You Sing, I Write: Artist Profile: Kanye West

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Artist Profile: Kanye West

It seems only fitting to post my profile on Kanye West this week, with all the press he's been getting from his most recent escapade — assaulting paparazzi at a Los Angeles airport. Despite the increasingly egotistical persona West has developed over the years, his hits keep getting bigger, his records continue to surpass opponents speculations and no one can deny that his hooks are mind-boggling catchy. Whether he's rapping about Jesus, throwing tantrums at awards shows or tossing insults at his fellow musicians, there is no doubt about it — West is and stays the headline.

As promised earlier this week, below is my first artist profile written in college. While the text seems a bit outdated, talking about previous albums, I think Kanye's true character comes out in the quotes. I combined some of the one-sentence paragraphs because on Blogger it just doesn't read well broken up so short. For my first artist profile it's not too bad, is it? Be honest, I can take criticism! Thanks for reading.

Hip-hop Star Rises to the Top

Considered one of the hottest newcomers in hip-hop, Kanye West has been around longer than he has let on. As far back as 1997 West began co-producing tracks for artists when he was just 20. He received his big break when working in the background with some of hip-hops most famous names, ranging from Jay-Z to Ludacris and Alicia Keys as a lyricist and songwriter.

Inspired by the Jackson 5, the Temptations, and even the Doors on many of his works, West created the, "soulful yet gritty sound behind Jay's best tracks that his imitators are still trying to copy today," according to, his record company's Web site. After his success in helping other artists, West decided it was time to make his own record. However, those West worked with were skeptical about letting him rap on his own album. In fact, many thought the idea was absurd.

"Kanye wore a pink shirt with the collar sticking up and Gucci loafers," said Damon Dash, a Roc-A-Fella CEO, in an August 25, 2005, Time article. "It was obvious we were not from the same place or cut from the same cloth."

West was not the typical rapper. He grew up in suburban Chicago. Since he did not go along with the typical "rap" image, his label did not know how to market him. "It was a strike against me that I didn't wear baggy jeans and jerseys and that I never hustled, never sold drugs," West said.

Regardless, West persevered and soon signed his first record deal.

West released his debut album "The College Dropout" in early 2004. His album debuted at the top of the charts, selling 440,000 copies in its first week. His first three singles, "Through the Wire," "All Falls Down," and "Jesus Walks," earned heavy airplay and critical recognition. "The College Dropout" was awarded a Grammy for Rap Album of the Year and his single, "Jesus Walks," won a Grammy also for Best Rap Song. The New York Times, Time Magazine, Blender, Rolling Stone, GQ, Spin, The Source, and XXL also named "Dropout" Album of the Year.

Now 28 years old, West has taken a giant leap into the forefront of the music industry. His new album, "Late Registration," has been ranked the No. 1 album in the country and is getting continuous raves.

What makes West different from other rap artists is the distinction of his music. "'Late Registration' addresses a litany of topics that range from the personal to the political and all that falls in between," said His current hit single, "Gold Digger," is a playful song in which West talks of girls who just want a man's money and, instead they should stand by working class men. This hit is accentuated by Ray Charles-inspired vocals from Jamie Foxx.

West's activist side is also portrayed on his album, "Late Registration." One track in specific, entitled "Crack Music" talks of the downfall of poor African-Americans from crack use. "Jesus Walks," his third single released on his debut album, is one example of the immense diversity of West's music and what differentiates him from other rappers. Such lyrics include, "To the hustlers, killers, murderers, drug dealers/Even the strippers/Jesus walks for them." Later in the song, West raps, "But if I talk about God, my records won't get played, Huh?"

West has brought a new type of hip-hop to the table for listeners to hear and appreciate everywhere.

"I'm trying to break radio, not make radio," West said. With any success, comes questionable actions as well. Perhaps one move that West was questioned on was hiring composer and producer, Jon Brion.

Brion is best known for his lush, quirky orchestral arrangements for Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann and P.T. Anderson movies, Brian Hiatt wrote in his Rolling Stone article, "Kanye Evolves on 'Late.'" "The most obvious sign of West's quest for universal appeal was his genre-defying decision to hire Brion," Hiatt wrote.

Before West asked for his assistance, Brion had never worked on a hip-hop track. "Some people who hear about this assume it's just total madness," Brion said in Hiatt's article. "But why not make the attempt to bridge as many gaps as possible?"

And bridging gaps is what West has done. His new album is an example of his versatility. Working with such artists as vocalists Cam'ron, Brandy, the Game, Jamie Foxx, Jay-Z and Maroon 5's Adam Levine, show that West is no typical hip-hop artist. With each new album release, West continues to grow as does his influence in the world of music.

During a talk one night with Brion, after spending hours in the studio polishing up his new album, West offers his hope for the music industry. "You know that saying, 'You can't be all things to all people?' Well, seriously, why not? I want to be all things to all people," West said.

1 comment:

TaMz said...

Kanye West seems too full of himself. He cracks me up! The real question is, does he deserve to act like that? Sure, he was responsible for a good deal of Jay Z's fame and for helping artists like John Legend see the light but come on!! He needs to humble himself at least in the eyes of God. Good first review!!


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