Not usually a fan of hip hop, I was very surprised to find my head bobbing and my feet tapping to Through The Wire, the first single I heard from Kanye's debut album. My roommate had left the TV on MTV while I was doing some homework, and the poignant story of Kanye's accident fell to the screen. The sped up sample from Chaka Khan's Through the Fire also proved to be a major boon in the adoption of this cd into my collection, as my insatiable curiosity regarding these kinds of things is something I can't help.
So who is Kanye West? And why might his name sound familiar to you? Kanye grew up in Chicago, and went to an art college for a year before dropping out. He produced beats and tried to work the hip hop game, all the while working towards getting his own record made. He produced many songs: Jay-Z's Izzo (H.O.V.A.), Talib Kweli's Get By, and more recently Alicia Keys' You Don't Know My Name all bear his touch.
Signed now to Roc-a-fella Records, his rapping debut shows him to be a formidable force behind the mic. Rather than the stereotypical stories of money and gangsta life, Kanye seems to focus more on humanity and the trials and tribulations they overcome to achieve greatness. Take, for example, Through the Wire, a song that he recorded during recovery from a near-fatal car accident. With his jaw physically wired shut, he spits out powerful lyrics, referencing history, pop culture, and other sometimes reasonably obscure (to the average listener) events. Michael Jackson's Pepsi commercial shoot, Emmett Till, Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, and Geico all get shout-outs, among others. In All Falls Down, he indulges a bit in the material aspects of the world, but still manages to maintain a sense of detachment from the over-consumption that seems to plague other celebrities. A few songs on the album also point to Kanye's belief in God, an issue that doesn't get played up often in any genre of music. In an interview with MTV, he mentioned that he used to be in the business solely to make money, but after the accident, he felt that it was his duty to make the best music he possibly could.
So what can you expect from Kanye's music? His signature style seems to be sampling other's riffs, speeding them up, and then placing them to drums. Sometimes these drum beats can seem a mite bit off, but they are always resolved rhythmically into the correct timings. Most of his songs are very listenable; tracks like The New Workout Plan and Breathe In Breathe Out, however, get significantly less play in my discman.