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The arrogant master of hip-hop

Nekesa Mumbi Moody
Singer Kanye West poses on a rooftop in the SOHO section of New York, June 2, 2004, with the Empire State Building in the background, center. (AP Photo/Jim Cooper)
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NEW YORK – Kanye West’s debut album, “The College Dropout,” is a masterful piece of work that should be mentioned among the classic albums of our time.That’s what West thinks. And he’ll tell you so – again and again and again.”You can’t judge ‘The College Dropout.’ It’s something completely different,” the 27-year-old musician declared in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “It’s definitely a classic, if I stepped aside from myself and say that. … we’ll see the results in the next six months, of whether it did change the game or whether it is it’s own entity.”Those kind of declarations have earned the blazing young rapper and superhot producer the reputation of being, well, a bit arrogant. Yet it’s hard to blame him when “Dropout” has sold more than 2 million copies and is being hailed by most critics and fans as the answer to a stagnant rap scene.

From the clever, thought-provoking “All Falls Down” to the religious fervor of his latest single, “Jesus Walks,” to the witty skits and clever rhymes, the album takes a welcome detour from materialistic, violent hip-hop fare to subject matter that’s more substantial – and more realistic.”I appreciate people like Kanye, people that dare to be different. Hip-hop is supposed to be an avenue of expression, and people are supposed to be able to express what they feel, what they believe,” said the recently unretired rapper Ma$E, who dropped a verse on the “Jesus Walks” remix.But it’s not only Kanye’s rap career that’s gotten people’s attention. He’s become one of today’s most prolific producers, working with everyone from Ludacris to Brandy to Alicia Keys.”He definitely put his foot in the game with his style of music. He’s the beat man,” said Twista, who had his first No. 1 hit this year thanks to West with the humorous smash “Slow Jamz,” featuring West and actor Jamie Foxx.

Even a life-threatening car accident in 2002 didn’t defer his dreams – he turned the experience into a hit single, recording a song about the crash and rapping with his jaw wired shut on the clever “Through the Wire.” The chorus featured West’s much-imitated trademark sound, a sped-up sample of a soul classic, in this case Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire.””My thing is, how can I possibly overly confident? Look at my accomplishments!” says West, in between breaks sketching out designs for his newest project – launching his own sneaker.Yet in his next breath, the Chicago native (and true college dropout, from Chicago State) admits that much of his exuberance is just an act – a mental trick to give him the confidence he needs to succeed in the rough-and-tumble music world.”I say in my songs, I’m so insecure. So a lot of times, arrogance is to combat insecurity. So in order for me to go out and do what I’ve done, facing insecurity and facing people telling me I couldn’t do it, I had to build a force field around myself,” he explains.

“I had to be a borderline lunatic to think that I could do what I’ve done. It’s crazy … what I’ve accomplished is crazy,” he says.West’s rise to the top may not be crazy, but it certainly is the stuff rap fairy tales are made of. Drawn to rap since childhood, he set his sights on being the next superstar. But instead of just dreaming about it, he took action. He got his mother, a college professor, to lend him money to buy an expensive keyboard when he was a teen so he could work on his tunes, and started hanging out in clubs to taste the scene, though he was too young to get in.”I thought I was going to get signed back when I was 13 years old, and come out with a record and take Kris Kross out,” he said of the ’90s kiddie rap group.Kanye actually got an opportunity for stardom a few years ago – West recalls Columbia Records dangling a record contract, and it helped contribute to his decision to drop out of school. But he didn’t have the big game to back up his big talk back then – and it may have cost him a deal.”I said, I’m going to be bigger than Michael Jackson, I’m going to bigger to Jermaine Dupri. I said that to (Columbia executive) Michael Mauldin” – not knowing that he was Dupri’s father.


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