Music Turkey of the Year: The Kanye/Rothko Chapel "New Slaves" Fiasco
Note: To go along with this year's "Turkeys of the Year" Houston Press cover story, Rocks Off presents our choice -- the aborted screenings of Kanye West's "New Slaves" video on the sides of several Houston buildings, including the Rothko Chapel. This article was written by Nathan Smith.
A Houston Police Department squad car outside the Rothko Chapel
Photos by Marco Torres
For the past couple of weeks, the suddenly punk Kanye West has been promoting his forthcoming album "Yeezus" by projecting the video for the single "New Slaves" on 66 buildings across the globe, from Chicago to Berlin. On Friday, the word came down that Houston was next on the list: "New Slaves" would be projected on to the sides of three buildings inside the Loop, including a delicious locale for the final screening of the night: the George Bush monument on Buffalo Bayou.
A Kanye takeover of our civic tribute to 41, the Presidential papa of the guy Yeezy so famously asserted did not care about black people? Come on. Who could miss that?
Well... everybody, as it turned out. The promotors behind West's planned projections in H-Town finished Friday oh-for-three on the screenings, thanks to an impressive shutout from HPD.
Local R&B singer Love Dominique was one of Kanye's many disappointed Houston fans Friday night.
Thievery Corporation presented by SiriusXM
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The most spectacular flameout occurred at the Rothko Chapel in Montrose, where "New Slaves" was scheduled to be shown at 9:45 p.m. A crowd gathered to witness the spectacle, only to be tossed by the fuzz, who pulled their squad cars right on to the grass and ordered people to disperse or be charged with trespassing. Despite the presence of flashing lights and a multitude of electronic bloops and bleeps, performance art this was not.
At 11 p.m., I headed over to the Bush monument, where a small group of people gathered near the statue of James A. Baker. There was no evidence of any projector, promoter or punk-rap prophet anywhere in the vicinity. Damn. Strike two.
Finally, a ray of hope: Press photographer Marco Torres called me up and told me that a projector was present and accounted for at the Central Library on McKinney, along with a P.A. and promotional staff. Game on.
After hustling a few blocks over to the library, I discovered that the first screening of the night had been delayed by technical difficulties since 9 p.m. Rumor had it among the gathering of 50 people or so that a cable was missing, or maybe defective. Or maybe just cursed. We were all assured that new equipment was en route, and that we should just stay put.
Hey, why not? How long does it take to fix a cable? Well, it takes a really long-ass time, as it turned out. The crowd swelled as we waited -- word had evidently gotten out that if you wanted to check out "New Slaves," the library was the place to do it.
The scene outside the central Houston Public Library downtown
When a white van pulled up at midnight(!), a cheer went up in the crowd, now numbering more than 100. Out came a generator, which rumbled to life. As the technicians got to work setting things up at last, a few jokers decided to take advantage of the captive audience by showing off their freestyling skills. After they were booed lustily, a scuffle broke out in the middle of the damn street. "WorldStar!" shouted the bored fans sitting on the curb. "Kanye!" Things were getting stupid fast.
The crowd eventually calmed down a bit, but by 12:30, there was still no video. When an HPD cruiser pulled up, things started to look grim. The officer hopped out and ordered everyone out of the street and into the sidewalk. The generator started up again. For a minute, it looked like we were in luck.
But when the blue screen finally appeared on the side of the library, there was a rush of fans across the street to get in close to the action. That pissed the po-po off. The plug was pulled. Fifteen minutes later, the promoters started tearing everything down and packing it up as cop car after cop car rolled up.
With the clock speeding towards 1 a.m., those of us who'd been standing around the longest began to leave in disgust. A couple of hours of our lives down the drain, wasted hanging out on a downtown street corner in the middle of the night waiting to see some shit we could've watched on YouTube. "New Slaves," indeed.
A few optimistic fans stayed behind, hoping for a miracle. But "Yeezus" never appeared. And somewhere out there, we presume, George Bush went right on not caring.
See more photos on the next page.
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