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A closer look at "Follow God", Kanye West's new visual

A journey through West's family history and Afroamerican culture

A closer look at Follow God, Kanye West's new visual A journey through West's family history and Afroamerican culture

When the Civil War was about to end, the US government promises former black slaves "40 acres and a mule" as compensation for the barbarity of slavery. But Abraham Lincoln's successor, President Andrew Johnson, cancels the Special Field Orders n. 15 with which that promise had been formalized, effectively erasing the promise forever. The expression "40 acres and a mule" entered the cultural language of black America as the emblem of the country's institutional racism - also proposed by Spike Lee as the name of his production company - and recently returned to being part of the daily news in the narration on Reparation (repairs due to African Americans after slavery).

But if 40 acres is the value of a black man in American, how much are 4000 acres worth? It is the question that Ray West, father of Kanye West, addresses to his son at the end of the Follow God video, the first video extracted from Jesus is King and the first video of Kanye after some time. The meeting between the two takes place a Cory, in Wyoming, where Kanye West bought a huge ranch that he has used as a refuge and a source of inspiration in the latter, troubled, years. The aesthetics of the video - shot by Jake Schreier - is based on simplicity, on minimalism, in the characters actions as well as in the clothes they wear (sweatshirts, dungarees and workwear suits, inspirations that Kanye is recently rediscovering more and more also present in the Yeezy apparel). There are large expanses of snowy Wyoming, the heart of America, the one we are not used to seeing, especially in rap videos; where Kanye West shows his father his land holdings aboard an off-road vehicle.

Craig Jenkins wrote in Vulture that «Follow God is another driving song, and an oasis of humility in the blustery media storm surrounding Jesus Is King», and the message Kanye delivers at the end of the video also leaves this idea transparent: Kanye finds his best friend in his father, a conclusion he arrives with 42 years late, in a moment of maximum familiar intimacy and humility.

The personal story of Kanye West, on the other hand, is historically linked to his mother Donda, to whom Kanye has also dedicated his entertainment and social utility companies, although his father has always been cited on his records and as a source of artistic and stylistic inspiration. When he was only three years old, his parents divorced, and Kanye ended up living with his mother in Chicago, while Ray West stayed in Georgia, in Atlanta, in the America deep South. Ray West was for years a member of the Black Panther, a Christian marriage counsellor, as well as one of the first professional black photographers, politically and artistically active. This is also why when Kanye West tells his father he owns 4,000 acres of land at the end of the Follow God video, Ray replies in amazement, "A Black Man?" The simple expression shows in a striking way the enormous cultural gap between the two, son of the times in which father and son lived. Atlanta in the 60s was still a city in the flood of Jim Crow era, and it was unthinkable that an African American could have become a billionaire, designer of one of the most famous sneakers in the world and a semi-serious candidate for the presidency. Today, however, Kanye is all of these things and many others, and Follow God serves as a reminder.