COURTESY SARAH FRIEDMAN / ROC-A-FELLA
Call him assured, cocky or brash, Kanye West not only talks the talk, he produces hits
IT'S NO ACCIDENT that Kanye West has named his current tour after one of his ambitious songs. The "Touch the Sky Tour" sums up the mega-successful hip-hop producer and rapper's drive to perfect his art. And with an ego and assuredness -- some say cockiness -- to match, he's made news outside the terrific music showcased on his past two albums, "The College Dropout" and "Late Registration."
Opening act Emirc
Place: Blaisdell Arena
Time: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Call: 591-2211 or online at ticketmaster.com
As part of a pre-Grammy press campaign, West was photographed as Jesus Christ, bleeding from a crown of thorns, for a provocative Rolling Stone cover. That followed his denunciation of President Bush in September for not caring "about black people" during an unscripted rant on a NBC telethon for victims of Hurricane Katrina (his off-the-cuff comments were excised when the benefit was broadcast on the West Coast).
"... When you stand up for any form of civil rights, you put yourself in the line of fire," he told Entertainment Weekly. "But I feel like I'm here to change people's hearts and minds, to say something that's right for a change. And it goes all the way down the line, from telling people to stop being so cliché, to stop saying what you think your record label wants you to say, to stop giving drab acceptance speeches. Speaking from the heart is so much more entertaining."
And that it has been. Playing up the "us-versus-them" card has only added to the brash one's notoriety and success. The 28-year-old has backed up the talk 'n' bluster with platinum album sales, and 18 total Grammy nods over the past two years. The nominations and awards recognize not only his own work, but his top-notch producing for such acts as Mariah Carey and Alicia Keys.
West is honoring the Pacific Rim concert dates he would've played as opening act for U2, when that band had to drop out due to family illness. Fans here will see his full stage show at Blaisdell Arena Sunday, instead of the abbreviated show that he had taken on tour with U2 (the U2 Hawaii appearance, originally scheduled for Saturday at Aloha Stadium, did not have West as opening act, but rather the group's stage manager's band, Rocko and the Devils).
AFTER SOLIDIFYING his producer credentials with five tracks on Jay-Z's pivotal 2001 release, "The Blueprint," West has never wavered in his work ethic, and he's been reaping the rewards of his dope "choruses and hooks."
Even though 2004's "The College Dropout" made West's name as a rapper on such hits as "Through the Wire" and "Jesus Walks," it was the following year's "Late Registration" that broke him big-time into the mainstream. The album garnered three Grammy awards, for Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song ("Diamonds from Sierra Leone") and Best Rap Solo Performance ("Gold Digger").
But, according to West, he should've taken Album of the Year as well (won, coincidentally, by U2). I concur. The middle section of "Late Registration" -- from "Crack Music," through "Bring Me Down," "Addiction," the "Diamonds" remix with Jay-Z, and "We Major" -- was some of the best music I've heard in recent memory. Infectious beats, an astute use of samples, rock solid raps, and colorful horn and string arrangements by Jon Brion sealed the deal.
West isn't worried so much about losing 'hood cred as looking for ways to make his music better, and that's why he pushed the envelope when he asked for studio help from Brion, a white arranger better known for his rock work.
" ... That's why so many people make inadequate music," he said in a March Playboy Interview. "I beg for criticism. I'll get 30 opinions on what's wrong with a song and fix all of those things. ... You can't learn anything from a compliment. I also had a poetry instructor. She was on 'Def Poetry Jam' with me, and I was like, Yo, she is so much better than me at this. If I could apply this, I could be like a Bob Dylan, a Bob Marley, a Stevie Wonder, a Prince, a John Lennon.
" 'Gold Digger' is straight poetry ... one of the biggest songs of our lifetime. It'll be there with 'In Da Club' and 'When Doves Cry.' "
WEST'S FIRST NAME, translated from Swahili is, not surprisingly "the only one." His parents split up when he was 3, and he was raised primarily by his mother, formerly with the English department at Chicago State University. (He has stayed in contact with his dad, a former Black Panther and now Christian counselor.)
And "the only one" continues to branch out his interests. His GOOD Music label (GOOD being an acronym for Getting Out Our Dreams) has proven to be a hitmaker, with lauded album releases from John Legend and Common.
Last month, he joined New Line Cinema and the production company Anonymous Content to develop a film inspired by his music. The Associated Press reported that West will also appear in the film, meant to be a multi-perspective look at life in America through the eyes of not only West, but other writers and directors.
"My greatest talent, more so than being a rapper," West told Entertainment Weekly, "is the ability to produce, to grab things that seem like they don't belong and put them together. I love building things, all the labor and refining and fine-tuning. My favorite thing in the world is postproduction. I like it more than sex. ... And I like sex a lot!"
"At some point, I'm getting out of the rap biz. Maybe in three years, I'll be a movie producer. ... But it would be such a shame for me to stop making music, because I'm just so good."