By Sam Chennault
You know something’s gone horribly awry when hip-hop’s biggest name is a middle-class megalomaniac with formulaic, chipmunk-soul production and lyrics mixing themes of religious faux-persecution and materialistic zealotry. This producer-turned-rapper—a distinction generally bearing all the promise of spoiled milk—took the hip-hop world by storm in 2004, selling three zillion albums and grabbing a slew of Grammy nominations.
But while critics and parents alike clamored to anoint Kanye the new, kinder, gentler face of hip-hop, they conveniently failed to notice the man can’t rap. His slow, syrupy flow sounds like an effeminate, whiney variation of Bad Boy castaway Mase. And while the whole middle-class angst, identity-crisis shtick may’ve worked for J.D. Salinger, coming out of Kanye’s mouth it sounds trite and insecure.
And I haven’t even gotten around to his “Jesus Piece”—a diamond-studded, solid-gold Jesus pendant costing tens of thousands of dollars, which proves a source of constant boasts. In many ways, this intersection of crass consumerism and religious fervor points not to hip-hop greatness but, rather, a perpetuation of bling-bling stupidity with a feeble Catholic
By Rob Mitchum
With all the potential Grammy gold Kanye West is spying this February, you’d think he’d gone and delivered the new Thriller … or at least the new Santana, in terms of radio mileage. Even though the album’s two best tracks enjoyed heavy rotation before the LP dropped, West kept the momentum rolling enough to release the more message-oriented tracks “All Fall Down” and “Jesus Walks,” to an ever-increasing media storm.
It’s those last two thoughtful singles that probably sanitized Kanye enough to be Grammy-safe; presumably voters weren’t too excited about Cool Whip three-ways. And while the significance of West bringing ruminations on God and materialism to hip-hop airwaves is way overstated, there’s still a remarkable achievement hidden beneath the album’s PSAs: a summit of above and below-ground hip-hop, with Kanye serving as conductor. Drafting a guest-verse dream-team including rappers with sales (Freeway), respect (Talib Kweli, Mos Def), and both (Jay-Z), the album snapshots the genre like a high-quality mixtape.
West, meanwhile, performs the tricky producer/rapper straddle with ease, providing textured beats with chart appeal and salvaging an unremarkable flow with stand-up timing.
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