Saturday, September 01, 2007

Kanye West

In the span of a few years, from 2001 to 2004, Kanye West went from hip-hop beatmaker to worldwide hitmaker, as his stellar production work for Jay-Z earned him a major-label recording contract as a solo artist. Before long, his beats were accompanied by his own witty raps on a number of critically and commercially successful releases. West's flamboyant personality also made a mark. He showcased a dapper fashion sense that set him apart from most of his rap peers, and his confidence often came across as boastful or even egotistic, albeit amusingly. This flamboyance, of course, made for good press, something West enjoyed plenty of during his sudden rise to celebrity status. He was a media darling, appearing and performing at practically every major awards show (and winning at them, too), delivering theatrical videos to MTV that were events in themselves, and mouthing off about whatever happened to cross his mind. For instance, he frequently spoke out against the rampant homophobia evident in much rap music, posed for the cover of Rolling Stone as Jesus Christ, and even said during a Hurricane Katrina fundraiser on live television, "George Bush doesn't care about black people." West courted controversy, no question about it, but his steady presence in the celebrity limelight sometimes eclipsed his considerable musical talent. His production ability seemed boundless during his initial surge of activity, as he not only racked up impressive hits for himself like "Jesus Walks" and "Gold Digger," but also graced such fellow rap stars as Jay-Z and Ludacris with smashes. In addition to these many accomplishments, it's worth noting how West shattered certain stereotypes about rappers. Whether it was his appearance or his rhetoric, or even just his music, this young man became a superstar on his own terms, and his singularity no doubt is part of his appeal to a great many people, especially those who don't generally consider themselves rap listeners.From out of left field (i.e., Chicago, anything but a hip-hop hotbed), West was an unlikely sensation and more than once defied adversity. Like so many others who were initially inspired by Run-D.M.C., he began as just another aspiring rapper with a boundless passion for hip-hop, albeit a rapper with a Midas touch when it came to beatmaking. And it was indeed his beatmaking skills that got his foot in the industry door. Though he did quite a bit of noteworthy production work during the late '90s (Jermaine Dupri, Foxy Brown, Mase, Goodie Mob), it was his work for Roc-a-Fella at the dawn of the new millennium that took his career to the next level. Alongside fellow fresh talent Just Blaze, West became one of The Roc's go-to producers, consistently delivering hot tracks to album after album. His star turn came on Jay-Z's classic Blueprint (2001) with album standouts "Takeover" and "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)." Both songs showcased West's signature beatmaking style of the time, which was largely sample-based — in these cases the former track appropriating snippets of the Doors' "Five to One," the latter the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back." More high-profile productions followed, and before long word spread that West was going to release an album of his own, on which he'd rap as well as produce. Unfortunately, that album was a long time coming, pushed back and then pushed back again. It didn't help, of course, that West experienced a tragic car accident in October 2002 that almost cost him his life. He capitalized on the traumatic experience by using it as the inspiration for "Through the Wire" (and its corresponding video), which would later become the lead single for his debut album, The College Dropout (2004). As the album was continually delayed, West continued to churn out big hits for the likes of Talib Kweli ("Get By"), Ludacris ("Stand Up"), Jay-Z ("'03 Bonnie & Clyde"), and Alicia Keys ("You Don't Know My Name"). Then, just as "Through the Wire" was breaking big-time at the tail end of 2003, another West song caught fire, a collaboration with Twista and comedian/actor Jamie Foxx called "Slow Jamz" that gave the rapper/producer two simultaneously ubiquitous singles and a much-anticipated debut album. As with so many of West's songs, these two were driven by somewhat recognizable sample-based hooks — Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire" in the case of "Through the Wire," and Luther Vandross' "A House Is Not a Home" in the case of "Slow Jamz." In the wake of his breakout success, West earned a whopping ten nominations for the 47th annual Grammy Awards, held in early 2005. The College Dropout won the Best Rap Album award, "Jesus Walks" won Best Rap Song, and a songwriting credit on "You Don't Know My Name" for Best R&B Song award was shared with Alicia Keys and Harold Lilly. Later in the year, West released his second solo album, Late Registration (2005), which spawned a series of hit singles ("Diamonds in Sierra Leone," "Gold Digger," "Heard 'Em Say," "Touch the Sky"), topped the charts (as did "Gold Digger"), and won a Grammy for Album of the Year. West's production work continued more or less unabated during this time; particularly noteworthy were hits for Twista ("Overnight Celebrity"), Janet Jackson ("I Want You"), Brandy ("Talk About Our Love"), the Game ("Dreams"), Common ("Go!"), and Keyshia Cole ("I Changed My Mind"). West also founded his own label, GOOD Music (i.e., "Getting Out Our Dreams"), in conjunction with Sony BMG. The inaugural release was John Legend's Get Lifted (2004), followed by Common's Be (2005). In addition to all of his studio work, West also toured internationally in support of Late Registration and released Late Orchestration: Live at Abbey Road Studios (2006) in commemoration.After retreating from the spotlight for a while, West returned to the forefront of the music world in 2007 with a series of album releases. Consequence's Don't Quit Your Day Job and Common's Finding Forever, both released by GOOD, were chiefly produced by West; the latter was particularly popular, topping the album chart upon its release in July. And then there was West's third solo album, Graduation, which was promoted well in advance of its September 11 release (a memorable date that pitted Kanye against 50 Cent, who in one interview swore he would quit music if his album, Curtis, wasn't the top-seller). A pair of singles — "Can't Tell Me Nothing" and "Stronger," the latter an interpolation of Daft Punk's 2001 single "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" — led the promotional push.

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Producer Kanye West's highlight reels were stacking up exponentially when his solo debut for Roc-a-Fella was released, after numerous delays and a handful of suspense-building underground mixes. The week The College Dropout came out, three singles featuring his handiwork were in the Top 20, including his own "Through the Wire." A daring way to introduce himself to the masses as an MC, the enterprising West recorded the song during his recovery from a car wreck that nearly took his life — while his jaw was wired shut. Heartbreaking and hysterical ("There's been an accident like Geico/They thought I was burnt up like Pepsi did Michael"), and wrapped around the helium chirp of the pitched-up chorus from Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire," the song and accompanying video couldn't have forged his dual status as underdog and champion any better. All of this momentum keeps rolling through The College Dropout, an album that's nearly as phenomenal as the boastful West has led everyone to believe. The bad points? A few too many skits, "The New Workout Plan," and the fact that the triumph that is "Through the Wire" is de-emphasized and placed so deep into the album that it's almost anticlimactic. Apart from this? Abundant hotness in every aspect. From a production standpoint, nothing here tops recent conquests like Alicia Keys' "You Don't Know My Name" or Talib Kweli's "Get By," but he's consistently potent and tempers his familiar characteristics — high-pitched soul samples, gospel elements — by tweaking them and not using them as a crutch. Even though those with their ears to the street knew West could excel as an MC, he has used this album as an opportunity to prove his less-known skills to a wider audience. One of the most poignant moments is on "All Falls Down," where the self-effacing West examines self-consciousness in the context of his community: "Rollies and Pashas done drive me crazy/I can't even pronounce nothing, yo pass the Versacey/Then I spent 400 bucks on this just to be like 'Nigga you ain't up on this'." If the notion that the album runs much deeper than the singles isn't enough, there's something of a surprising bonus: rather puzzlingly, a slightly adjusted mix of "Slow Jamz" — a side-splitting ode to legends of baby-making soul that originally appeared on Twista's Kamikaze, just before that MC received his own Roc-a-Fella chain — also appears. Prior to this album, we were more than aware that West's stature as a producer was undeniable; now we know that he's also a remarkably versatile lyricist and a valuable MC.
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And then, in a flash, Kanye was everywhere, transformed from respected producer to big-name producer/MC, throwing a fit at the American Music Awards, performing "Jesus Walks" at the Grammys, wearing his diamond-studded Jesus piece, appearing on the cover of Time, running his mouth 24/7. One thing that remains unchanged is Kanye's hunger, even though his head has swollen to the point where it could be separated from his body, shot into space, and considered a planet. Raised middle class, Kanye didn't have to hustle his way out of poverty, the number one key to credibility for many hip-hop fans, whether it comes to rapper turned rapping label presidents or suburban teens. And now that he has proved himself in another way, through his stratospheric success — which also won him a gaggle of haters as passionate as his followers — he doesn't want to be seen as a novelty whose ambitions have been fulfilled. On Late Registration, he finds himself backed into a corner, albeit as king of the mountain. It's a paradox, which is exactly what he thrives on. His follow-up to The College Dropout isn't likely to change the minds of the resistant. As an MC, Kanye remains limited, with all-too-familiar flows that weren't exceptional to begin with (you could place a number of these rhymes over College Dropout beats). He uses the same lyrical strategies as well. Take lead single "Diamonds from Sierra Leone," in which he switches from boastful to rueful; more importantly, the conflict felt in owning blood diamonds will be lost on those who couldn't afford one with years of combined income. Even so, he can be tremendous as a pure writer, whether digging up uncovered topics (as on "Diamonds") or spinning a clever line ("Before anybody wanted K. West's beats, me and my girl split the buffet at KFC"). The production approach, however, is rather different from the debut. Crude beats and drastically tempo-shifted samples are replaced with a more traditionally musical touch from Jon Brion (Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann), who co-produces with West on most of the tracks. (Ironically, the Just Blaze-helmed "Touch the Sky" tops everything laid down by the pair, despite its heavy reliance on Curtis Mayfield's "Move on Up.") West and Brion are a good, if unlikely, match. Brion's string arrangements and brass flecks add a new dimension to West's beats without overshadowing them, and the results are neither too adventurous nor too conservative. While KRS-One was the first to proclaim, "I am hip-hop," Kanye West might as well be the first MC to boldly state, "I am pop."

01. Diamonds From Sierra Leone 04:08
02. Touch The Sky 04:07
03. Crack Music 02:48
04. Drive Slow 04:34
05. Through The Wire 03:33
06. Workout Plan 02:53
07. Heard 'em Say 04:10
08. All Falls Down 03:13
09. Bring Me Down 03:21
10. Gone 04:15
11. Late 03:54
12. Jesus Walks 03:14
13. Gold Digger (AOL Sessions) 03:18

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Exclusive!: Kanye West - Graduation (Retail) (Sep 11, 2007: Roc-A-Fella)01. Good Morning (Intro) 03:15
02. Champion 02:48
03. Stronger 05:12
04. I Wonder 04:03
05. Good Life (Ft. T-Pain) 03:27
06. Can't Tell Me Nothing 04:32
07. Barry Bonds (Ft. Lil Wayne) 03:24
08. Drunk And Hot Girls (Ft. Mos Def) 05:13
09. Flashing Lights (Ft. Dwele) 03:58
10. Everything I Am 03:48
11. The Glory 03:33
12. Homecoming (Ft. Chris Martin) 03:24
13. Big Brother 04:47

4 comments:

Charlie said...

not exclusive but ok

WeakShit.com said...

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Black Stars said...

http://thehiphopcollection.blogspot.com/