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Kanye West

+ {Kids See Ghosts}

Self-proclaimed “greatest living rock star on the planet”, ever so delusional or a visionary “R&B rapper”, 21st century schizoid pop man KANYE WEST should let his music do the talking – the second coming he was not, even if he posed as Jesus Christ (or was that “Yeezus”) for the cover of the Rolling Stone magazine. Bonus celebrity “power” by marrying into the Kardashian dynasty, there’s no telling this “false God” that the meek shall inherit the Earth. If “Ye” has any hidden karma, maybe he has the Midas touch effect by way of a long string of US No.1 albums, including collaborations with best buddies JAY-Z (as The Throne) and KID CUDI (as Kids See Ghosts). Add to that, ground-breaking singles: `Gold Digger’, `Stronger’ and `Power’, maybe he has a point. Nah!
Born June 8, 1977, Atlanta, Georgia, USA – the son of a photo-journalist father and academic mother – KANYE WEST bucked the ghetto superstar trend by becoming the first black, middle class hip-hop icon of the noughties. Already moonlighting as an RZA-influenced producer while studying at Chicago State University, Ye subsequently dropped out and worked his way up the production pecking order; turning in stuff for the likes of FOXY BROWN, MASE, GOODIE MOB, JERMAINE DUPRI et al. Pitching up at Roc-A-Fella Records, Ye contributed to JAY-Z’s millennial set, `Roc La Familia – The Dynasty’, but only really made his mark with follow-up, `The Blueprint’ (2001); masterminding The DOORS/“Five To One”-sampling a la `Takeover’ and The JACKSON 5/“I Want You Back”-borrowing `Izzo (H.O.V.A.)’ – a Top 10 single.
Inspired – if that’s the right term – by a near-fatal car crash on October 23, 2002, WEST penned what was to be his first single, `Through The Wire’; a fortnight after the accident, his mouth was still trussed up in wire. Further successes for ALICIA KEYS (the Grammy-nominated `You Don’t Know My Name’), TALIB KWELI (`Get By’), JAY-Z (`03 Bonnie & Clyde’) and LUDACRIS (`Stand Up’), held back his own single’s schedule date and, while Roc-A-Fella had initially been reluctant to market him as a solo artist in his own right, the song finally appeared late in 2003; reaching the Top 20 and – eventually – the UK Top 10.
Hot on its heels was his collaboration with TWISTA and actor/comedian JAMIE FOXX, `Slow Jamz’; the first of two Foxx features to smash the No.1 spot. With their treated samples – CHAKA KHAN’s `Through The Fire’ and LUTHER VANDROSS’ `A House Is Not A Home’ respectively – both tracks were indicative of WEST’s highly distinctive, R&B-orientated style, showcased in more depth on his Grammy-winning debut album, THE COLLEGE DROPOUT (2004) {*9}. A flyer out of the starting gate, attendant singles `All Falls Down’ (featuring Syleena Johnson that re-worked a line of the gorgeous LAUREN HILL’s `Mystery Of Iniquity’) and the Grammy-winning/Best Rap Song `Jesus Walks’, both went transatlantic Top 20 and, whilst WEST wasn’t exactly a revolutionary, his wry, contradictory rhymes (and fun skits) – on subject matter that’d be considered high-brow for most rappers – at least began to question his place in hip-hop’s monolithic temples of bling.
While Ye’s ego swelled in line with his fame, the blanket media coverage on everything from his controversial Live8 appearance to his anti-Pres Bush comments, fired anticipation for sophomore set, LATE REGISTRATION (2005) {*9}. Almost universally acclaimed, the album went one better than his previous LP and topped the charts; coming within a whisker of doing the same in Britain. The familiar lyrical tone was set by a CURTIS MAYFIELD/“Move On Up”-sampling `Touch The Sky’ hit, and a Shirley Bassey-sampling lead single, `Diamonds From Sierra Leone’. WEST might’ve been telling some people what they didn’t already know, but the latter platter – or at least its delivery – remained the same. Another major collaboration hit, `Heard ‘Em Say’, pitched Kanye with MAROON 5’s Adam Levine. With producer of the moment Jon Brion smoothing Kanye’s sonic horizons, the effect was a tad glossier from his debut. His motifs were most effective when tackling issues long since abandoned in hip-hop: on the GIL SCOTT-HERON-sampling `My Way Home’ (hinging on a downscale refrain from “Home Is Where The Hatred Is”), and the SCOTT-HERON name checking `Crack Music’. JAMIE FOXX popped up again on the No.1, `Gold Digger’, a seminal song which – appropriately enough given JF’s turn as Brother Ray in the Hollywood biopic – featured a sample from RAY CHARLES’ `I Got A Woman’.
While some within the rap community were skeptical about WEST’s prowess on the mic, his status as a maverick hip-hop messiah (in that controversial “crown-of-thorns” Jesus pose), looked assured: an in-concert, all-female orchestrated hip-hop UK-only album (recorded in London), LATE ORCHESTRATION: LIVE AT ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS (2006) {*7}, came complete with the by now time-honoured “Beatles/Abbey Road” mock-up sleeve.
Re-emerging after a time as GOOD’s chief producer on CONSEQUENCE’s `Don’t Quit Your Day Job’ and COMMON’s chart-topping `Finding Forever’, KANYE WEST offered up his own 3rd studio album release, GRADUATION (2007) {*8}; initially as some sort of rival sales pitch agin 50 CENT to reach the No.1 spot; the latter to presumably quit music if he lost. Promoted by a brace of singles, `Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ and a chart-topping re-vamp of DAFT PUNK’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” – now entitled `Stronger’ – Kanye won hands down; and duly took four Grammy awards. A stroll through nostalgic samples from STEELY DAN, LAURA NYRO and ELTON JOHN to LABI SIFFRE and GEORGE CLINTON, the most interesting of them all was invested in a rock combination with guest stars: one could hear Germany’s CAN on `Drunk And Hot Girls’ (ft. MOS DEF), MOUNTAIN on `Barry Bonds’ (ft. LIL WAYNE) and JAMES INGRAM on `Good Life’ (ft. T-PAIN); the odd-one-out, `Homecoming’, showcased co-scribe Chris Martin (he of COLDPLAY).
Kanye’s 3th consecutive top slot (although it only hit No.11 in the UK), 808s & HEARTBREAK (2008) {*7} removed some of the uber-hype to get serious for the double whammy heartache of losing his recently passed mother and the split from his fiancée. Armed with an overpowering Auto-Tune vox effect and a Roland TR-808 drum machine , WEST’s pain was substituted by woofers, tweeters and, of course, a list of studio buddies such as KID CUDI (for `Welcome To Heartbreak’), YOUNG JEEZY (`Amazing’), MR HUDSON (`Paranoid’) and LIL WAYNE (`See You In My Nightmares’). To many Ye fans, lead single `Love Lockdown’ (co-produced by Jeff Bhasker), was its highlight.
Another ill-advised UK-only live record, VH1 STORYTELLERS (2010) {*6}, filled the vacuum until the drop of 5th solo set, MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY (2010) {*9}; a meticulously-crafted double-album that reinstated the rapper as transatlantic No.1 star. No expense was spared in Kanye’s single-minded obsession to best serve his songs and ideas; one of them utilized KING CRIMSON’s “21st Century Schizoid Man”, and somehow melded it into `Power’. While one could bandy about the inspirational culmination of star guests: KID CUDI and RAEKWON on `Gorgeous’, JOHN LEGEND on `Blame Game’, RICK ROSS on `Devil In A New Dress’, SWIZZ BEATZ, JAY-Z, PUSHA T, CYHI THE PRYNCE and RZA all together on `So Appalled’, plus BON IVER on `Lost In The World’ (the latter, like `Who Will Survive In America’) sampling GIL SCOTT-HERON), the attendant hit singles `Runaway’ (ft. PUSHA T) and `Monster’ (ft. JAY-Z, RICK ROSS, NICKI MINAJ and BON IVER), had the effect of a various artists/ensemble record.
To compound this ethos further, a subsequent JAY-Z & KANYE WEST/The Throne album collaboration (ft. a host of famed A-listers), secured another No.1 for both parties in August 2011 via `Watch The Throne’; it spawned several hits: `H-A-M’, `Otis’, `Lift Off’, `Niggas In Paris’, `Why I Love You’, `Gotta Have It’ and `No Church In The Wild’. To compound the ensemble deal further still, the following September saw WEST behind GOOD Music V/A compilation, `Cruel Summer’.
Courting controversy wherever or whenever he spoke, chip-on-his-shoulder Kanye had issues on Award shows (especially in the ones he or his friends didn’t win) – BRITNEY SPEARS and TAYLOR SWIFT could testify to that. But it was in his racist-charge spat with President Barrack Obama that probably stirred a hornet’s nest of disapproval.
Having split with his model girlfriend in summer 2010, Kanye began a serious relationship (around spring 2012) with longtime friend/Reality TV star Kim Kardashian; they were engaged the following autumn after the birth of their daughter (North “Nori” West), and they married soon afterwards.
June 2013’s much-anticipated, sworn-to-secrecy set, YEEZUS {*8}, was by far his most uncomfortable record for some time; it was said that just a week prior to its dispatch that producer Rick Rubin was still tinkering with the dials. Without a promotional single in sight (hits `Black Skinhead’ and `Bound 2’ came out a little later), followers could subscribe to the left-field industrial sounds of DAFT PUNK, or even CHIEF KEEF (Kozart), King L and BON IVER’s Justin Vernon. Many pundits without predilections of Ye counted this among his best; and who could disagree with `I Am A God’, `New Slaves’ and the NINA SIMONE-sampled `Blood On The Leaves’ – a “Strange Fruit” indeed.
A quick-fire follow-up LP was mooted for some time to come, however, this proved unfruitful, as only non-LP hits surfaced; including songs with PAUL McCARTNEY: `Only One’, `FourFiveSeconds’ (adding RIHANNA) and `All Day’.
Abandoning titles such as “So Help Me God” , “SWISH” and “Waves”, the maverick KANYE WEST finally dropped his 7th album to-date, THE LIFE OF PABLO {*8} on Valentine’s Day 2016. Once again weighed down by so many high-end vocalists such as KID CUDI, CHRIS BROWN, KENDRICK LAMAR, CHANCE THE RAPPER, YOUNG THUG, RIHANNA, SIA, The WEEKND, JAY-Z, FRANK OCEAN, POST MALONE et al, it sort of went over the heads of many of his British collegiate, who, in fact, only registered the US chart-topper a lowly, No.30 place. Maybe Kanye’s “Bill Cosby is innocent” tweet, or his other rootin’, tootin’ tweet spats with WIZ KHALIFA, irked many not enamored by his self-righteousness, or maybe it was the bawdy, bold and blasphemous banter he promoted to the public any time he spoke; only Republican nominee Donald J. Trump could match Ye’s motor-mouth. That aside, not many could deny that the infamous `Famous’ track (dissing TAYLOR SWIFT unceremoniously), or the gospel preaching of `Ultralight Beam’, and `Father Stretch My Hands, Pt.1’, whilst `FML’ (sampling UK Factory Records act SECTION 25), were its uncompromising soul; then there’s the shoulder-shivering 45-second skit, `I Love Kanye’.
A cancelled promotional “Saint Pablo” tour and a stay in hospital for psychiatric observation due to stress and exhaustion was hardly a shock to many in the media. However, by 2017, WEST’s mind was on supporting some artists on his GOOD Music imprint and moving to a studio in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Amidst the Trump takeover of power in America, Ye’s statements again caused a ruckus within his own community and many others. His challenging comeback of sorts, YE (2018) {*6}, was indeed a 7-track mini-set, a recording full of self-confessional “poor-me” woes about fame and fortune, pussy-loving, suicide and/or murder; `I Thought About Killing You’, `Yikes’, `All Mine’ and one of two with PartyNextDoor, `Ghost Town’, prime examples.
The appearance of old mucker/stalwart KID CUDI on the collaborative/eponymous KIDS SEE GHOSTS (2018) {*7} was another searching and off-tangent mini-set. This record’s vocals was mostly down to his said compadre in arms; WEST handling the production duties and the invitation guest cards to:- PUSHA T (`Feel The Love’), TY DOLLA $IGN (`4th Dimension’, MR HUDSON (for the Kurt Cobain-sampling `Cudi Montage’) and Yasiin “MOS DEF” Bey on the title track. One awaits YE’s forthcoming proposition, `Yandhi’. Surely not!
Instead, the holier than thou patron saint of Sunday Service, preached his groovy gospel on the rather misguided misnomer that was the undeserving chart-topping JESUS IS KING (2019) {*5}. Hallelujah for his bank balance and that of his deluded die-hards, producer Kanye roped in guests Ty Dolla $ign, Ant Clemons, Fred Hammond and Clipse (together with saxophonist KENNY G on `Use This Gospel’) to embrace his religious raptures. Without blinking an eyelid, the kow-tow White House/Trump supporter could well come in for some flak for ripping the serene style – if nothing else – of the whispering LINDA PERHACS (`Parallelograms’ or thereabouts!?) on his `Closed On Sunday’ song. The fact that this and every one of the 11 short tracks reached the top half of the Hot 100 was not testament to the way of the WEST, but the lemmingmania that was fracking America. We believed in Marvin, Stevie, Curtis, Al et al, but the hypocrisy of Jesus-loves-you doctrine, `On God’, `God Is’, `Follow God’ and `Hands On’, made one see the light alright – the one that shines right through Ye.
© MC Strong/MCS/ERD/2006 // rev-up MCS Nov2019

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