I had another one of those crazy dreams again. You know, one of those where I'm mobbin' around with Kanye West and his crew. Yeah, that crazy shit. This time around it seems that I was tagging along for a leg of this year's "Yeezus" tour. The trip would see us rocking the historic Sydney Opera House in Australia. And doing so with great purpose.
Okay, no. I wasn't rockin' anything myself. All that I appeared to be doing was writing for Kanye's blog. But my additional art and design background seemed to have made me a valued member of Ye's crew; a respected sounding board at which Ye could toss a variety of creative ideas well into the sleepless hours of the night.
During the tour bus ride to Australia (See? Crazy.), I told Ye that the West name would be a great one to use in a grassroots movement to draw much-needed attention to the struggle of the people of West Papua. Ye gave me the stink face, unsure of what I was talking about.
Like most of us, he had no idea that for half a century, the western half of Papua New Guinea (situated just north of Australia), has been under violent occupation by Indonesian military forces. Nor that, since the invasion in 1962, an estimated 100,000 to 500,000 Papuans have been killed by Indonesia in a genocidal effort to claim the land and the natural resources of West Papua.
The numbers – whatever the most accurate figure – are staggering. And the silence on the plight of West Papuans is utterly deafening. I told Kanye that he could actually do something to affect the situation. Ye became intrigued. Deeply intrigued.
He admitted that he sometimes missed the progressive slant of hip-hop in the mid to late 1980s, a period when he admired not just the rebellious style of hip-hop artists, but the boldness of people like Chuck D, KRS-One, Ice Cube and others who took very public stances on social issues of the day. Issues that ranged from censorship in the media to police brutality in minority communities.
Kanye also confessed to even feeling a little miffed at himself for not being as outspoken on a wider range of issues in his music, as he had on The College Dropout, his first album. He also lamented that all he seems to speak out against now are paparazzi stalkers and the walls he encounters in the fashion world that block his desires to be a multifaceted artist.
He then asked me what I thought he should do to bring attention to the struggle in WP after the tour ends. I offered some ideas. As seems to be quite true of Kanye West (in real life), the man already had an idea of his own.
The next night in Sydney, after bringing down the opera house with a spirited rendition of the song "The Good Life", Kanye froze, lowered his head and slowly lifted a leather-gloved fist in the air, reminiscent of the brothas on the winner's platform in that legendary photo from the '68 Olympics. Then, as the crowd fell silent, he uttered the words "Free Kanye West Papua" and walked off the stage.
It was genius. (At least it seemed so in the dream.)
Few people seemed to understand what the statement meant (I imagine the reality to be a bit different, given Australia's proximity to PNG), but the interwebz were immediately abuzz with fans and even haters trying to understand the phrase's cryptic meaning.
As is often the case with the things that Kanye does, the meaning was examined and dissected by the media in America, Asia and elsewhere. Several sitting members of the Australian parliament, which has a politically comfy relationship with the Indonesian Governement, were completely red faced.
Enthralled with the "conscious rapper" label that was quickly being affixed to his name in blog posts and news reports, Ye decided to close out the other Australian shows the same way. But, in addition to the black leather glove, he also rocked another version of the Yeezus Tour jacket that I had promptly remixed to show the flag of West Papua on the right sleeve (as opposed to the previously re-appropriated Confederate flag of the American South).
During the next performance, Kanye raised the stakes. Taking a page from out of Run-DMC's concert performance playbook, Ye looked out over the concert hall and asked the fans in attendance, "Who's reppin' West Papua tonight?!" Several thousand flags of various sizes were hoisted high into the air. Kanye then launched into the song "All Falls Down"...and surprised all with a guest appearance by Lauryn Hill, who came out just to sing the chorus.
The response from the audience was an eruption.
Standing with the elated audience, I was stunned and amazed at what had just transpired all around me. Those feelings, however, would not stay with me long.
My eyelids fluttered open, and shards of morning light that streamed into the room from behind the blinds began to fill my head. I slowly roused from a night's slumber and was immediately saddled by sadness.
As often occurs when I wake from such deeply involved dreams, I was not only sad, but also a little angry that none of the events that just seemed so completely real had happened. That which had felt so true had only occurred inside my big, fat, fantasy-filled head. I was duped, lied to, deceived by my own brain.
Slipping from the sheets, I shuffled down to the workstation near the foot of the bed and shook the mouse that rested on the desk to rouse my computer from its dreamless slumber. And with hauntingly vivid recollections of a jet-setting shadow life still in mind, I searched the interwebs for photographs of the controversial rapper from Chicago. And with two found images picked to be the foundations – probably shot by paparazzi stalkers – I actualized a portion of an inspired message that, just moments before, had only existed in a dream.
The "You Don't Know THEIR Struggle" tagline reinterprets a verse from the 2004 Kanye West song "Space Ship". All photographs used in the the "You Don't Know THEIR Struggle (Free West Papua)" promo ad page concepts featured in this YKFS blog post are © their respective copyright holders.`