01 October 2023

"Heard 'Em Say" (2005) by Kanye West ft. Adam Levine

The cover art to Heard 'Em Say by Kanye West.

There was a time when I was a big fan of Kanye West's music.  I had already grown weary of gangsta rap and all of the negativity and self-destructiveness the music industry was propagating through hip-hop even before the 1990s ended.  Also, mainstream rappers had become so redundant in content that it came to a point when I considered anyone who could consistently drop raps about different topics as a lyrical genius.  That isn't meant to be a diss against emcees who only rap about money, sex, drugs and violence, because in reality, it's very difficult to write an entire album of raps, even monotonous ones.  But when you have artists out there like Tupac or Kanye, the world is then reminded that there's more to being an African-American than seeking pleasure and showing off.


It's interesting the way I first came across Yeezy.  This was back in the compact disc days, before the advent of handheld devices, when dudes used to sell these bootleg MP3 CDs with a bunch of different albums on them.  I took interest in one of those CDs because it had Stevie Wonder's A Time to Love (2008) on it, which I didn't even know existed until seeing it on that playlist.

Yeezy's Graduation, one of my favorite cover arts ever.

By then I was already out of the United States and in Africa and honestly can't remember if I had ever heard any of Kanye's music before.  But the disk also featured his second-studio album, Late Registration (2005), intermixed with a few tracks from his third-studio joint, Graduation (2007) - but all listed under the title and cover art of the latter.  In other words, the Late Registration tracks were filed under Graduation (whoever put the CD together probably didn't know better), and I was really drawn to that project because it had the most-appealing and unique cover art of any of the albums on the disk.  And after being introduced to Kanye, I was like 'wow'.  There's was this one song, Champion, where Yeezy spat:

Lauryn Hill said her heart was in Zion.

I wish her heart was still in rhyming.

Once I heard those lines I knew that yes, Mr. West was really about something.

The cover art to 2005's Late Registration,
arguably the album that really put Kanye on the international map.

I remember what was actually Late Registration being a pro-Black album, or at least it felt like it was.  It also, more than anything, came off as being very family-centric.  But of course, Kanye changed over time.  For instance, we all know that now, as an A+ celebrity, he doesn't date Black women.  And whereas his albums still do well on music charts, no one is really talking about his music these days.  Rather, the media is obsessed with his eccentric, often unbridled personality and celebrity-filled, model-dating personal life.

The signs were there from earlier on, that Kanye doesn't necessarily think like the normal (Black) person.  That's why I decided to write about Heard 'Em Say, not so much because of the song itself but its music video.  The audio is beautiful, not only lyrically but also in overall presentation.  And as you can tell from the first verse, it harps back to a day went Yeezus was still in touch with his roots.

In fact, the beginning of the second verse actually reminds me of my own grandmother who, as long as I knew her, lived in the straight-up 'hood.  Yet, she was always on some gospel/praying tip.  And that's perhaps the one thing that Kanye was better at than any other rapper in history, even Tupac.  He could make these songs which sorta capture the spirit of the inner-city African-American family, illustrating how, even though the communities are dangerous AF, our faith and hope never dies, in large part due to our matriarchs.  That was one of the subthemes upon which Graduation, which features Heard 'Em Say, was based.

I can't remember when I first heard this song.  It may have even been on that CD also.  But it's definitely one of my five favorite Kanye tracks, with Adam Levine also representing.  However, the storyline of its music video struck as being strange.  But having now watched it again for the first time in years, maybe I was reading too deeply into it the first time around.


For the most part, the animated storyline of the video revolves around what appears to be a single Black mom and her son who are in the process of relocating.  A caricature of Kanye plays a couple of roles in the clip, most notably as the taxi driver who's transporting the pair.  What happens is that, while parked at a gas station, the son, in imitating his mom, lights a cigarette.  He then throws it out the window, where there happens to be a puddle of fuel near the car which the lit cigarette lands upon.  This causes the car to explode, and the boy to die.

That's a pretty-odd narrative to put in a music video, i.e. that part about the little Black boy dying.  But in Kanye's defense, there is a part a song, which alludes to how children pickup bad habits, more specifically in this case cigarette smoking, from their parents:

My Aunt Pam can't put them cigarettes down.

So now my little cousin smokin' them cigarettes now.

It should also be pointed out that what it is which compels the child's mom to stop at this particular gas station and leave her son in such a dangerous situation is the fact that the establishment also offered lotto, which Kanye also sorta speaks out against in the lyrics:

So maybe having the boy in the video getting resultantly blasted into heaven is Yeezy's version of an anti-smoking, anti-gambling message, as well encouraging (Black) parents to be more attentive of their children.

But what really alarmed me about the clip, what it is I thought I saw the first time around, was the White gas station attendant later on hooking up with the dead boy's mother.  But now, upon watching the clip more carefully, I see that the couple at the end are two completely-different characters.  Yet and still, all things considered, this is an unusual visual.

Does the music video to Heard 'Em Say
mock the suffering of African-American mothers?


As for the couple that does appear at the end of video, the woman is depicted with her arm in a sling and a black eye, meaning that she has suffered some type of significant physical harm, most likely an assault.  But it isn't clear what happened to her since this is apparently the first time she's appears in the clip:

Yeezy, once again in the role of a taxi driver, is picking the couple up.  Upon seeing the guy standing there with his injured girlfriend (presumably), this is cartoon Kanye's reaction:

Earlier, when the taxi explodes, we see two spirits ascending out of it.  That makes sense since both the boy and the driver, i.e. Kanye, would have been in the vehicle while the mother stepped out to play lotto:

Therefore, as with the little boy, we also see Yeezus taking on the form of an angel:

But afterwards he manages to somehow survive by coming back down to the Earth, while the boy - for whatever reason - remains dead:

Also earlier in the clip, in the congruence with the lyrics, we witness West take on the form of Jesus.  After all, out of all mainstream rappers in history, he's been the biggest advocate of the Lamb of God:

But shortly thereafter, he also does this:


At first, upon peeping the music video to Heard 'Em Say so many years ago, I thought there was some type of subliminal race-based message behind the clip.  Now, upon really examining it, I'm more or less convinced that was a hasty conclusion.  However, it's still a pretty-odd clip, or let's say one that may be laden with some type of esoteric symbolism nonetheless.  But given Kanye's standing in the game, that's pretty much to be expected.  And the track itself, in my opinion, remains one of his best, and in that regard Adam Levine deserves an additional shoutout for his contribution, even though the message behind the chorus isn't really that clear.


Upon doing this research, fellow Black Arts Review writer Seriez Premiere put me on to the fact that there's actually two official music videos to Heard 'Em Say.  The original, which is all live action, is actually truer to the lyrics, in that its storyline is based on a making-it-out-of-the-'hood fantasy.  It also, by the looks of things, features the kids shown on the single's cover art.

It was filmed inside the world-famous Macy's on 34th Street (in New York City) and centers on a storyline where Kanye, seemingly taking on the role of a hobo, rushes the store in the late night alongside a few of his impoverished child homeys (an expedition made possible by Adam Levine, who portrays a compassionate night watchman).  At first, I was thinking that maybe the clip was pulled in the name of discouraging department store theft (though there isn't any actual stealing in it).  But it was actually Yeezy himself who was dissatisfied with the product and decided to film another video.  Yet the original is still in circulation (thanks to YouTube), and it definitely has more of a feel-good quality than the second one he commissioned.

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