#MNR SPECIAL EDITION: WAKE UP, MR. WEST!
“And I heard ‘em say...nothing’s ever promised tomorrow today.”
We first read his name in album credits on Jay-Z’s classic album Blueprint, followed by more production on the [mid] follow-up Blueprint 2. The first time I can remember seeing his face was at the end of Young Gunz “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” video, smiling beside Dame Dash. I’ll never forget my bro Cuervo proclaiming, “this nigga KANE West is nice with the production!” Yes, we somehow ignored the “y” in Kanye and assumed his name was Kane West. We respected his prowess as an up-and-coming producer, yet we had no idea of the greatness to come.
The first time I heard “Through the Wire,” I knew Kanye was well on his way to being a major entity in the rap game. He picked a sample that I’d known most of my life, Chaka (my boo) Kahn’s “Through the Fire.” He rapped about his near-death experience because of a car accident. He spoke about having his jaw wired shut after it was mended in surgery. Next came “Slow Jamz,” featuring fellow Chicagoan Twista and the incomparable Jamie Foxx, who rekindled his music career after a run of acclaimed comedy specials and his eponymous sitcom that had a successful five-year run. Again, Kanye tapped into the R&B/Soul pool of Black genius, extracting a vocal sample from Luther Vandross’ signature song “A House is Not a Home.”
Kanye managed to carve his own unique niche in rap in an era much different from today. 50 Cent had already planted his flag in the rap game, bringing his G-Unit cohorts along for the ride. Traditional east coast favorites like Jay, Jadakiss, and Cam’ron were reaping the benefits of years of hard work and great material. But the Atlanta trap and snap sounds were on the horizon, destined to change the course of the genre. His 2004 debut release The College Dropout stuck out like a sore thumb. It didn’t fit the typical norms of the era. He brought the soul back. He brought the backpack back (albeit a Louis Vuitton backpack). He brought the pink Polo shirt back. He’d go on to release three more singles on the album that would eventually be RIAA certified 4x platinum. Ye’s blend of soulful sampling, candid lyricism, self (ironically) and social awareness made his work a unicorn, much different from many of his peers, who rapped about much darker and violent topics. In a few years’ time, Ye went from complete obscurity to being a cultural phenomenon.
The success of Ye’s debut masterpiece set the stage for one of the most anticipated sophomore releases since Nas’ It Was Written in 1996. Released in late 2005, Late Registration sold 860K in its first week. It eventually went RIAA certified 3x platinum, claiming the Grammy Awards win for Best Rap Album. Ye eschewed his signature “chipmunk soul” sound of sped-up vocal soul samples for a more cinematic approach. He commissioned film score composer and record producer Jon Brion for the project, aiming to make each song seem like a standalone score of cinematic proportions. The effect is clearly evident on songs like “We Major” (featuring the GOAT Nasir Jones), “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” and “Touch the Sky.” The album itself tested the limits of the then still popular CD format, with a total play time of 70:25. CDs had a maximum playing time of 72 minutes. Many, including myself, consider Late Registration to be Ye’s magnum opus.
Ye approached A Tribe Called Quest, Ice Cube and Outkast levels of greatness with his third release Graduation in 2007, joining the Tribe, Cube and the Kast as having the distinction of their first three albums widely considered as classics amongst critics and hip hop junkies. Ye continued to progress as an artist. Graduation was somewhat shorter than its predecessors, with “only” 13 tracks (plus one bonus track) yet it produced FIVE singles. That’s rap golden era-type quality. Shit – the tracks that weren’t singles were brilliant. WARNING: Playing “Stronger” at obscene levels on a house system with King Kong speakers or in a V with wild knock in the trunk may shake your lady’s lace front off her dome. RANDOM: “I Wonder” is so amazing. In an often-forgotten side note, Graduation will also be known for its direct competition with 50’s third studio album Curtis. Ye kept it humble when asked about the impending competition, saying that he wouldn’t have minded coming in two to 50 being one because he had that much respect for Fif. 50 was far less humble in his approach. He said that they weren’t in competition because there was no way Kanye West would outsell him. He also went as far as to say that he’d retire if Ye outsold him the first week of release. (Cough, cough) 50 was wrong. Both albums debuted on 9.11.2007. Graduation sold from 75K to 100K more than Curtis sold. Both did box office numbers. 50 didn’t retire. I had to state that just in case a person who just [this morning] came out of a fifteen-year coma is somehow reading this blog. They need to know this type of shit. The new Raising Kanan premiers at midnight. Questions will be asked.
UNNECESSARY FACT: “Flashing Lights” featuring Dwele is my favorite song in Ye’s catalogue. It was the catalyst for more than a few Jefferson Projects 210 2A legendary nights. Jose Cuervo and Mr. Ten will attest.
Many point to 11.10.2007 as the date that triggered Ye’s “transformation,” as it was the day he lost his mother, Dr. Donda West. Dr. West, a fellow alum of my alma mater Virginia Union University, was Ye’s inspiration, biggest supporter and stable influence. In her spare time, she worked for Chicago State for 27 years, 24 of which were spent as the head of the department of English, communications, media and theater. After she retired from her position in 2004, she moved to California and worked full-time for her son. She was the quintessential mama bear. She birthed, nurtured and cultivated a future Black king.
808s & Heartbreak, the first album released after the death of his mother (2008), introduced fans to a different sound than they were used to from Ye. Ye chose an electronic sound and Auto-Tune vocals. Ye used the Roland TR-808 drum machine to accentuate his sound, dubbed emo[tional] rap by many. His lyrics reflected the pain and sorrow from the death of his mother and breakup with his then fiancée. His lyrics also spoke on the complexities of dealing with iconic fame. The album was critically acclaimed and would become a key influence in a new generation of rappers. It contained Ye’s highest charting Billboard Hot 100 single to date, “Love Lockdown.”
Ye continued to release amazing material after 808s..., including My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010), Cruel Summer (2012) and Yeezus (2013). Shortly thereafter I kinda jumped ship. His 2016 album The Life of Pablo marked his departure from Apple and iTunes, choosing to release his material on Tidal. I was never a subscriber to Tidal. I WAS NOT paying for a Tidal subscription just to listen to a Kanye West album. I completely bailed after Ye donned the red MAGAt hat and became a weird sycophant to then President Donald J. Chump, going as far as to fluff him in the Oval Office on national television. I don’t want to get too crazy on Mr. West, but likening that xenophobic, lying piece of shit to your father is non-cipher.
I continued to bump his day one through ’13 material and pray for him after his harrowing White House visit, but I knew that he was far removed from the post-Katrina “George Bush hates Black people” Kanye. He lost his ever-loving mind somewhere in the mix of losing mom, inheriting Kim Kardashian and becoming a rap and fashion icon. Ye went relatively quiet after a failed 2020 presidential bid in which he was only on the ballot in a handful of states and received around 60K total votes, not even half the votes needed to win a mayoral election in San Jose. Well, there was the Kim separation, beef with her then-boy toy Pete Davidson and a little bit of beef with D.L. Hughley because of comments he made on Ye’s situation. I don’t speak on others’ relationships because I don’t go to bed with either party. It’s none of my business. But in the past month or so...oh my. We were made aware of Ye’s displeasure with his fashion and apparel partner Adidas. Ye accused Adidas of plagiarizing his designs (they did). He also accused Adidas of offering him a $1B “STFU” buyout, which I’m almost sure he declined. It only became weird after it was revealed that Ye used dialogue from a porn video in an attempt to convey a point to one of the Adidas people in a meeting. I don’t think the point was received. No biggie; just Kanye being Ye.
First came the Fucker Carlson fiasco. Then came the Drink Champs episode and its ensuing [further] fallout. Ye spoke of his disdain for the actions of Jews and Jewish record executives. He spread misinformation about George Floyd’s death. He apparently received this information from his coon-skinned buddy Candace Owens, who has a documentary on Floyd’s death. He also chose to wear a matching WHITE LIVES MATTER tee with his self-hating bitch of a friend. Next came horrible double and triple down interviews with Chris “Outcast” Cuomo on his new show Cuomo on Newsmax (eww) and Piers Morgan on Piers Uncensored (eww again). Ye also announced plans to buy the far, far-right social media platform Parler, a haven for Twitter outcasts, anti-government conspiracists, bigots and xenophobes. Yeah...it did get a bit out of hand the past few weeks (Redman voice from How High).
When I think about the messaging from Ye regarding his displeasure with the treatment (“milking”) of Black talent by Jewish record execs, I interpret it as objectively as possible. What Ye said has been echoed for DECADES in the rap world (think Jerry Heller, Lior Cohen), providing enough echo that I’m well informed. We all see the direction in which rap has been headed. My last blog spoke on the state of the music. It’s all kill, kill, kill. It’s all gang, gang, gang. It’s all drugs, drugs, drugs. It’s all misogyny, misogyny, misogyny. It’s all by design, design, design. I agree with you 100%, Ye. But you lost me by placing the blame at the feet of all Jewish people. You should have been laser precise in your assessment. “Jewish people have owned the Black voice” was a bit much, ya think? You should have been specific and named names. When I think about your blanket statement, I think about the middle school-aged Jewish girls and boys I see walking in the afternoon in Teaneck when I’m in my Lyft on the way to the second gig in Saddle Brook. I also think about my dear friend and colleague Dr. Sharon Bernstein. Are you mad at them too, Ye? Are they a part of the problem? They aren’t, of course. That’s exactly where you made your (that) mistake.
I’m also sick and tired of you talking like you are actively attempting to be some type of Black martyr. I understand that you’re the wealthiest Black person in the history of America. And? Do you think that being wealthy qualifies you to be the leader of our race? FOH. I don’t need you or anyone else to be my “leader.” The last MF who tried was Jesse Jackson, back when I was rocking Osh Kosh overalls and walking under wooden turnstiles to board MTA subway trains. We are far removed from the traditional Black Church and the pastor being the leader of the community. I don’t want any pastor or sneaker designer speaking for me. Figure out how to get these white folk off your helmet and get back to making those ugly-ass sneakers and slides my queen and every damn body else seem to like so much. I can’t fake; I like a couple of the Yeezy designs and the foam slides. But I’m Team Nike through death.
I’m not going to be the 1,000,001st person to kick you while you’re down, Ye. I don’t like how people like bitch-ass Howard Stern and Sara Silverman (the blackface twins) have used your controversy to talk crazy about you. I hate a hypocrite. I hate two hypocrites twice as much. At your best...you are absolutely brilliant. I won’t gloss over the fact that you’ve done a lot of good things for others. You’ve contributed a great deal to Black and popular culture. Both our mommies graduated from VUU in the ‘70s and both are in heaven. I know all about that pain that exists and persists within you. Nevertheless, we come from great Black women. We are both great minds. Fall back altogether and retool. Time heals most wounds. Holla at your folk. You’re worth $11B and I’ve got $11B worth of talent. King Pen shit. Peace and blessings, Black man.
I know you’ll probably never see this and even if you do, I’m certain you’ll discard my advice. C’est la vie.
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