Arts, Music, Column

‘Piss On Your Grave’ And R.I.P. Old Kanye

The weird thing about all the forest scenes in movies is how far apart the trees always are. When Harry, Ron, and Hermione are lost in the Forbidden Forest and when the Twilight vampires play baseball, there always seems to be more grass than anything else. It’s like a child’s version of what a forest should be—clear ground, scattered trees, few other plants. The forest in the new Kanye West/Travis Scott collaboration music video looks like that. The two roam around in expensive-looking khakis with so much space between them and the trees that there is no danger of unwanted dirt. It’s the constructed idea of the unknown wild.

Maybe that’s the point—the video, “Piss On Your Grave,” has a Yeezus-esque veneer without any of the substance. Like a fake toy forest, it seems real enough—killer production quality and huge names—but then you see the gaps between the trees and the lack of meaning in the verses.

Like any other recent Kanye production, “Piss On Your Grave” is beautifully and aggressively filmed. The video starts with Travis Scott, head down, moving mournfully in the woods. The camera pans to birds flying overhead, into the sun—get it? It’s a metaphor for moving on, or freedom, or the lack thereof, or something. Kanye shows up in a suede hoodie, fully zipped to his chin. It’s a sick jacket. He and Travis, in matching tan outfits, look like fraternal twins. Mos Def hovers in the background wearing denim and a stocking over his face. It’s a cool set-up—smoke rises from their bodies and chains glitter at Travis’ neck—and the muted color scheme contrasts the violence in their words and body movements. So on the surface, all seems well. And then they start rapping.

Though the video is a project by Travis Scott, Kanye’s rapping is two-thirds of it. For the bulk of that time, he repeats the song’s title—“piss on your grave.” As he spits out the words, you see liquid rolling down a dusty hill. We get it. Most heavy-handed metaphor of all time. Travis’ verses are a little more sophisticated. He raps about slavery and the modern-day, drawing parallels between how young black people are treated now and then. It’s substantive, but still nothing like songs that the production and beats remind you of. Its surface-level Black Skinhead-esque but only touches upon the issues that that are really deconstructed in Yeezus.

It ends with a bird’s-eye view of Travis and Kanye staring into a giant, rectangular hole in the ground. It looks like a mass grave. The video is obviously violent, and aggressive. Given the timing of the production, it could be a symbolic grave for the many high-profile, controversial deaths of young black men. Who knows.

The weak lyrics and heavy-handed visual metaphors distract from the general message: something is wrong and the reactions are violent. But, that’s all you get from the video because the lyrics are so vague that any deeper message is obscured. It’s easy to place the video in a cultural context, like I just did, and assume that Kanye and Travis are saying something that we don’t really know. The flashy production of the video makes it exciting, at first, but there is not enough content for it to solidify its message.

Kanye started off producing beats (for Jay-Z), then moved into rapping. Though Kanye is not the only producer on the video, the quality and aesthetics of the video give off Yeezus vibes. In an interview with Paper Mag in April, he said he spends 70 percent of his energy on fashion. The majority of the focus of the video are the matching outfits and matching colors. Visuals are a huge part, more so than the weak verses being spun by Kanye and Travis.

“Piss On Your Grave” is three minutes long—31 minutes shorter than Kanye’s short film for “Runaway,” from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It’s different, obviously, in other ways too. More raw, less gorgeous. Kanye is moving in a radically different direction now, and #SWISH is supposed to be “lit,” as Travis said, but right now I miss old Kanye.

Featured Image By Grand Hustle Records

November 2, 2015