The Problem With Kreezus

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Call me a grinch with no sense of humor, but the Kreezus album is not “the perfect Christmas album” or “better than it sounds” or even the “perfect holiday mash-up,” for more reasons than just the off-key and extremely cringe-worthy “Hold My Eggnog”. Kreezus is the “I Can Breathe” t-shirt of Christmas albums destined for FOX News approval.

See normally, I’m just another grouch who is over the same, tired joke about how Kanye is an asshole. And normally, I don’t like people constantly vilifying and dismissing him as a legitimate political and artistic force, because of an off-remark or (God forbid) his habit of self-affirmation. But this time, it’s more poignant, as it relates to the implications of devaluing his message at this critical point of widespread social injustice and belligerent disregard for the lives of black people.

After all, it’s been a rough few weeks to be an American. Every time you turn on a television, reports of racially-charged unrest are on a 24-hour loop like A Christmas Story on TBS. We’ve had to face the uncomfortable truth that the Mike Browns, Eric Garners, and Tamir Rices aren’t treated the same as the Darren Wilsons, Daniel Pantaleos, and Tim Loehmanns—practically parading a painful reminder that the phrase “for liberty and justice for all” was written by the privileged for the privileged.

And while the Local Business Comedy trio saw it as a funny, career leapfrog, the fact that they didn’t think of how they were debasing Kanye’s effusive message, especially at this moment in time, is reprehensible. Defacing “Black Skinhead” into “Red Hat Head” is no different than an Elks Lodge full of police officers parodying Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” to mock the murder of Michael Brown for their holiday party entertainment.

After all, Yeezus is a landmark album; a release that’s culturally relevant because it managed to spread a radical, much-needed message to a platinum record-sized public. And most notably, it’s an album that Kanye released with the intention of being both aesthetically and intellectually off-putting in order to distance himself from a pop-driven industry that often commodifies black culture.

The creators of Kreezus
The creators of Kreezus

But with Kreezus, three white males  two white males and a “proud member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe”* have pretty much taken this very relevant, politically-charged message and turned it into its anti-thesis. From the exaggerated Jamaican accent they attempt for Agent Sasco’s “I’m In It” verse to the renaming of the incendiary “New Slaves” to “New Sleighs” and “Blood on the Leaves” to “Lights on the Trees”, it’s callous, token, and demeaning. Yeezus is anchored in the idea that it is an anti-pop, anti-industry album, so reworking it into an anthem for Christmas gifts, toys for children, and holiday shopping is a tad problematic.

It also muddles the message for the sake of a rhyme, taking some of the most emblematic lines and turning it into inane, holiday-themed dribble. Kreezus is guilty of “speaking over” Yeezus’s message,  much like people of color are often brushed aside and labeled “angry” and “reactive.” Local Business has managed to completely negate Kanye’s point that black culture has become a spectacle, as evidenced by the erasure of his visceral allusion to being paraded around like a circus animal freak on “Black Skinhead”, where powerful lines like “Middle America packed in, came to see me in my black skin” are turned into “Middle America’s presents, are most of my big bag’s contents.” It’s Kanye’s original message, once again, glossed over by a group of white comedians for the sake of a few shits and giggles.

Worst of all, they  parodied Billie Holiday’s emblematic, haunting “Strange Fruit” sample—one of the most important race songs ever written—and turn it into “Strange ornaments hanging from the christmas trees.” Was it ignorance or privileged apathy to not understand “strange ornaments” as failing to parody a song that addresses the continual abuse and dehumanization of the black body?

Isn’t the mark of good comedy tact and timing? Which leads me to my main question: Why this year? Why after all the looted Ferguson stores and #BlackOutBlackFriday movements do they need to take one of the most revolutionary albums—both aesthetically and intellectually—and completely degrade the message? To continue proving that holiday sales are more important than people steeped in fear and poverty? To once again have a laugh at Kanye’s expense even when he has something very important to say? And where are our trusted watchdogs like Salon and Azealia Banks to see through the tinsel? Oh right…

Yeezus came out last summer, which means if they were trying to be timely, it’d probably would have been a good idea to release it last Christmas. Instead, a bad idea that came late to relevancy is getting the phoned-in, holiday traffic treatment without acknowledging that we’re living in a world where all three of its creators can merrily carol in the street at night in black hoodies without threat to their lives?

Because while this may all seem nit-picky and over-reactionary, there’s no reason we should be giving this album attention it does not deserve.  Not when another young black male was left to die in the streets of St. Louis two days before Christmas.

So I beg you, do anything but listen to Kreezus, especially at a time when we need Kanye’s original the most. He’s already been made into a joke, but as Q-Tip just said to Iggy Azalea, hip-hop is many things, “but 1 thing it can never detach itself from is being a SOCIO-Political movement.” Keep making light of Kanye, who is the face of hip-hop to many an American, and you run the risk of turning hip-hop itself into a token joke about “bitches and money and guns” more than all the Flava Flav impersonators and “Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It” memes combined. Because the excuse of “it’s the holidays” doesn’t justify putting #BlackLivesMatter on hold so three white men can drown Kanye’s uncomfortable truth out with cheap seasonal puns and bad impressions.

*Changes were made on 3/25/2015 to reflect a point raised by Local Business member Joseph Clift. He states via email that he is a proud member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and grew up on the Tulalip Indian Reservation.