Is This Petition Against Kanye West Racist?

20 January 2016, 12:21 | Updated: 8 May 2017, 17:09

kanye west david bowie
Woodrow Whyte

By Woodrow Whyte

Reports of a David Bowie tribute album have not gone down well.

Another day, another thinly veiled racist poll makes it's way round the internet like a fart caught in a train carriage.

Once again, our close friend, the 'anonymous source', told emergency toilet paper The Daily Star that Kanye West is 'threatening' to release a David Bowie tribute album. The record would be comprised of covers of Bowie tracks. "Some are straightforward cover versions with Kanye actually singing," the 'source' revealed.  "On others he is rapping with his own lyrics over Bowie's music."

Since these rumours started to circulate, a petition has appeared online calling for Kanye to ditch the project. The petition boldly states, "David Bowie was one of the single most important musicians of the 20th and 21st century, it would be a sacrilege to let it be ruined by Kanye West." Thousands of Bowie "fans" have already signed (7,252 at the time of writing).

Let's just call this what it is: bullsh*t. Kanye's pretty busy with his own album, SWISH, which is coming out next month. We SRSLY doubt he's got time to make another album right now.

But even if it were true, it should be interpreted as a nice gesture. One music icon paying homage to another music icon. Yet there is something familiar about this petition. You may remember the petition against Kanye headlining Glastonbury festival. It was accused that Kanye would 'ruin' the event. Because, y'know, a black artist performing hip-hop at a music festival is obviously terrible idea. 

This ignorance and snobbery towards hip-hop, and black/urban music in general, had more than a whiff of institutionalised racism. And we feel it's a similar issue with the petition against the Bowie tribute album. If the Arctic Monkeys or Noel Gallagher (Oasis) mooted the idea of a covers album, these people would be falling over themselves to get a copy. Why is it so inconceivable that Kanye would do a good job? Other than a churlish 'because he's sh*t', no one has provided a good reason that stands up to scrutiny. 

We should point out that Bowie's final album, Blackstar, was partly inspired by recent Kanye collaborator Kendrick Lamar. It's not inconceivable that Bowie would have liked the idea of working with Kanye. At the very least they shared an appreciation for similar artists and music. Kanye also cited Bowie as one of his most important influences in a tweet after his death.

Given Bowie's support for black artists throughout his career, we think he would be horrified by this petition. It goes exactly against what he stood for: equality and freedom of artistic expression. 

Sure, Kanye is a loud-mouth with a very high opinion of himself, but that doesn't make him a bad artist. The Guardian makes a compelling case for why a tribute album would be worthy of a listen, if you're not already familiar with Kanye's experimental nature. We agree. We'd be far more excited by Kanye remixes and covers than an Arctic Monkey's cover album, that's for sure.

But here's a thought: Don't tell artists what to do. That's not your place. No one should decide what an artist should do other than the artists themselves. The moment the general public starts deciding will be the day art dies. David would not approve.