Kanye West’s “New Slaves” Lyrics Meaning

Kanye West has long been recognized as one of the more-conscious rappers in the music industry. This means that he regularly drops songs which are based on very-serious subject matter that extend outside of his personal experiences. His tracks sometimes show concern for his people as a whole.  And such is the case with “New Slaves”.

As you’re probably already aware, masses of Black people were at one time enslaved in the United States. This oppression legally ended well over a century before this track was dropped. However, what Kanye is basically saying is that the enslavement of his people has in fact persisted though in different forms, specifically in terms of institutionalized racism.

Systematic Racism

So for instance, the first verse begins with him pointing out that his mother was “raised in the era” when segregation was legal. Segregation was a process where Black people were systematically separated from White people, with the Whites being the more privileged class. And by bringing this now outdated system to the forefront, what Kanye is actually alluding to is the fact that systemic racism has persisted throughout the years.

Indeed even he being a “rich ni–a”, i.e. wealthy African-American, does not make him free from this prejudice. Rather due to his wealth it is displayed differently. To illustrate this point, he compares how a “rich ni–a” is treated in what is presumably a trendy store as opposed to a “broke ni–a”. The one without money will basically be encouraged not to even shop at said location. In contrast the rich one will be prompted to by the owners to buy a whole bunch of seemingly frivolous yet pricey items. And the reason being is that said storekeepers are under the impression that “all… Blacks want the same thing”. 

Or stated otherwise, they have no issue with stereotyping Black people, and in the both cases these prejudices are in fact insulting. And keeping within the theme of materialism, the artist goes on to insinuate that now people of all races are ‘slaves’ to riches.

Inspiration behind “New Slaves”

What actually compelled Kanye West to come out with this song was his experiences with certain entities who were trying to oppress him in the form of stifling his creativity. Or another way of obviously looking at it is that he felt certain commercial agencies were trying to enslave him. This becomes more apparent in the second verse when he curses corporations in general.  So once again the concept that the “new slaves” may extend outside of African-Americans is introduced, as it is not only this group of people who have beef with the way they are treated by these large businesses.

But that being said, there is once again a special emphasis on Kanye’s own people. Or another way of phrasing it is that Yeezus is convinced that certain individuals want to oppress him in a similar manner as they have African-Americans in the past and indeed present. For instance, he references the “privately-owned prisons” which are filled with Black inmates. In other words, the owners of these institutions are becoming rich by inhibiting the freedom of African-Americans, just as slave owners had done in the past. 

And in once again looking at the situation holistically, it should be noted that the United States has long had the largest prison population in the world, which includes people of all races. But either way Ye is not having it, as he is not compelled to let anyone control him. In fact he’d rather ‘move his family out of the country’ as opposed to being exploited. And his frustrations are quite palpable on this track.

Songs primary Sentiments

And in terms of said frustrations we can say that this song has three prevailing sentiments. One is Kanye recognizes that African-Americans, the demographic he generally belongs to, have long been held down in the United States of America. Second is that he himself, one of the most-successful entertainers in the world, is not free from the associated persecution. But lastly and most importantly is that he is not going to play the role of a “slave” for nobody. He would rather curse the powers that be as opposed to submitting to them.

Lyrics of "New Slaves"

Writing Credits of “New Slaves”

“New Slaves” was produced by Kanye West. However, he had a considerable amount of help writing the song in the form of the following writers:

  • Anna Adamis
  • Ben Bronfman
  • CyHi the Prince
  • Elon Rutberg
  • Sakiya Sandifer
  • Malik Yusef
  • King Louie
  • Rhymefest
  • Frank Ocean
  • Gábor Presser

Gábor Presser is a Hungarian musician. His contribution comes via a track he wrote in 1968 entitled “Gyöngyhajú lány”, which Kanye sampled into “New Slaves”.

Interestingly enough Presser went on to sue West for using his song without full consent. And eventually he did settle the matter with Yeezy outside of court.

Additional Vocals

Frank Ocean, as well as Swizz Beatz, provided additional vocals on this track.

Commercial Success, Accolades and Grammy Nomination

“New Slaves” went on to chart in a handful of countries, including making appearances on the UK Singles Chart and Billboard Hot 100. It has also been certified Gold in the United States. This is despite the fact that G.O.O.D. Music and Def Jam Recordings, the labels behind the song, never released it as a single.

Numerous powerful media institutions, such as NMEPitchfork and Time, named “New Slaves” as one of the best songs of 2013. And Complex went on to state that it was their favorite song of that year, period.

“New Slaves” was also nominated for a Grammy Award in 2014.

When was “New Slaves” released?

“New Slaves” was officially released on 18 June 2013 as part of Kanye’s sixth-studio album, which is entitled “Yeezus”. Before its release, Kanye promoted the song vigorously using large projections played against 66 building throughout the world. And the first location in which he did so was actually in Williamsburg, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York.

He also notably promoted the song before its release by performing it on two major occasions. The first being “Saturday Night Live” on the date of 18 May 2013. The second was on 9 June 2013 at the Governors Ball Music Festival.

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