If you’re a long-time hip-hop head, then you probably bear a grudge against thugs. Back in the Eighties, hip-hop was pretty broad in its scope, encompassing everything from Ice-T and Public Enemy to The Fat Boys and Biz Markie. Then, the one-two punch of NWA and Dr. Dre‘s The Chronic ushered in the gangsta era and things haven’t been the same since.
So, the guy who can figure out how to break down these walls and re-invent hip-hop will be both a wizard and a warrior. He’ll be a really smart and creative guy, who will face unimaginable odds. He might be Kanye West.
From Time‘s cover story (sub req.):
The first time Kanye West asked the folks at Roc-A-Fella records to let him rap, there was an uncomfortable silence. As a producer, West had churned out hits for Roc-A-Fella’s intimidating trio of stars — Jay-Z, Cam’ron and Beanie Siegel — and earned praise for his great ear and tireless ethic. But in 2002 the idea that someone like West could be a successful rapper was faintly absurd. “Kanye wore a pink shirt with the collar sticking up and Gucci loafers,” recalls Damon Dash, then Roc-A-Fella CEO. “It was obvious we were not from the same place or cut from the same cloth.” Says Jay-Z: “We all grew up street guys who had to do whatever we had to do to get by. Then there’s Kanye, who to my knowledge has never hustled a day in his life. I didn’t see how it could work.”
Kanye is a mix of contrasts. He takes the language and themes of gangsta and then flips them around. He commits faults and then criticizes himself in the next breath. He wallows in the gutter and then soars up to heaven. Most importantly, he doesn’t just want to make a good record, he wants to make a record so great and so popular that it changes hip-hop.
From the L.A. Times (reg. req.):
West returned to the studio and threw out four tracks from the CD he had been working on in L.A. for months with pop producer Jon Brion, who produced [Fiona] Apple’s second album. They replaced them with tracks that West describes as more “black.”
Most artists might not even admit reworking the album in fear of sounding like sellouts. But the four new tracks aren’t a retreat. “Touch the Sky,” one of the new tunes, is one of the CD’s most uplifting numbers — and an integral part of what is easily the most exciting hip-hop album this year.
Due in stores Tuesday, “Late Registration” is a 71-minute tour de force that mixes everyman tales with sonic invention — a record that could change the musical framework of rap more than anything since 1992′s “The Chronic” by Dr. Dre. First-week sales are expected to be the largest for any rap collection since 50 Cent’s “The Massacre” topped the million mark in March.
West’s last-minute retooling offers a valuable insight into his ambitions. He doesn’t just want to make great records. He also insists on making hits.
One of the key elements of Kanye’s effort is the participation of wunderkind producer Jon Brion. Brion really is a musical genius (I don’t use the word lightly), who has produced records for Elliott Smith, Robyn Hitchcock, David Byrne, Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple, Rufus Wainwright, and Brad Mehldau. He does an infamous weekly set at Largo every Friday night.
Anyway, the influence of Brion on Kanye’s new album Late Registration will probably be a hot topic of conversation in the coming months.
Here is the way the album begins. Believe me; if you told me anything good could come from some kind of hip-hop/Maroon 5 collaboration, I would have punched you in the face. Against all credibility, this is great. As a bonus, here is a live performance from Jon Brion at Largo.
Wake Up Mr. West (ft. Bernie Mac) / Heard ‘Em Say (ft. Adam Levine of Maroon 5) — BUY Jon Brion – Same Thing (live at Largo, July 2000)