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September 07, 2005 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2005-09-07

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September 7, 2005
arts. michigandaily.com

Rie TSiganBaila



A personality crisis

Courtesy of Roc-A-Fella

"Even these three pictures can't contain my ego. I need four."


By Gabe Rivin
Daily Arts Writer

Kanye West has sprinkled Miracle-Gro and
moisture upon the dry, infertile soil of modern,
major-label hip hop. West's
newest, Late Registration, is Kanye West
a work of musical self-convic-
tion and vision that signals a Late Registration
shift as large and profound as Roc-A-Fella
'Thpac's grand entrance into the
'90s. Unlike Pac, who changed
the fundamental way that both rapping and the rap-
per were approached, West is a pioneer of the music
behind the individual: the sound, the melody.
Hardly a household name until his unannounced
explosion into the mainstream in 2004 - College
Dropout, Kanye's vibe was quickly felt all over'the
radio. From Jay-Z's infectious "Izzo (H.O.V.A)"
to the critically acclaimed Quality by then-under-
ground artist Talib Kweli, West began to gather a
reputation as the philosopher's stone of hip hop: a
producer who could take any idea and turn it into
gold. Despite his increasing rolodex of rappers look-
ing for his magic, his solo debut, College Dropout,
barely concluded production after his near-fatal and
now mythologized, car crash in 2002.
Everything that made College Dropout a suc-
cess both critically and commercially remains on
its sequel: the soulful hooks, subliminally venom-
ous and sardonic lyrics and a mix of the politi-
cal and the material inhabit this large, 21-track

beast. The most pronounced difference, though, is
the arrival of co-producer Jon Brion - the name
behind rock-heavy, occasionally orchestral movie
soundtracks like "Eternal Sunshine of the Spot-
less Mind."
Brion ornaments songs like "Roses" and "We
Major" with choral and stringed arrangements
that sound like lost tracks from Stevie Wonder or
Fiona Apple (a former Brion client). These rarely
heard instruments in hip hop add charm and per-
sonality to the music: chimes, jazz organs, horns.
Brion's Mozart-gone-funk classicism mixed with
West's infallible nose for slinky rhythms get as
close to old-school beauty as The Roots or A Tribe
Called Quest did.
Along with the goose bump-inducing tunes,
Kanye West's lyrics have improved since his
debut. While his vocal cadence is still unimpres-
sive, West's lyrics have become more poetic and
complex. In "Crack Music," he laments problems
of drug addiction, recognizes that rap is the musi-
cal representation of this strife and reflects on the
spread of addiction of both rap and drugs to the
white community, "Those who ain't even black
even use it / We gonna keep baggin' up this here
crack music."
From the politically conscious lyrics of "Crack
Music" and "Diamonds From Sierra Leone
(Remix)," West also unleashes the utterly mate-
rial and misogynistic lyrics of "Celebration" and
"Gold Digger." Underlying this dual attitude is
always a self-awareness of the larger paradox
black Americans live; a choice between material-
ism and "selling out" one's black identity. West's

The saddest misinterpretation
in rap is to assume O' Dirty
Bastard is regarded, among the
honestly knowledgeable, as a gimmick.
As the most uncompromising and singu-
lar voice in the wildest hip-hop group of
all time, the Wu-Tang Clan, his role was
nothing short of stellar: the 9
foul, old bluesman slamming
against obsolescence and
And when he died, what
did people say?
They labeled him a side-
show act, a drunken half-
jester with little discernible
talent who got lucky. True d
enough, his self-destruction
as an artist and man left little E
to the imagination and sent Mc(
most people with any aware-
ness of his personal decline shaking their
respective heads in sadness.
But at least he wasn't rapping with the
Pussycat Dolls.
I don't know why, but impersonal,
heartless pap is suddenly flooding our
generation at a level not seen since the
always-trite Eagles tried to convince our
torn '70s nation to "Take It Easy."
On the radio, a gaggle of strippers
start singing about how freaky they
are and begin taunting men for hav-
ing girlfriends apparently unwilling to
regularly bend over in fish-net stock-
ings. That's all fine and good, but when
your musical background is a cameo in
"Charlie's Ahgels: Full Throttle" and
your personality rivals the independence
of a dehumidifier, you whole-heartedly
deserve ridicule. The Pussycats Dolls
aren't artists, they're a brand name; a
marketing device.
And it's not just the Clear Channel
game of radio Monopoly that's killing
off personalities.
Fiona Apple, the same murderously
brilliant, uncompromising song-writer
with a heart-stopping voice who released
an album with a 90-word title in 1999,
has her totally finished, mixed and mas-
tered album, Extraordinary Machine,
shelved indefinitely by her label, Sony.
The label was reportedly worried about
"sales." A fair enough concern, but con-
sidering both of her albums managed
to reach the upper echelons on both the
ever-middle brow Billboard and internet
sales charts, Sony ended up looking like
the old, gun-shy corporation.
Now, by no means is this an indict-
ment about something as trivial as
"major label" vs. "independent" music
(because lord knows everyone is sick of
the Urban Outfitters/Bloc Party band-
wagon at this point). I think Toby Keith,
as much as I disagree with his politics
and don't enjoy his music, actually has
some goddamned specks of life within
him. He's got way more personality than
just another indie-rock fashion dish.
What's so troubling is that our peers,
our friends, are digesting whatever is
spewed from the mouths of an increasing
homogenous radio/chart scene with no
regard to humanity.
50 Cent set the world on fire when he
was a mix-tape all-star, rapping about
himself, his streets and telling stories
about a life that most of us will never
touch. Now he sells Vitamin Water,
lives in a sweet suburb in Connecticut
and releases the same song every four
months. He forfeited his personality. Oh,
and he's making a video game where

you too can shoot people (though the
more we learn about his past, the more
we realize that 50 probably didn't shoot
And don't forget Eminem. Remember
when he roasted the fat old men run-
ning this nation for their hypocrisy and
made disenfranchised,
poor white kids feel like
they could care about rap
as well? Remember when
he pretended to hijack
congress at an MTV
awards show and flipped
middle fingers at anyone
. with a functional retina?


Eminem now makes vid-
eos with puppets dancing
naked and sells a clothing
line available at the nearest
Hot Topic.

What was once the real voice of the
people, country music, now spits out
glorified boy bands like Rascal Flatts
who, just like Coldplay, another 2
percent milk band, write songs about
wafer-thin love and pain so maudlin it's
laughable. They make themselves as
inoffensive as possible.
Come to think of it, that might be
the real problem. Again, back to Toby
Keith. Sure, he probably didn't sell some
records because the liberals and hypo-
critical college wankers saw him as a W.
patsy. And conversely, when Green Day,
another bastion of fire and truth, made a
career resurrection tearing down those
views, they probably didn't endear them-
selves to Pat Robertson and the people
,who think two guys getting married
spells the end of civilization.
Everyone here is fucking crazy, that's
the point. The New York Times Op-Ed
page has just as many boiler-plate whin-
ers as Fox News Channel. Clearly, as
anyone who was just here for "Welcome
Week" can attest, the inmates will never
stop running the asylum.
So why do we lull ourselves to sleep
with pseudo-artists who pull every
Every genre is guilty. We (that is,
everyone who buys, makes and listens
to music) must be convinced that the
middle ground is the only earth worth
treading. Iggy Pop cut himself on stage,
howled at complacency and generally
made life hell for the man. He's a first
ballot hall-of-famer. Johnny Cash ripped
the law and raged about the absurd dis-
parity of wealth in the United States He's
in the pantheon of American music.
And what about O' Dirty Bastard and
Fiona Apple? How could two such differ-
ent figures try to burn down the marble
house of blind, deaf and dumb creators
and consumers (that's right, consumers,
not listeners) of music? They gave a damn,
they nevercaved in and they fought the
fight of their lives in their own way. It's
damn near inspirational. When Extraor-
dinary Machine is finally released this fall
and O.D.B finally gets the deserved com-
pilation of all his work, I'm putting both
on my stereo and devouring every note,
every couplet. I know it's not cool to care
about stuff anymore, especially music.
"Chill" is the bull shit word that drives us,
but why are we turning those who burn
the brightest into such pariah?
McGarvey has been listening to
"Don't Cha?" nonstop since it hit VHJ.
Share your enthusiasm with him at



resolution? Fuck it and live it all. Be smart. Get
big cars. Do drugs. Condemn homophobia on
MTV. Keep your tongue in cheek and then waggle
it at the haters.
Kanye West succeeds as a diverse jockey of
both wax and ideas. This album is about rethink-
ing our current situation with race, politics and
life. It screams out in celebration of decadence
and fun, but takes seriously tragedy and failure.
It is an impressive gathering of guest rappers, bor-
rowed samples and other disparate elements. It
is a reminder of hip hop's potential and a bench-
mark for music to come. And most importantly,
it's great.


420 MiWARD ST.


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