Saturday, September 4, 2010

Why I still Root for Kanye (Love-Hate)

Kanye West poured out a stream of consciousness on Twitter today regarding what happened a year ago with him running on stage at the Video Music Awards. It was a overload of thought but it showed Ye at his best - honest, open and introspective. He ended with an apology to Taylor Swift.

It also reminded why I've said that he's one of the few rappers I can relate to. To understand why, you have to go back to 2004 with me. Back when I was a sophomore in college and hip-hop was in a weird state.

I had just discovered Tribe Called Quest's "Low End Theory" and finally heard some rap I could relate to. 50 Cent, Jay, Eminem, Ja Rule, DMX, Juvenile - all were hot at the time but I didn't see myself in them. Mos Def and Talib Kweli dropped so-so albums so I couldn't feel them. But when I heard this kid from Chicago, something was different.

Kanye wasn't your average rapper. He didn't look like your average rapper. He was smart, dressed preppy, strong faith, reminded me of a bookworm who had a knack for producing. His parents were well-educated. He was me.

College Dropout was an album that spoke to me in a way no album did. It had a light sound but had an honesty that few rappers showed. Who rapped about Jesus and made it a hit? Instead of bragging, he kept it real on "All Falls Down." He was hilarious about gold diggers before Jaime and Ray. He had quotables for days as I felt like I was being spoken to as a smart college kid who loved rap but didn't fit in with the music.

At the same time, the other side of Kanye came out. The ego. The ego that blasted XXL for not giving him a "XXL rating" in their feature on him, blaming an early leak of the album. He did the same thing in the Source. He fumed at award shows when he didn't win - famously blasting Gretchen Wilson winning Best New Artist at the AMA's and after he lost Album of the Year at the Grammys.

This started my love-hate relationship with him. He was skilled with the pen and on the production boards but his antics made me cringe. It only got tougher in 2005-06 when he dropped "Late Registration" and produced Common's "Be"

I still remember me and my friend Irma going to Best Buy to get Late Registration then later going to see his tour at UCSD. It's still one of the coolest shows I've ever seen and when I saw him in 06 at the San Diego Street Scene on a smaller scale, he still killed it. But Soon after came the infamous Rolling Stone cover with him posing like Christ. Crown of thorns, robe and all. You went from rapping about Jesus to having a God-complex?

At the same time, he showed his balls by saying those famous 7 words all of us wanted to say after Hurricane Katrina. Most people forget that he made an impassioned speech before then talking about the news coverage showing Blacks as looters, Whites as survivors. That set up his great moment: George Bush doesnt care about Black people.

It made me admire him more. He could've easily just asked for money but he was brilliant in his anger. He spoke for a region and a people. Even Jay-Z said he could've done more.

He was a complicated figure. The biggest rapper in the world with an even bigger ego who found a way to draw you into his struggles. Was Kanye the guy who rapped about his mom and blood diamonds? Or was he the guy chasing pop stardom whose mouth was reckless on a minor Tupac level.

I left college in 2006 and the "Graduation" album summed my mood the next year. He nearly sold a million that first week as he began chasing stadium status but with songs like "Can't Tell Me Nothin", "Everything I Am", "The Glory", he was still inspiring me.

When his mom passed away, I knew he'd touch her soul with something great and the Grammy version of "Hey Mama" nearly had me in tears. But after that moment, Kanye finally looked like he stopped relating to everyday joes and began going international in his style and out of this world production wise.

I cringed when he started rapping in Auto-Tune (considering that he can hold a note). I cringed more when I anticipated 808 and Heartbreaks and for the first time, his first single didn't move more than his second (Love Lockdown and Heartless were both bland even though the words of Heartless were still great). I thought he'd lost it - too caught up in his grief and ambition to make something soulless

The album dropped not so soon after I broke up with my last girlfriend. When I heard "Say You Will" on the plane, it was so stark and haunting I felt like she was talking to me. As bad as the auto-tune was, Kanye's words were speaking to me and I felt like I heard her in there. I still say it's his worst album but he used auto-tune to create something close to Marvin Gaye's "Here My Dear"

Six years in, it's his words, creativity, emotion that both inspire me, speak to me and make me wonder what the heck he was thinking. The Taylor Swift incident was overblown, unfortunate and the upset ramblings of a fool who hates award show screwjobs but maybe it's the start of Kanye getting back to himself.

Today's long diatribe is a great start.I still consider him one of my favorite figures in rap. No matter his flaws, he still reminds me of that personal, introspective guy I see in myself who's unafraid to show his emotions. And musically, he may be miles away from College Dropout but every so often, he'll remind me why he's one of the best writers in hip-hop and an inspiration to guys like me who love hip hop but aren't street dudes.

He's still gonna say and do some weird stuff (Nicki Minaj potential to be better than anyone but Eminem? Swizz Beatz the greatest producer ever? Do a track with Raekwon and Justin Bieber???) but for me, he's just a reminder that entertainers aren't perfect. Neither are we.

1 comment:

  1. This post pretty much sums up my own feelings towards Kanye. While I'm not a huge rap fan (my iTunes library has only 4 straight up rap albums), I have followed Kanye's musical career and listened to his albums. His lyrics really are phenomenal and I see him personally as one of the few "real" celebrities out there right now. From some of the stuff he says, regardless of how brash it may be, you can tell there's no producer or label pulling his strings or manufacturing his image. It's just him out there, raw and uncensored.

    Lately, my faith in him has wavered, though. College Dropout and Late Registration were both great and had a very distinct flavor. With Graduation, the ratio of meaningful songs to boastful "I'm famous!" raps changed, so I began to lose interest. Luckily for him, I was also coming out of a bad break up when 808's came out. He timed that very well, apparently.

    As much as I'd like to see him go back to his roots lyrically, I've realized that might destroy his appeal to me as a character. I'm now sincerely interested in what bizarre twists his story will take.