The year was 2002. I was a sophomore in college and I remember vividly walking into the student store and buying the new Talib Kweli album. At a time when Hip Hop was still about talent, his new album Quality was receiving some well deserved hype. It was a solid follow up to Black Star and Reflection Eternal. I noticed, however, that there was something different about this album. The style of production was definitely different from what I'm used to with Talib. Songs like "Get By" with the Nina Simone sample or "Guerilla Monsoon Rap" with that anthem beat. Those songs had a distinct bite to them and Kweli did these songs justice. I began to look into the production and noticed a certain name pop up over and over again; Kanye West. I began to do some research on the name and noticed that a lot of the tracks I liked from other artists, such as Nas and Jay Z, were also made by Kanye.
I began searching for songs and downloading anything associated with Kanye. That's when I came across "Through the Wire." This song sampled "Through the Fire" by Chaka Khan and it was our first glimpse at Kanye's vocals. The significance of the song was that he recorded it after a car accident that almost took his life. He had to have his jaw wired and he actually went to the studio in that very condition to record the track. I was a little indifferent to the song, I didn't hate it but it was by no means a classic. I was still looking forward to what this young producer/rapper would come up with in the future.
Fast forward to April 2003. I was at the Audiotistic Music Festival that took place at the L.A. Sports Arena. What had started as a shit-show for Ravers eventually evolved to an event that drew Hip Hop enthusiasts because of acts like Talib, Mos Def, The Roots and Big Boi form Outkast. They still kept the trance scene, but that was indoors at the Arena. There was a great energy in the air, Nas was the headlining act, fresh off his beef with Jay Z. Leading up to him was Common, Mos Def, Talib and Big Boi which is a ridiculous lineup. Between sets they would bring out DJ's to make sure the crowds didn't stop bobbing their heads while the following act got ready to go on stage, creating even more anticipation.
By the end of the day the air reeked of body odor and liquor. Talib got on stage right after DJ Z-trip blew the crowd away. His set began perfectly with "Africa Dream," which has a nice intro drum beat that transitions into a rhythmic hypnotizing track, and followed that with "Move Something," which is one of my favorites from his Reflection Eternal Album. After finishing this song he began to speak to the crowd saying that he wanted to bring a friend on stage, so he can do a song. He brought out Kanye West. Kanye was dressed in a striped rugby polo with an untucked button shirt underneath. He looked like he had just come from American Eagle. He also had a Louis Vuitton backpack on, he called himself a backpack rapper which was the new term for conscious rap. The crowd got a little quiet, he began to speak. He said something along the lines of "Hi my name is Kanye West, I hope you like my song 'Through the Wire.'" He got some applause, the crowd seemed to like the song, and when he was finished he thanked the crowd and stepped off stage. He seemed awkward and nervous, not like the showman with the bravado that he is today. In contrast with the persona we see today, he appeared to be approachable and likable.
After reading into his back story, I learned about how he was denied record deals simply because the record companies didn't think he fit the rapper persona. He never sold drugs and he wasn't a gangster. The opposite was actually true. He was, dare I say, normal. With reluctance from Damon Dash, then CEO of Roc-a-fella Records, he was signed to their label. That's when the hype machine started. He began touring with Jay Z and people began to take a liking to this normal guy dressed like a college frat boy that would rap about normal things. He finally dropped his first album, College Dropout, in 2004 which took him four years to put together. It was a masterpiece. It was exactly what the genre needed at that time. The featured guests were on point. The beats, the rhymes, even the album art, everything was great. I probably listened to "Spaceship" a million times.
Through that album Kanye became a full on juggernaut, selling close to 4 million albums. He followed that up with Late Registration in 2005, which was also a solid album. About a week before the release of this album was when he had the whole 'George Bush doesn't care about black people' incident which is incredibly funny when you watch it today. Even then, he was having a difficult time articulating his thoughts and seemed a bit nervous in front of the camera. Not to mention he was wearing another terrible rugby polo.
I noticed, however, that after that incident there was a rather strong reaction from the media. That clip was on repeat on all the major news networks. So with all that press he drops a new album, which again is critically acclaimed and sold close to 4 million copies. A star was born. It seemed that incident changed his persona. He began to speak honestly, mostly about himself, coming off as a guy with a huge chip on his shoulder which, in some ways many people could relate to. He seemed to embrace being the arrogant villain. He was more comfortable in front of the camera, started dressing fashion forward (e.g. the leather skirt and shutter shades). He still produced good music, except for 808s and Heartbreaks and Yeezus (we'll pretend like those never happened), but he just wasn't very likable anymore. I began to wonder if this is really who he is or if it's all an act so people always talk about him?
The reason I write this is because I came across an article yesterday called 'Kanye West is Fucking Real.' You can read the article here
. I couldn't disagree more. The author's argument was that Kanye would only compliment you if he means it, therefore it's not really disrespect, it's just him being honest. I'm all for honesty, but there is a time and place to be a dick. The author claims that people are upset only because he didn't give a diplomatic answer. It's a little hard for anyone to think he is going to be diplomatic with Beyonce when her husband is one of Kanye's good friends. So in essence he's just pouting that his buddy lost. Kanye wanting Beyonce to win the album of the year award is an opinion of his. There is no reason his opinion should be valued more than the panel of judges who decide the winners. Besides, if Metallica could lose Rock album of the year to some band called Jethro Tull, than nothing should surprise you.
Back to him being real. Is it safe to say that he realized that by acting polarizing he was gaining popularity? So now he plays the arrogant jerk card to fuel the haters so they listen to his music and find something to hate on and have the Kanye supporters come out in full force to defend him? Perhaps the fame started going to his head and this is
his actual hyper-ego asshole personality? Perhaps he's not really a musical genius but actually a marketing genius? Perhaps he's trolling everyone so they constantly talk about him?
Anyways, the point I'm trying to make here is that Kanye used to be a normal dude that wanted to break into the music industry. He used to dress normal and act normal. He didn't say polarizing things, he just made good beats and rhymes. So is Kanye really real? In a word ... NO. In today's environment it really isn't enough to just be good at what you do. You need to create a persona that people can form an opinion on. That's what he has become ... a product of the environment. How else could he sell out arenas and constantly be talked about? This is a result of today's celebrity worshiping society that has awareness of all superficial things but indifference towards what truly is important. All the news networks today headline with some type of celebrity gossip, while all four corners of the Earth are in some kind of turmoil. Whether or not people want to care about a certain topic is their choice, but let's direct our outrage towards something a little more important than a millionaire who probably wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire. No need to get all fired up over any of this.
Don't forget to be awesome.