The latest Kanye West video, for his song "Diamonds (From Sierra Leone)," has played pretty heavily on TV of late, and it confused me, until now. You see, the song is truly a tribute to himself and his record label, Roc-A-Fella Records. The chorus goes "diamonds are forever" because the Rocafella associates rep their label by putting their hands together to form a diamond-shaped gap in the middle. (Thus the lyrics "Throw your diamonds in the sky if you feel the vibe," echoing Big Poppa's "Throw your hands in the air if you's a true player.") Why diamonds? Conspicuous Consumption Rules Everything Around Them.
Now why would a self-congratulatory song about a label that glorifies the diamond trade have "From Sierra Leone" in the title? Seems an afterthought to me, as there is no mention of conflict diamonds at all in the lyrics. And why would the video dramatically portray children slaving away in African diamond mines, possibly indicting members of the Roca fam for their fashion choices? Seems an arrestingly self-ravaging afterthought, actually. Has irony reached a new apogee?
It's as though Kanye produced the song, then heard about the diamond situation in Africa, and suddenly felt bad about the whole affair. Not bad enough to change the song, mind you, just bad enough to wrap what he had in a public service message and put it out there. I never bothered to research my suspicion, but yesterday Kelefa Sanneh confirmed it in the Times:
After he had recorded "Diamonds," he learned about the conditions of diamond workers in Sierra Leone and elsewhere. He went back and retitled the track "Diamonds (From Sierra Leone)," and flew to Prague to shoot an apocalyptic video (with conflict diamonds a central, if mysterious, plot point).
But to Kanye's half-hearted credit:
Then the images in the video didn't match the lyrics, so Mr. West recorded a new version of the track, with a verse from Jay-Z; now the popular remix doesn't match the music in the video. A few days ago, Mr. West said he still wasn't sure which version would wind up on the album.