On May 18th, 2013 Hip Hop Zeitgeist Kanye West took to the Saturday Night Live set to debut 2 new songs from his forthcoming album ‘Yeezy’ and was met with boos from the crowd (again).
After a disastrous SNL stint in 2008 on the heels of his “808s and Heartbreaks” album which included being loudly booed by the audience during his opening song ‘Love Lockdown’ Kanye had taken a 5 year hiatus before returning to 30 Rock for a shot at redemption. Instead it was a more impassioned version of ’08 that included SNL muting audible heckling during the live broadcast (pro sports style). Mr. West also previewed a new darker sound that doesn’t lend itself to seeming inner peace. But then again it is Mr. ‘George Bush doesn’t care about black people!’, Mr. Taylor Swift Heckler, the new Mr. Kardashian. Yeezy and Kim are the TNT of Reality Royalty…..They DO DRAMA!!!
Regardless of The West Family’s legendary polarizing antics I still found myself feeling sorry for Kanye when I heard about both of his rough nights on SNL. In my opinion no matter how trollish Kanye appears to others I will never believe heckling a live performer is ever justified. If someone truly despises what they believe an entertainer stands for they should not support their products and stay home when they perform live. Going to their show and calling negative attention to oneself is an exercise in self destructive and indiscriminately hateful public posturing. NOBODY CARES WHAT YOU THINK DURING A LIVE SHOW. Play nice or get ejected. From my vantage those are the only 2 reasonable options….no matter who the polarizing performer is.
Full disclosure: I am a fan of Ye’s music and consider him to be a very creative and entertaining Rap artist. Barring his mentor Jay-Z I believe Kanye has had one of the most unique and lovable discographies in Hip Hop History. His taut juxtapositions of underground and pop beats blend perfectly in my ear with West’s wickedly acerbic, self aware lyrics.
All that hyperbole notwithstanding….I have never admired the narcissist douche bag persona Ye has adapted since his fame’s inception. Much like Lebron James, Charlie Sheen, Tiger Woods….even The Obamas; winners as monolithic as these folks are assured of a lion’s share of likeability, hateability, devout disciples, hecklers and haters.
Many trolls defend public heckling and shaming of iconoclasts by pointing to unlikeable personality traits (Kanye’s drunken bullying of Swift at the VMAs, Sheen’s vitriolic rants on t.v., Tiger’s aloofness with the media, The Obamas’ willingness to shut down detractors). To me that makes them human. To haters that makes them banana slugs.
Last week Michelle Obama was heckled by an LGBT activist during a speech and threatened to leave if she wasn’t allowed to finish her speech. White House officials praised Obama for her toughness under fire. Haters called it a dodge.
To me Mrs. Obama gave the most prudent response she could under fire: “One of the things that I don’t do well is this. Listen to me, or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.”
The other option of going Michael “Kramer” Richards on Obama’s heckler was mercifully avoided. Even Michelle’s tone was reasonable. ‘Don’t fuck with me or I’m done. Respectfully. Bitch.’ Barack’s recent tit for tat response with his trolls shows more passive grit than Michael Richards too. No peaceful, loving person would defend Richard’s racist meltdown.
However, I can’t find a single soul who is willing to defend the heckler who set off Mt. St. Kramer. Interrupting entertainers with aggressive negativity at a live show takes enjoyment away from one’s fellow audience as well. While the trolls may think their shtick is solely aimed at Richards, Kanye, The Obamas, etc. I would argue the people who take the brunt of the abuse is the rest of the paying audience. Listen to the horrified gasps, shock and awe of the Laugh Factory audience on the Richard’s video….the lobbing of hate speech between Richards and his attacker is frightening. Everyone in that room felt attacked. Richards will take the blame for what happened but society’s need for a zero tolerance heckling policy remains intact.
Imagine if Kanye had stopped in the middle of his SNL performance and yelled ‘SHUT THE FUCK UP CRACKERS!!!’ at his hecklers. Knowing a wide array of Anti-Kanye friends and family I estimate that would be the final nail in his coffin for them.
Since Kanye has exhibited the same type of brutish insensitivity to fellow artists and world leaders in the past he doesn’t garner sympathy from the peanut gallery when it happens to him. In the words of my buddy DJ Innovation:
“If you’re in a position to be heard by the masses and you project negative emotions into the world…..don’t be shocked when the masses reflect negativity back to you. On that note I’m not advocating people booing at concerts. But I do see why it happens. Most people don’t understand how musicians feel when they put themselves in a position to be judged by the public. They’re just onlookers with an opinion.”
West and other rap artists will never know the constant pain Richards and other comics go through on a nightly basis. Hip Hop has had its share of beef but a heckling crowd is just as reprehensible in the rap world as it would be at a presidential speech. For more insight into the mind of a performer/audience under duress check out Jamie Kennedy’s documentary ‘Heckler’ (yes Malibu’s Most Wanted’s Jamie Kennedy…insert your own withering remarks on the comments thread). Watch Kennedy nail a heckler during a live concert taping.
Kanye recently responded to a heckler at a 2010 concert by freestyling an auto tuned retort. While I find this response trite and infantile I somehow still find it less offensive than random people shouting “You have no talent!” at Yeezy and Kim when they’re out on the town. Barely.
On a personal note I have been a live musician and rapper for over 15 years and have dealt with my fair share of hecklers. The theme which most often unified these trolls was disdain for my personality and mass consumption of alcohol.
My advice to me and Kanye’s trolls? Save your money, don’t come to our shows, and find an A.A. meeting. Every sober, self respecting person in attendance will thank you in advance.
Tucker Booth writes for Locash Magazine , Hip-Hop Club and is a recording artist for Tantrum Niche Records. Tucker also hosts the Internet Radio Podcast ‘Tucker Booth Needs A Job’ Mondays 2-4 PM PST on www.killradio.org. Check out past podcasts/interviews at www.radio4all.net under ‘Tucker Booth’ in the podcast directory.