Kanye West is dealing with a lot of college-level material in his fiery, political new single "New Slaves," and it may be hard to unpack it all. That's where we come if. If Kanye's the professor, we're the TAs; we'll explain all his complicated allusions, provide a reading list, and even maybe tell you when his office hours are. (Whether he shows up for them is another story.)

My momma was raised in an era when

Clean water was only served to the fairer skin

Kanye's mother grew up during a time of de facto and de jure racial segregation in the United States, a time in which Jim Crow laws mandated separate schools restaurants and even water fountains. This is really stuff you should have learned in 101.

Doing clothes you would have thought I had help

But they wasn't satisfied unless I picked the cotton myself

Though the Civil Rights movement was largely successful in wiping out the worst aspects of Jim Crow, racism remains an enduring stain on the American body politic. Even the fashion industry—elite and cosmopolitan as it is—has a poor track record when it comes to racial equality, a fact that Kanye undoubtedly encountered during his ill-received sojourns there.

You see it's broke nigga racism

That's that "Don't touch anything in the store"

And this rich nigga racism

That's that "Come here, please buy more"

"What you want, a Bentley? Fur coat? A diamond chain?"

"All you blacks want all the same things"

The stereotype of the violent, criminal black man dates back to the days of slavery, and still persists to this day. Even as a wildly successful artist Kanye still finds his legacy haunted by the image (particularly in the wake of his 2009 incident with Taylor Swift). The verse also speaks to Kanye's psychological conflict between his own material wealth and the poverty endemic in the black community, which was a key area of study of his 2011 album Watch the Throne.

Used to only be niggas, now everybody playing

Spending everything on Alexander Wang

New Slaves

The American mainstream has a curious relationship with black culture, pathologizing it until the very moment it decides it wants to appropriate it. Here Kanye asserts that it doesn't matter where our modern commercial culture comes from—either way, it's rotten to the core, transforming the populace from empowered citizens into mindless consumers.

You see it's leaders and there's followers

But I'd rather be a dick than a swallower

Kanye is aware of his public image as a self-centered jerkwad (to use a colloquial phrase), but he sees the public's hatred as a fair price to pay for his independence. (It's worth noting also that Kanye's wordplay here is predicated on a values system that posits fellatio as an inherently demeaning sex act, but that may be slightly irrelevant to the subject at hand.)

I throw these Maybach keys

I wear my heart on the sleeve

In American consumer society, an expensive car has always been one of the signature symbols of wealth. Kanye's rejection of the Maybach line of luxury sports car—coming so soon after the rapper bragged about owning that very brand—demonstrates his ambivalence towards the trappings of success.

I see the blood on the leaves

I see the blood on the leaves

I see the blood on the leaves

I know that we the new slaves

Kanye here is quoting Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit," a mournful protest against the lynchings that were rampant in the segregated South, and one of the trademark songs of the Civil Rights movement. Let's send this one to the class. What do you guys think Kanye's attempting with this reference? Are the blood-stained leaves are meant to be cash? Break into groups and discuss.

They throwing hate at me

Want me to stay at ease

Fuck you and your corporation

Y'all niggas can't control me

Kanye has previously bragged about the high level of control he has over his career, relative to other artists ("I step in Def Jam building like I'm the shit, tell them give me 50 million or I'ma quit") but now he seems to be feeling the heat. West's image as an "angry black man" has made him less appealing to brands than his counterparts—no Sprite commercials for him—but he sees that as a good thing. Retaining his independence is key.

I'm 'bout to wild the fuck out

I'm going Bobby Boucher

Bobby Boucher was the lead character in Adam Sandler's The Waterboy, a kindhearted young man who exploded into violence rage when provoked. But while the rage of Boucher, a white Everyman from Louisiana, played as wish-fulfillment comedy, the same anger coming from a black man only marks Kanye as a dangerous threat who must be controlled.

You niggas pussy, ain't me

Y'all throwing contracts at me

You know that niggas can't read

Throw 'em some Maybach keys

Fuck it, c'est la vie

I know that we the new slaves

Economic exploitation of black performers goes back to the earliest days of recorded music, when the all-white management structure of the industry trapped black musicians in extortive contracts (which, Kanye implies, the musicians could not read). Though black performers regained a measure of autonomy by setting up institutions of their own, Kanye argues that less has changed than we think.

Y'all niggas can't fuck with me

Y'all niggas can't fuck with Ye

Y'all niggas can't fuck with Ye

I'll move my family out the country

So you can't see where I stay

So go and grab the reporters

So I can smash their recorders

See they'll confuse us with some bullshit

Like the New World Order

There are two types of critics of celebrity culture: The loudest and most numerous are educated elites who sigh wearily that we could get so much done if the commoners would only care more about the Cambodian education gap. The second, less annoying camp comes from those living in the culture themselves, the celebrities who have to deal every day with paparazzi abuse and insane conspiracy theories. For these beleaguered stars there's a happy fantasy of escape: Move out of the country, like Angelina Jolie, and begin the process of taking control of your narrative. Even while he's indulging in the familiar daydream, Kanye knows it wouldn't work; his temper, and his public image, is too violent for laying low to ever be a viable option.

Meanwhile the DEA

Teamed up with the CCA

They tryna lock niggas up

They tryna make new slaves

See that's that privately owned prisons

Get your piece today

Since the beginning of the War on Drugs, the U.S. prison population has skyrocketed from 500,000 to over two million, with young black men making up much of that increase. Racial disparities in drug sentencing, combined with ill effects like the school-to-prison pipeline, mean that blacks are six times more likely to be incarcerated than whites. These trends have also been accompanied by a rise in privately-owned prisons, many operated by the Corrections Corporation of America which Kanye references here. With annual profits measured in the billions, CCA's business has boomed as the state locks up greater numbers of Americans; the revelation that governments guarantee CCA a 90% occupancy rate has stoked fears of a prison-industrial complex that treats black lives as grist for corporate profits. Here Kanye's "new slaves" motif becomes shockingly literal.

They prolly all in the Hamptons

Braggin' 'bout what they made

Fuck you and your Hampton house

I'll fuck your Hampton spouse

Came on her Hampton blouse

And in her Hampton mouth

Y'all 'bout to turn shit up

I'm 'bout to tear shit down

I'm 'bout to air shit out

Now what the fuck they gon' say now?

The Hamptons area of Long Island is a popular summertime getaway for Manhattan's elites; property there this season is selling in the $5 to $25 million range. With this kind of money comes the privilege of privacy; wealthy longtime residents have long grumbled about the arrival of new-money invaders and no-money day trippers on their exclusive turf. As one complained to the New York Times last month, "There was a time when you had to be on the inside to be part of the Hamptons, and that’s not true anymore." Kanye here is acting out the class anxieties of the Hamptons—and, by extension, of America as a whole—at their most literal. If they think he's a monster, he asks, then why shouldn't he act like one? I'll expect your papers on this question in my office my Monday at noon.

The full lyrics are below. You can listen to the song at the bottom of the post!

My momma was raised in an era when

Clean water was only served to the fairer skin

Doing clothes you would have thought I had help

But they wasn't satisfied unless I picked the cotton myself

You see it's broke nigga racism

That's that "Don't touch anything in the store"

And this rich nigga racism

That's that "Come here, please buy more

What you want, a Bentley? Fur coat? A diamond chain?

All you blacks want all the same things

Used to only be niggas, now everybody playing

Spending everything on Alexander Wang

New Slaves

You see it's leaders and there's followers

But I'd rather be a dick than a swallower

I throw these Maybach keys

I wear my heart on the sleeve

I know that we the new slaves

I see the blood on the leaves

I see the blood on the leaves

I see the blood on the leaves

I know that we the new slaves

I see the blood on the leaves

They throwing hate at me

Want me to stay at ease

Fuck you and your corporation

Y'all niggas can't control me

I know that we the new slaves

I know that we the new slaves

I'm 'bout to wild the fuck out

I'm going Bobby Boucher

I know that pussy ain't free

You niggas pussy, ain't me

Y'all throwing contracts at me

You know that niggas can't read

Throw 'em some Maybach keys

Fuck it, c'est la vie

I know that we the new slaves

Y'all niggas can't fuck with me

Y'all niggas can't fuck with Ye

Y'all niggas can't fuck with Ye

I'll move my family out the country

So you can't see where I stay

So go and grab the reporters

So I can smash their recorders

See they'll confuse us with some bullshit

Like the New World Order

Meanwhile the DEA

Teamed up with the CCA

They tryna lock niggas up

They tryna make new slaves

See that's that privately owned prisons

Get your piece today

They prolly all in the Hamptons

Braggin' 'bout what they made

Fuck you and your Hampton house

I'll fuck your Hampton spouse

Came on her Hampton blouse

And in her Hampton mouth

Y'all 'bout to turn shit up

I'm 'bout to tear shit down

I'm 'bout to air shit out

Now what the fuck they gon' say now?