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Chicago, Illinois, United States
I'm a south side/Park Manor native, I graduated from Simeon Career Academy class of 2004 and have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the American Academy of Art. Illustrator & Graphic Design are my skills of trade. Typically draw athletes but I also like topical illustrations as well. Contact for commissions: jess.nelsonjr@yahoo.com

Friday, March 8, 2013

Greatest Rap Acts 20-11

Kanye West Chicago, IL

Arrogant, Artist, Genius, Misogynist, Martyr, visonary, A##hole. Call him what you want, but as far as rap acts, Mr. West is simply undeniable.

To begin, Kanye was born in Atlanta, GA. His father Ray West, a former Black Panther and photo journalist, then his mother Ms. Donda West was an educator teaching English at Clark University in Atlanta then Chair of the English Department at the University of Chicago. Both of those influences have been relevant in Kanye's career. Obviously the knowledge he spits on "All Falls Down" or "Chain Heavy" comes from his mother and his love for the arts and fashion comes from his father.

He also spent some time China when he was a pre-teen, while his mom was an English teacher, which helped expose the young Kanye to cultures outside the United States at an early age. However it was Chicago that bred the attitude that he carries with him to this day. He attended Polaris High in the South suburban Oak Lawn neighborhood. He went on to attend the American Academy of Art (My alma mater) then to Chicago State before dropping out to turn his full attention to music.

Now after linking up with Chicago legendary producer NO I.D, Kanye learned how to craft the art of producing hip hop tracks. It took a while before he picked up any traction but he was able to have a few artist like Ma$e's Harlem World group to record a song on a beat of his called, You Made Me. He also had songs recorded by Foxy Brown, Jermaine Dupri and Goodie Mob around 1999-2000. The beats at the time fit the era of hip hop but didn't feature many of the signature Kanye sounds we've become accostumed to.

It wasn't until he met one of the rappers he was a huge fan of that led to his breakout moment. He got his demo into the hands of rap superstar Jay-Z in 2000. The first song he had Jay-Z record on was "This Can't Be Life". It featured the new style, that helped define Jay-Z and the Roc-A-Life era during that time. Sped up 70's Soul music samples, heavy drum kicks and double snares creating an emotional yet cold and grimy sound for the Roc to rhyme on. He later admitted that he also sampled the drums from Dr. Dre's "XXXplosive" song to make the drums sound heavier.

However the first of a few tragic moments happened to West, just as his career was beginning. After leaving the studio late one night, he was in a nearly fatal car accident. He obviously survived, but suffered a severely damaged jaw that caused his face to swell up. Kanye decided to record and release a track he did over fellow Chicago Native r&b legend, Chaka Khan's "Through The Fire" which he sampled and called "Through the Wire" while his jaws still wired. This earned him respect from fans and his peers, however it would be a struggle to release his first full length album as a rap artist.

Def Jam and Roc-A-Fella was apprehinsive about promoting Kanye, considering at the time Roc-A-Fella artist were a mix of harder, "gangster" rappers from New York & Philadelphia. Kanye's a clean cut backpacker from Chicago. He didn't sell drugs or shoot anybody. He's rapping about history or just simple things in life. How would that fit in. So for a year he worked on his album and Roc tried to fit him into songs, to get the public used to hearing Kanye rap.

He was still green. On the song "The Bounce" by Jay-Z, Kanye has the last verse on the song. The beat is a classic by Timbaland and Jay does his thing but Kanye could not even hang at all. His rhymes were simple, unstylistic and lacked creativity, sex appeal or anything. He was nervous, he's on a song with his idol and it's produced by one of if not the best producer in the game. He had work ahead of him.

'Ye continued to produce classic singles for other mainstream artist such as Ludacris, Lil Kim, Alicia Keys, Janet Jackson, etc. Now came 2004 and it was his turn. Feburary his debut album The College Dropout dropped and....it turned out to be a bigger and better success than Def Jam even imagined. What fans recieved was an album alternative to the bling and guns of rap and got an album about the struggles of the climb to success, introspective lyrics and pure feelings about the world, politics and religion. The song "Jesus Walks" earned Kanye his first Grammy and the album nominated for album of the year.

The next year he released his second album Late Registration, straying away from the underground, soul sample style of the first album focusing more on an orchestration style and brought in Miri Ben Ari to violin and Jon Brion to play the piano. The album was also recieved well and nomination. However the first instances of controversy that would follow him throughout his career happened in 2005. When he lost the best new artist award at the Grammys he stormed out of the auditorium and released the statement: "I felt like I was definitely robbed [...] I was the best new artist this year."
Also that year after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, LA Kanye hit us with the infamous "George Bush doesn't care about Black people quote.

Despite his antics, Kanye was rolling as a top producer and rapper. He released his 3rd album Graduation in 2007. The hype was huge as he was releasing bigger budget videos, featuring eccentric artwork in the booklet and in the videos as well as his style of dress became more ecclectic, preferring the designs of international fashion designers and artist. However the largest hype came from the proposal 50 Cent laid down, as both artist were dropping highly anticipated albums on the same day. 50 says that if Kanye outsells him, then he will retire from rap (as a solo artist). Challenged issued.

The two promoted their individual projects seperately and together through out that summer. When the numbers were settled after a week, Graduation had 957,000 copies sold to 50's Curtis 691,000 copies. Overall Graduation: 2,116,00 and Curtis: 1,336,000. 50 didn't retire (he was under contract for 3 more albums), but you get the point. The competion was great and was what hip hop needed, but it also showed the new direction that was opening up.

While the "gangsta" rap that 50 Cent was known for is still a favorite sub-genre in the hip hop community, Kanye winning helped open another side to mainstream. While he had vulgar lyrics and performed on songs with other more harder rappers, he made hip hop more accessable to a wider audience. His fashion sense, simple lyricsm and ecclectic taste appealed to fans who cannot speak english or maybe not relate to the more thugged out raps, and also to women who may have been turned off to rap because of the mysoginistic lyrics or dangers of going to a rap concert. He pushed itin a whole other direction by having that something that made Bill Cosby, Michael Jordan, Oprah and Michael Jackson so appealing in 80's.

Now, as on top as he was, the sudden death (cosmetic surgery complications) of his mother Donda seemingly spun everything around. Mrs. West meant everything to him. She was not only guiding him through life but also through his career. When he made public mistakes she would be there to tap him make sure to get him back in line. In fact, Donda wrote a book about raising Kanye West, and she went on to Oprah Winfrey show to promote it as well as Kanye coming on to perform being the first and only rapper to ever perform on her show.

After her death and a break up with his longtime girlfriend, Alexis Pfiefer it seemed like a new Kanye was formed, not entirely for the better (or worse). He was supposed to close the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards and fans expected usual Kanye flair, stadium hip hop style. He scaled it down and launched into the icy yet agressive song now known as "Love Lockdown". Audience were taken aback. He was not rapping but singing using the Auto-Tune device (which T-Pain made popular at the time).

It was clear that his music had been affected by his recent personal situations. He announced that he was working on a new album that was gonna sound primarily like the first single. He brought in his mentor NO I.D. and Jeff Bhasker to give him the more simple 80's, yet raw minimal sound. Heavy drums, jungle sounds and synthesizers. No samples. He released November 24, 2008 merely 3 months after writing and debuting the first single. At first the album was met with cold reception, as the fans were not prepared for the new sound and attitude of West. He began even dressing differently. However the album produced the hit singles "Amazing" feat Young Jeezy, " Heartless" and "Paranoid" and pushed to become a platinum selling record.

The impact of that album runs deeper than just the sales. As I stated earlier, Kanye's style circa College Dropout, allowed the fellow backpackers to finally get some mainstream light, then Graduation helped make hip hop become recieved on pop radio and worldwide. This album combined those elements and gave rappers the chance to enter a darker, more exisistential place in their psyche. Not everybody relates to murder and drugs but can understand and sympathize heartache and the album has opened doors for rappers like Kendrick Lamar, Wale, Drake and Nicki Minaj to showcase multiple sides to their personas on stage and in their videos.

He began dating Amber Rose around this time and was seen just about everywhere with her. He began to gain a bad-boy image in the media but nothing was bigger than his moment at the 2009 VMA show. Apparently smashed off a wholed bottle of Patron, Ye manage to make a huge ass out of himself, worst than ever when he interrupted teenage Country singing star Taylor Swifts award speech. You all know what happened.

After taking some time off to get his thoughts together, he broke up with Amber. He flew to Hawaii, and assembled some of the greatest artist, singers and producers in the music industry to help him put together one of the most unique, bizarre and interesting rap albums to date. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was released Thanksgiving 2010. Almost Renaissance, Baroque era classic, dark and emotional, cocky and unapologetic, the album features 'Ye firing off on his critics, and rapping better than he ever has in his career and some of the most sonically interesting productions from him, Q-Tip, NO I.D., Bhasker, RZA and Mike Dean.

To promote the album, West directed a 35 minute music video/short film titled "Runaway". It features the story of a beautiful phoenix that crashes to Earth, she and Kanye fall in love despite their differences. It also featured snippets and altered versions of some of the songs on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, while the song "Runaway" was performed in it's entirety while ballerinas performed a routine to fit the instrumental of the song.

The next year Kanye and his mentor/friend Jay-Z released their collabo album Watch the Throne to mixed reviews but sold well and featured numerous hit singles including "Niggas in Paris". In 2012, he dropped an album that showcased his vanity label,G.O.O.D music, and their talented roster, called CRUEL SUMMER. However his personal life continues to catch more attention than his music, now that he is dating and fathering Hollywood socialite, Kim Kardashian's child. Hopefully we can turn our attention back to the music soon.

At this point musically, he flucuates between religion, socio-political themes and opulent, braggadocious lyrics. His beats have become heavier and darker sounding with choir type samples in the background. He no longer handles the beatmaking full time as he has enlisted newcomers Lex Luger, Hit-Boy and Mike Will Made It to provide new sounds to his arsenal. He has taken a bit of a back seat as well allowing artist Big Sean, Pusha T and 2 Chainz to shine, but still continuing to deliver memorable verses on tracks that he is featured on.

Speakig of which, lyrically he seems to have found his comfort zone. He still is not the most poetic, or mind flipping rhymer. He lacks the cadence and grit in his voice that make the legends truly legendary. He has gotten much better with his timing and delivery as he showed on Watch the Throne, he's able to competently go toe to toe with Jay-Z and in some cases out rap him. Hopefully Kanye continues to grow as he gets older. Maybe having a kid will mellow him out, and give him an even broader scope to rap about.

No matter what though, what ever you think about him, he has a proven track record. He's provided the most You Tube worthy moments in hip hop that we will never forget, good, bad or worse. There's no denying that Kanye West is undeniable.