Kanye West Samples 1930s Protest Poem

By Jason Boog Comment

In Kayne West‘s challenging and explicit new album, he sampled Nina Simone singing “Strange Fruit”–a song that originated as a 1930s protest poem.

Below, we’ve created a free Spotify playlist linking to West’s song and a collection of covers of “Strange Fruit.” We wrote a little more about the history of the song:

New York City English teacher, poet and activist Abel Meeropol wrote the poem “Strange Fruit” during the Great Depression. The great Billie Holiday ended up recording the song, sharing the dark story about lynchings in America.

Why do you think West chose to sample “Strange Fruit” for his provocative album?

West’s website also has a short NSFW video referencing Bret Easton EllisAmerican Psycho, showing a character resembling the lead in that novel (and film) rambling about West’s album. The annotation site Rap Genius has a particularly interesting explanation for why West chose the song:

It’s also possible that the provocative sample has a point: Kanye is intentionally undermining his own verses with the Nina Simone song. The juxtaposition of verses about relationships and alimony checks with the most vivid song about the most horrifying atrocity of the Jim Crow Era is pretty striking. In keeping with his general self-questioning tendencies, it might demonstrate a theme that has shown up on many of his tracks before: the tension between his personal, parochial problems and bigger problems in society.

Strange Fruit Playlist on Spotify

Kanye West – Blood On The Leaves
Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit
Nina Simone – Strange Fruit
Josh White – Strange Fruit
Jeff Buckley – Strange Fruit – Live
Diana Ross – Strange Fruit – Live
Cassandra Wilson – Strange Fruit
Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds – Strange Fruit
Sidney Bechet – Strange Fruit
Lou Rawls – Strange Fruit – 2006 – Remaster
Wynton Marsalis Quintet – Strange Fruit
Jimmy Scott – Strange Fruit