Posted by David Porter Callanan on 02/23 at 01:49 PM
Last week, it seemed like all anyone could talk about at the Grammy’s was Adele. She swept all six categories in which she was nominated and capped off the night with arguably the night’s best performance. The only person that might have more of a beef with the ceremony than Adele’s ex boyfriend would be rapper and producer, Kanye West. Kanye chose not to attend the show but still swept all four Hip-Hop awards with assistance from the likes of Kid Cudi, Rihanna and “The Throne’s” other half Jay-Z. Some feel he was snubbed by not being nominated for “Album of the Year,” but that’s another story. Regardless, West raised his Grammy total to 18, which is the most by a Hip-Hop artist ever. So is it a little too early to call Kanye the greatest hip-hop artist of his generation? I don’t believe so, just look at the facts.
Originality and Growth
Kanye burst onto the rap scene as a solo artist in 2004 with his first album, The College Dropout. This was during a time when the gangster and hustler rap of the 90’s was beginning to fade but still had some commercial success. Some never took Kanye seriously and thought the Roc-A-Fella producer’s rap career would fold before it even began. Kanye’s style was unorthodox, both musically and fashion-wsie. He could usually be found sporting a bright pink polo and carrying a neon colored backpack. One complex magazine editor even stated “that’s not hip-hop.”
With lyrics like “I woke up early this morning with a creative way to rhyme without using nines and guns,” and “what if somebody from the chi that was ill got a deal on the hottest rap label around? But wasn’t talking about coke and birds it was more like spoken word,” we knew West was going to provide his own different spin on hip-hop. His four singles from the album spoke about non-traditional themes in commercial hip-hop including self-conciseness, religion and personal struggle. Yet the album spawned four top fifteen hits and went platinum within the year.
Kanye continued on the success of his debut and landed his first chart topping single with “Golddigger.” Once again, West went against the grain by sampling “I got a woman,” by Ray Charles for the song’s chorus. The single shot Kanye into stardom and his next album Late Registration, would garner even more critical and commercial acclaim than his debut. West maintained his originality throughout the album with fairly unknown chamber pop samples and concepts about social issues including racism, the crack cocaine epidemic and the diamond trade in Sierra Leone.
Kanye ended his education themed album’s with Graduation in 2007. The album continued his streak of commercial and critical successes and also landed him with the biggest hit of his career “Stronger.” The track’s Daft Punk sample reflected the style of the album which contained several electronica instrumentals. While the album had a more mainstream feel to it, West’s growth in both production and subject matter could not be ignored once again.
A year later, West released 808’s and Heartbreak, and despite commercial success, it would become his first album to received mixed reviews. The project contained auto tuned vocals, and a heavy R&B influence. Kanye said the album was not meant to be hip-hop, but was an experimental pop album.
This pop phase would not last long. After a two year hiatus from solo music Kanye returned to the spotlight with 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Like previous albums from West, the project received great critical and commercial success with some calling it the best of his career. It scored a perfect 10 rating from Pitchfork Magazine, becoming the first hip-hop album to do so and the first in general since 2002 upon its release. XXL also gave the album a perfect rating, making it his third of 20 perfect rated album in hip-hop history. Oh by the way, West has added production to other projects: Common’s Be and Jay-Z’s Blueprint Vol. 1 that appeared on the twenty perfect rated albums. Much like Late Registration, MBDTF showed Kanye’s growth as a producer and rapper creating a soundtrack like feel to the project.
On the heels on the album’s success Kanye hit the studio again, this time with Jay-Z for their collaboration Watch The Throne. The album scored another commercial and critical success for West and included the monster hit “N***a’s in Paris.” That is five of six if you are keeping count.
Throughout hip-hop history, most artists have conformed to the mainstream. For Kanye, the mainstream has conformed to him. The electronica style of Graduation brought a new style of dance rap to the forefront and can still be heard in clubs and airwaves across the country. While 808’s and Heartbreak was certainly the biggest disappointment of West’s career, the album influenced current hip hop artist’s such as Drake and Childish Gambino who have all had success with a similar style.
West’s lyrical success has led to an abundance of successful artists who have continued this tradition of conscious rap including Wale, Kid Cudi, Lupe Fiasco, XV and J. Cole. Some have grouped these MC’s together and deemed them as backpackers (a trend started by West) which basically means against the norm. Following his first two album’s many producers began using more sample heavy instrumentals. This style that was not invented by West but he certainly perfected it. Producers like 40 and J. Cole have given credit to West for his style and his influences can be heard in their work.
Kanye rose to superstardom in 2005. A time when many fans and rappers were proclaiming hip hop was dead. Jay-Z had been in his semi-retirement for over a year. Greats like Nas and Eminem had released disappointing albums. Crunk and trill music of the south had invaded clubs, television and radios all over the country. Gangster rappers like 50 cent and The Game were beginning to bring back the violent bravado that had once controlled rap. But of all the artists that I have mentioned, one artist has remained atop the game, true to himself and a critical and commercial success, that artist is Kanye West.
A lot can be said about Kanye’s personal behavior and attitude outside of music but the man deserves credit where credit is due. Never will you find another Kanye West. Consistent, influential, successful, he shows no signs of slowing up, at least not any time soon. Kanye has said he wants to be the greatest of his generation and I honestly think he’s there already.
Author: David Porter Callanan
Bio: David Porter Callanan is currently a senior studying print journalism and English at Penn State. In his free time he enjoys eating peanut butter, watching premium television shows, listening to rad music and being tortured by his beloved Philadelphia sporting teams. He listens to a wide range of music but his favorite genres are grunge rock and hip hop. Some of his favorite artists include Pearl Jam, Kanye West and J. Cole. Following graduation, his dream job is to write for the hip hop magazine XXL.
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