The Case For Kanye West

 Act like I ain’t had a belt in two classes/ I ain’t got it, I’m going after whoever who has it/ I’m coming after whoever, who has it? – Gorgeous

The Greatest of All Time

The debate about Hip Hop’s GOAT (greatest of all time) has been a fierce battle fought on the front-lines of barbershops and Internet forums for years. The defenders of lyricism claim that the title is a horse race between Rakim and Nas. For those that cite long-term success, the choice comes down Jay-Z and Eminem. If blending genres through the power of poetic reflections is most paramount, Lauyrn Hill or Andre 3000 would definitely be near the top. Or if reaching undeniable legendary status is the bar for the crown, many would say only 2PAC or Biggie can sit in the throne.

A convincing argument could be made why any one of these emcees (and several others) is the greatest rapper of all time, but in my mind Kanye West is undoubtedly the greatest hip hop artist all of time. No, not the greatest rapper. The greatest artist. Meaning, no other performer in the history of the rap genre has expressed a diverse artistic aesthetic as effectively and consistently as Mr. West. From crafting the sound of numerous classic albums to directing multi-screen film installations, Kanye has expanded the art of hip hop to levels no other emcee has dared to attempt.

And everybody wanna run to me for they single. – Bring Me Down

Kanye’s first major contribution to hip hop was his production on Jay-Z’s 2001 classic The Blueprint. Along with fellow producers Just Blaze and Bink, Kanye helped usher soul samples back into Hip Hop’s DNA effectively leading to the demise of the dominant keyboard heavy sound made popular by Timbaland and Swizz Beatz in the late 1990′s. The Blueprint literally became the new map for a production style that almost every other rapper latched onto.

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Kanye became the most sought after beat-maker in the game with rappers from the south (Scarface’s “Guess Who’s Back”), the west coast (The Game’s “Dream”) and the east coast (Talib Kweli’s “Get By”) all using the Chi-town kid’s musical mind to create their own soulful songs. Everyone from underground rap groups like Slum Village (“Selfish”) and Dilated People (“This Way”) to R&B divas like Brandy (“Talk About Our Love”) and Alicia Keys (“You Don’t Know My Name”) to pop music’s biggest names like Mariah Carey (“Stay the Night”) and Britney Spears (“Outta Here”) all wanted a piece of Kanye’s magic for making tracks.

Oh, it can’t be/G.O.O.D. music/My Grammy Family – Grammy Family

Kanye also proved that he wasn’t just a producer only capable of making good beats for a single. Like music icons Quincy Jones and Rick Rubin, West showed the ability to successfully direct entire albums by taking on the role as executive producer for artists on his G.O.O.D. Music roster. The result was the creation of 3 critically acclaimed label debut albums that also did well commercially. John Legend’s Get Lifted, Common’s Be, and KiD CuDi’s Man On The Moon: The End of Day all reached the top 5 five on the Billboard album chart and each sold over 500,000 units. Those Kanye-produced LPs received a total of 14 Grammy nominations.

G.O.O.D. Music

In fact, you can’t put Grammy awards and hip hop in the same sentence without mentioning Kanye. Ye has a total of 43 Grammy nominations, and he has taken home the award 18 times. That’s more than any other hip hop artist and more than Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, and The Beatles. His own rap releases The College Dropout, Late Registration, Graduation, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy each earned the “Best Rap Album” Grammy award making him 4/4 in every year he garnered a nod.

I’m doing pretty good as far as geniuses go – Barry Bonds

No disrespect to all the greats in hip hop history, but NO ONE has a better catalog than Kanye West. All the contenders for the GOAT title have classic albums under their belts, but each of them also have at least one stand out dud on their resume, or in the case of the Notorious B.I.G., a career too short to fairly evaluate. But for Kanye all of his albums are great sonic achievements and rank as some the best musical releases of the 21st Century (yes, even 808′s & Heartbreak-see below). And that’s not just the opinion of this writer. Most major music critics agree proven by his average career score of 80/100 on Metacritic.com, a number that represents universal acclaim.

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What’s even more remarkable about Ye’s prolific musical output is that each of his 5 albums have a completely different sound and persona. The College Dropout is a backpack rap album that tells the story of a regular guy and the issues he faces daily. On Late Registration, Kanye moved away from soul samples in favor of more of a orchestra feel and decided to address political issues more directly with songs like “Heard ‘Em Say”, “Crack Music”, and “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”.

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For his third album, Graduation, Kanye adopted a euro-electronic palate as the setting for his introspective tales about his transition from underdog to world famous celebrity. His most polarizing release is easily 808′s & Heartbreak. The fact that the experimental R&B album relied heavily on auto-tune and introduced an unsure, troubled version of Kanye confused some fans, but taken for what it is, 808′s is a remarkable, unabashed diary entry from a man who had recently lost his long time girlfriend and his mother.

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Kanye’s most recent solo album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, is his magnum opus. What’s his angle this time around? The title says it all. The LP is a fantasy ride through the beautifully dark mind of Kanye West. And he does it by subliminally taking you back through the worlds that made up his first 4 albums. He gave you soul samples (“Devil In A New Dress”). He gave you orchestral undertones (“All Of The Lights”). He gave you euro-pop (“Lost In The World”). He gave you R&B heartache (“Blame Game”). And he managed to incorporate all of the elements that make up the legacy of Kanye West on one album in a fresh and cohesive way. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say MBDTF belongs on the same pedestal as hip hop masterpieces like Illmatic, Ready To Die, Aquemini, and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

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Musically, Kanye is unmatched in hip hop, so it’s understandable that his style has become the template for rap music over the last 5 years. In 2007, Kanye faced off against 50 Cent for the hip hop sales crown. When Ye’s Graduation outsold 50′s Curtis, Kanye single-handedly killed gangster rap on the mainstream level for a generation.

I adopted these ni**as/Phillip Drummond them – Otis

For almost a decade before the emergence of Kanye West, it was nearly impossible for a hip hop artist not rapping about pimping, drugs, or violence to breakthrough to the national market. After Kanye, the nerd/hipster/emo rapper has dominated mainstream hip hop evidenced by the popular appeal of Lupe Fiasco, Drake, J. Cole, Wale, B.O.B, KiD CuDi, Wiz Khalifa, Big Sean, and others. Even Ye’s “big brother” Jay-Z dropped the street hustler character for a softer universal persona. Not since the arrival of N.W.A. in 1988 has such a monumental shift taken place in the hip hop landscape. As a result, the recent history of rap music can be divided into 2 eras: BK & AK (Before Kanye & After Kanye).

Before Kanye

After Kanye

BK Mainstream Hip Hop = über-thug imagery + stories about inner-city struggles. AK Mainstream Hip Hop = everyman imagery + stories about intrapersonal struggles. Kanye West has had a greater impact on the music, image, and content of hip hop culture than any other rap artist since his debut in 2004. And I haven’t even mentioned his influence as a visual artist, graphic designer, and film director (he recently premiered his 7 screen film presentation Cruel Summer during the 2012 Cannes Film Festival).
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Kanye Announced His "Cruel Summer" Installation On Twitter

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English philosopher George Edward Moore is quoted as saying, “a great artist is always before his time or behind it.” Well, Mr. West fits both criteria. He ventured into a open space in hip hop that no one before him tempted to explore and ultimately became the voice of his generation. A hip hop artist before his time and behind it.

To connect with Kanye follow him on twitter @KanyeWest

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