very different design. Like Kanye’s shirts, the front bears a seemingly unrelated image (West’s had a picture of the pope, while the offending slogan was emblazoned across the back in block letters), while the back has a slogan of its own which is a clever play on Kanye’s.
The German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel graces the front of Bey’s shirt, while the back bears the phrase “White Lies Matter,” graying out the “V” in “lives” to make its point crystal clear and as sharp as a brand-new kitchen knife.
Now, that’s how you make a political statement. It’s never been about whether anyone agreed. It’s been about making the message legible and Kanye’s just wasn’t — aside from being taken from a right-wing talking point cooked up specifically as a counter to a legitimate call to recognize the humanity of a group being victimized. Again, you’ll remember that the slogan “Black Lives Matter” emerged as a response to the murders of people like Ahmad Arbery, Trayvon Martin, and Rekia Boyd. The nonprofit that later co-opted the phrase might well have turned out to be a scam, but the urgency of the message remains. And to believe anything else is to buy into a lie — something that Yasiin Bey effectively points out in his response to West’s muddled message.