Saturday, January 2, 2010
BEST OF THE 00s: KANYE WEST
It was the Grammy Awards in either 2003 and I was doing interviews for VH1. Most artists who do press at events like this are nominees, or performers or at least presenters. I don't think Kanye was any of the above. He may have been nominated for something, because he was an established producer at that point (notably for Jay-Z), although he hadn't released a solo record yet.
So he shows up in our interview room with a mascot -- literally a guy dressed in the mascot costume that is on the cover of his debut The College Dropout. He actually had a bit hit at that moment: he produced and rapped on Twista's song "Slow Jamz" which also featured Jaime Foxx (and which was later released on The College Dropout). I thought he'd be happy that I even knew who he was, but he was dwarfed by the chip on his shoulder. Before the cameras rolled, I mentioned that I would ask about "Slow Jamz" and then go on to his upcoming debut. He doesn't look at me but was like "OK." So I ask the question, he answers and then I ask a followup and he's like "Ya'll know I got my debut album coming out February (whatever), right?" Don't f*** with me like that I'm doing an interview, kid. I was like, well, I'm not using this anyway, and if I need to do a news package on this clown, I'll interview him again later. But I did decide that anyone this arrogant and rude had to have something to back it up. So despite the fact that I felt he was rude, I bought his album the day it came out. His ego is all over the place, as is the giant chip on his shoulder, but you can't deny it is a classic, probably the best hip-hop record of the decade.
The followup, Late Registration, was great also, and Kanye also spent time bringing the great R&B singer John Legend to the world, and exposing Common to a larger audience. Graduation wasn't as good, and the last album with auto-tune, was really dull. But neither or those take away from how great the first two were. And despite Kanye's humongous ego, he is still a good collaborator: other than producing Common and John Legend, he's also done tracks for Jay-Z, Nas, Mos Def and Talib Kweli, among others, since becoming a star in his own right. He's also shared the mic on some great collaborative tracks, including "Classic (Better Than I've Ever Been)" with Nas, KRS-One and Rakim, "Swagga Like Us" with Jay-Z, T.I. and Lil' Wayne and "Run This Town" with Jay-Z and Rihanna.
His verbal beatdowns have been embarassing three times as often as they've been cool: he shouldn't have bitched about Gretchen Wilson when she won Best New Artist at the American Music Awards (I've interviewed her as well, and she could probably physically kick his ass), he shouldn't have complained about Justin Timberlake winning an award that he was nominated for, and of course the Taylor Swift thing was ridiculous. On the other hand, his post-Katrina televised bitch slap of bush II was awesome and a classic TV moment. But hopefully Kanye will get his stuff together: I'm sure he has lots of great music in him for the '10s.