Tuesday, January 20, 2004


kanye shows you how to do
"itsy bitsy spider"

    "first ni**a with a Benz and a backpack" - "Breathe In, Breathe Out", Kanye West

Here's the deal: Roc-A-Fella finds itself at a tricky crossroads. Presuming Jay-Z stays retired, even if only for two years (see this month's Vibe where he admits, his "retirement" may be shorter than most presumed), the Roc still needs to figure out how to maintain label visibility without having their flagship artist.

Def Jam has practically mastered this over the years and without a doubt, the Roc wants to have that kind of longevity/flexibility. The problem is: who on the Roc is going to step up like that? Cam'ron and Dipset are too busy trying to get their own empire started. Young Gunz are unproven despite one hot single. MOP, Dirt McGirt, Freeway and Beanie Siegel all have great followings and they're proven performers, but they're the sideshow, not the main event. As for Memphis Bleek... (sound of crickets chirping)

So where does Kanye West fit into this? He's not going to be the next Jay-Z (no one is, right now) but he's also not the next Free/Beans/Bleek/Juelz/etc. He's unlike anyone else on the label yet fits in perfectly. Think of Hova's constant appeals to sincerity ("Song Cry", "December 4", etc.) but then mix that with someone who seems far more genuinely humble, dash in entertaining and funny, and sh*t - we know dude can produce b/c he's Kanye West. End conclusion about his College Dropout? West up!

I was initially skeptical about K's chances - after all, I always thought of him as a producer and not an MC. But then came "Two Words" and "Living Through the Wire" and suddenly, I'm putting him somewhere ahead of Pete Rock and behind Lord Finesse on the producers-who-rhyme/vice versa list. He's not an incredible rapper but as Hua notes in his blog, K is funny as hell as those who've enjoyed "Slow Jamz" have noted. (Personally, one of my favorite lines comes from "Through the Wire":

    My dogs couldn't tell if/I look like Tom Cruise on Vanilla Sky
    it was televised.
    There's been an accident like Geico
    they thought I was burnt up like Pepsi did Michael

Here's the thing: many of you have already heard 80% (if not more) of the album since Kanye's managed to slip tracks from it onto all his 592 mix-CDs released thus far. Yet, it says a lot about how likable College Dropout (coming out in mid-Feb) is that I had heard half the songs already yet I still enjoy the album as if it were the first time.

What strikes me about K's appeal is that he really is this combination of nerdy hip-hop head refashioned as nouveau-riche baller and he doesn't try to overload either image. Sure, on a song like "Breathe In, Breathe Out," he apologies to Mos Def and Kweli for making a song about ice, but you never feel like West is overplaying the card. Likewise, on a song like "Self-Conscious"* (aka "All Falls Down"), West crafts a song that is convincingly sincere and moving in its depictions of why people hustle - himself especially. Yeah, it's partly an excuse for his materialism but I never felt like he was being disingenous about it (unlike K's big boss at the Roc).

Actually, on that note - take a song like Kanye's "My Way" and compare it to what Jay-Z did with the concept. In Hova's hands, "My Way" was entirely self-serving - it got over partially just b/c Jay has such a massive cult of personality going for him but under the West treatment, his "My Way" feels so much less masturbatory and much more of the affirming anthem it inspires to be. Effectively, Kanye West is dropping "conscious rap" without wearing that label on its sleeve, something that dead prez still hasn't figured out and that Common has turned into a cliche by now.

The hot track on College Dropout though is "Jesus Walks". I can't really stand the Christian church but dude has me feeling the Holy Ghost on this one. Seriously, when's the last time you heard a rapper (ok, a rapper NOT from the South) really give it up to Jesus and make you feel like you're really FEELING something and not just being preached to? Backed-up by the Harlem's Boy Choir, Kanye drops an unlikely candidate for club status but damn, believe me, it'd sound GREAT on the parquet floor. To the chuuuuuurch and back like Snoop dizzle. And just peep his lines:

    "they say you can rap about anything/except for Jesus/
    that means sex, lies and videotape/but if I talk about God/my record won't get played/huh?!
    well, if that takes away from spins/which will probably take away from ends
    then I hope it takes away from sins/and bring about that day I've been dreaming 'bout
    next time/I'm in the club/everybody screaming out/"Jesus walks!"

Kanye's got me holding my head like dude from the old school Krazy Glue commercials.

Check College Dropout out when it drops (even if you already own all 1293 Kanye West mix-CDs. It won't change your life but it might change your day and I'm more than happy to settle for that.

Oh, just for a bonus - here's one of the zillion Kanye freestyles floating out there. This one with Kanye rhyming over the "Milkshake" beat.

*Quick aside: Can I just say that I can't get enough of listening to "Self-Conscious"? That Lauryn Hill guitar loop he has running through just kills me everytime and it really, really, really makes me miss L-Boogie's presence in hip-hop. Is she done being crazy yet?

(shout out to JP for you-know-what)