"Now, these are the ones Kanye needs to be worried about. Kanye ain't waving that flag in front of them," he said. "Be careful, Kanye."
Not that Troy hasn't used the flag on album covers and in videos, but "I wasn't lifting it up to glorify it," he said, explaining he knew the ramifications of using the banner. To Troy, the flag stood for rebellion, and he was being rebellious himself in flaunting it.
"I was letting them know it was a new day down here in the South, from then to now. Whoever would've thought a black man could touch that flag without getting killed?" he said.
With West,Troy said, "it sounds more like a personal agenda, which you're free to have. But make it make sense, as my dad used to say."
A complicated symbol
The Rev. Al Sharpton shared what he felt the flag represented in a column last month: "The Confederate flag symbolizes dehumanization, injustice and pain. It is a stark reminder of an era in our history that was defined by the abhorrent practice of slavery. And it is representative of a mentality that looked upon blacks as inferiors who needed to remain in the shackles of subservience."
Yet that meaning is far from universal. In addition to the aforementioned state's rights advocates, there are those who see it only as a symbol of Southern pride or heritage. Southern governors have risked boycott and ouster from office to keep it flying at state installations. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has said it belongs in a museum.
"When people say that the Confederate flag represents slavery, I ask them, 'If you look at the importation of slaves to the United States from Africa, what flag did they fly under? It was the United States flag," said George Mason University's Walter Williams, an economics professor who studies and writes about race.
"People say, 'Let's get rid of the Confederate flag because it's a symbol of slavery.' I say, 'What do we do with the American flag?' " he said.
WIlliams doesn't like hip-hop music, but that doesn't mean it should be banned or removed from public view, just like the Constitution shouldn't be outlawed because some people have visceral reactions to the Second Amendment, he said. While the Nazis represented a "despicable" regime, it's a "gross violation" of freedom of expression to ban anyone from displaying the Nazi flag, Williams said.
To Williams, it's a matter of freedom of expression, the true test of which is not how one reacts when people "express themselves in ways you think they ought to express themselves, but when they express themselves in ways you find offensive."
While Cook isn't wholly ruling out that West has a plan to stoke dialogue about the flag, he hasn't seen it yet. If the "Jesus Walks" rapper is just engaging in naked profiteering, that's fine, but Cook said he hopes the flag's true meaning and symbolism isn't lost or skewed in the flap.
"You can't leave room for misinterpretation, or some people will take that to the bank," Cook said. "He's going to take some of this to the bank himself."