King Kanye

By Emily Parks

Today everyone wants a piece of the ‘Ye. When an artist reaches a point of popularity that a first name Google search returns ten million hits, it is only natural for their celebrity status to overshadow their music. Most information about Kanye speaks about his contradictory speeches, iconographic poses, wild parties and upcoming clothes line. It also might mention his musical accomplishments.
Perhaps this media frenzy is understandable: Kanye has managed to wrap himself in controversy, mainly due to his brash statements. The most current and memorable is his off-script “Bush doesn’t care about Black people” proclamation at the New Orleans benefit concert when he was announcing with Mike Myers. He received reprimand by being booed during his NFL performance a week after.
In this month’s issue of Rolling Stone, Kanye’s head appeared on the coverbloodied by a crown of thorns. The caption read, “The Passion of Kanye West,” and to pile more straw on this already bent camel’s back, he later stated that he could see himself being a character in the Bible and that he is “definitely in the history books already.”
While nobody enjoys listening to a braggard, Kanye does have the right to sing his own praise. In only five years (if you start Kanye’s popular career with the release of Blueprint), Kanye West has become the biggest rap producer/artist in the world. He is the definition of a self-made workaholic, releasing two fine-tuned perfected albums only a year and a half apart. He became angry that he didn’t win as many Grammys as he could have (this year he won 3 out of 8 nominations and in 2005 received 3 out of 10), claiming to have been racially and musically discriminated out of a Grammy, because his music was clearly the best.

Born in Georgia but raised in Chicago, Kanye was just another kid growing up rapping to Run DMC. He dropped out of college to produce individual artists and do his own music as well. After producing four songs on Jay-Z’s album Blueprint (a phenomenon unto itself), he stepped into the world of hip-hop. But apparently Roc-A-Fella Records was hesitant to think of Kanye as a rapper instead of a producer: he didn’t fit the mold. Therefore, Kanye challenged the question of who could be a true rapper and what that means.
His lyrics are about college and important racial and social issues in addition to more standard topics of rap. No doubt, Kanye still talks about coming from the streets, the ladies, and his superiority to other rappers (and people in general). He does not hesitate to say “ass-titties” repeatedly, but it is tastefully mixed with more thoughtful ideas. He accuses the government of administering AIDS, critiques the relevancy of a college education, damns the diamond mining business, complains about health care, implores his fellow rappers not to hate homosexuals, and whines about women using men for money.
Kanye’s innovative production modes have also altered rap music. He uses an original choice of loops. His beats may not jump out at first; they are set at a fairly medium speed. In actuality, the beats are recorded at a very slow rate and then sped up to achieve that mellow mid-tempo. A similar tactic is taken to many samples, creating a “chimpmunkization” in some songs (“Late,” for example). His instrumentation and song structure is as detailed and technical as it gets. Many tracks have guest rappers or singers step in to add a completely different flavor and feel than the track just before it. But the wonderful thing about Kanye is that everyone can like all of it, because it is still all distinctly his.
Kanye West is a good example of an artist who is able to expand a genre and appeal to a wider audience. By jumping around, Kanye keeps us guessing, keeps us listening, and watching. To add to his accomplishments, he has his own recording company called GOOD Music, an acronym for Getting Out Our Dreams. He is also preparing to launch his own line of clothing, Pastelle, this spring (he believes that if a person doesn’t have good taste in fashion, their other opinions are invalidated. Of course, he has a divine sense of fashion (mixing preppy college with gangsta streets). We’ll find out if Kanye can continue to hold our attention after he releases his next planned albums, Graduation followed by Good Ass Job.