by Leor Galil
Kanye being Kanye, it took no time for this thing to go viral, and before the visuals for "New Slaves" hit Wicker Park you could already watch the whole thing on YouTube—or, more accurately, you could easily track down some grainy iPhone footage of the clip. The quality on those YouTube videos clearly isn't great—fortunately Ye performed that track and another called "Black Skinhead" on Saturday Night Live the following night so fans and gawkers could experience the charged songs in crisp HD—but I can't imagine providing pristine sound was at the top of Ye's list when it came to organizing the "New Slaves" viewings. (Though given Kanye's audacity and his flair for the ostentatious perhaps he did have it in mind to provide high-quality sound, even if he didn't end up delivering it.)
Friday's events should be seen as just that—events. The appearance of wall-sized Kanye faces around the globe was equal parts publicity and public gathering, and in all the hullabaloo the actual thing people gathered to see and hear ended up being less enticing than the fact that these gatherings actually came into being. In Chicago the results appeared kind of scattered; Dan Sinker noted that only six teenagers showed up for the premiere in Evanston; Fake Shore Drive founder Andrew Barber posted a YouTube clip of the "New Slaves" projection at Wrigley field, which threw Ye's face atop banners of Cubs players, resulting in splotchy flashes of light fighting to be seen; and Sun-Times film critic Richard Roeper wrote that you can clearly hear fans talking in a clip of the scene at Millennium Park's Crown Fountain.
These are all imperfect listening and viewing experiences, and I like to think that's part of the point; throughout many clips the song is obscured to the point where anyone curious enough to find out more about what he has to say might spend more time than usual combing over whatever theories and critiques of "New Slaves" exist online instead of just passively consuming it. It's a heavy song that tackles racism, consumerism, and the prison industrial complex, among other things, and Kanye clearly wants people to confront the messages in his song, even if the Waterboy reference says otherwise. And people are still talking about it days later, breaking apart lines and putting them under a microscope to get a good glimpse at what's there—Roeper's article, while problematic, is certainly a good sign that folks who don't normally pay close attention to Kanye, rap, or pop music are giving "New Slaves" a close look (or trying to, at least). If Kanye's SNL performance is any indication Yeezus is going to be a loud album, but as Friday's events show, sometimes a great way to engage listeners and make a lot of noise is to present something that isn't quite loud enough.