When Hip-Hop and Philosophy Collide: A Look at Bailey’s Book “The Cultural Impact of Kanye West”
At first glance, hip-hop artist Kanye West and intellectual philosophical discourse might sound like strange and unlikely bedfellows, but Assistant Professor of Philosophy Julius Bailey has succeeded in revealing that philosophy provides an invaluable lens for understanding the cultural icon in his new book, “The Cultural Impact of Kanye West.” The book will be published by Palgrave-Macmillan this spring and will be Bailey’s third project to be published by major press since he began working at Wittenberg University in fall of 2010.
The idea grew out of Bailey’s Jay-Z anthology, which was published three years ago and has been cited by major news sources including NBC and CBS. In fall of 2012 he created a Wittsem designed around the idea entitled: “Kanye West: How Not to Be a College Dropout.” By December 2012 he was calling his friends in the field to help develop his ideas, at which point he realized that there were simply too many angles that he could take with the project. This was when he decided to develop the book in the form of an academic reader with chapters written by different contributors taking a variety of angles so that students could receive a multi-dimensional perspective of Kanye and his cultural impact. Bailey is enthusiastic about the potential educational influence of his book, saying: “When I’m able to produce a fully researched scholarship that revolves around pop culture media, students are excited about it because it informs their everyday lives.” He also stresses that student involvement was instrumental to the development of the Kanye project; Bailey collaborated with Wittenberg students Adam Schueler and Chaunta Banks and non-Witt student Dilitso Ruwe.
The Cultural Impact of Kanye West consists of three sections with pieces by 14 different contributors, including a preface and contributing piece written by Bailey. Its diverse range of contributors and subject matter serve to highlight the importance of Kanye in relation to hip-hop, culture, English literature, philosophy, gender, and the African American experience. Bailey asserts that he wanted to use the book to “affirm Kanye’s humanity and artistry but speak to his lamentations.” He depicts Kanye as revolting against a world of absurdity marked by the death of his grounding and highly supportive mother, his identity as a black male living in America, and Wall Street’s ruthless devaluation of Kanye as a fashion designer. In the preface of the book Bailey compares Kanye to the philosopher Diogenes, writing that he is “sprinting in broad daylight with a torch in search of credibility in the form of humanity. Each song is what we encounter as we run with Kanye on his race.” Bailey also describes Kanye as “a jester in the form of the child attempting to come to grips with the world,” and it is in this way that he feels we are able to connect with the artist on a deeply personal level. He writes: “It is through the tragedy of the duality of freedom and responsibility and the inability to reconcile them in adulthood that we share in Kanye’s story.”
Bailey emphasizes the importance of proper funding to the success of faculty research. He received a $1500 summer research grant from the university, which allowed him to travel to Chicago and meet two members of Kanye’s label and one of his publicists. However, he still found the need to use some out-of-pocket money in order to fully fund his project. He notes that one of the university’s financial challenges is that many professors don’t have enough money to do their research; while Professional Enrichment Grants (PEGs) are still being distributed, these grants have grown smaller with the progression of the university’s financial difficulties. Without the proper funding, it is difficult for professors to conduct studies and attend conferences in order to gather research information and remain informed in their fields. As Bailey states, “I can’t be an effective teacher unless I’m an effective researcher.”