Kanye West is one of the most polarizing figures in the entertainment industry. Besides being an insanely talented lyricist and producer, he’s brash, daring, opinionated, and very, very, very outspoken. You could notice those four traits not only by what he says, but by what he wears as well. From the Louis Vuitton backpack to tight-fitting pink polo, ‘Ye isn’t afraid to step outside of the box when it comes to his attire. Kanye West is the greatest hip-hop artist of the last decade, and there are three major reasons why.
Fashion Originator. As I mentioned before, Kanye West’s sense of style is…unique. Once ‘Ye gained popularity, everyone noticed that he certainly doesn’t weight others’ opinions when he dresses himself. How else could you explain a black male rapper from the south side of Chicago starting a clothing line called Pastelle? Baggy jeans and shirts were what you saw a lot of my brethren wearing in 2004, when ‘Ye released his debut album, “College Dropout”. Shortly after its release, slim-fitting jeans, retro sneakers, and flashy accessories started flying off of racks. Most think Jay-Z ushered in the “grown man” look; replacing throwback jerseys and Timbs with button-downs, blazers, and loafers. Who do you think influenced Jay-Z? It surely wasn’t Dame Dash or Beanie Sigel. Before Young Dro hit the scene, rapping about stylish, colorful clothing, there was Kanye West. The self-proclaimed “Louis Vuitton Don” is still at it, too. Over the last two years, he’s released a LV sneaker and Nike Air Yeezys in three colorways. You may think you’re a fashion geek, but ask yourself this: Before Kanye West, did you know what Yves St. Laurent was?
Mad Beatsmith. Beats are how Kanye got into rap. Before he started rapping, he was basically Roc-A-Fella’s in-house producer, which was quite the title in2002, when most of use were introduced to him. Yes, producers sampled long before Kanye. Hell, Puff Daddy once rapped, “Who takes hits from the ’80s/And makes ’em sound so crazy?” However, Kanye wasn’t sampling 80’s hits. ‘Ye sampled oldies that our parents and grandparents jammed to decades ago. Oldies like:
Gladys Knight and The Pips, “And This Is Love” (“In Cold Blood”)…Al Green, “Simply Beautiful” (“Good To You”)…The Originals, “Sunrise” (“Guess Who’s Back”)…David Ruffin, “Common Man” (“Never Change”)…Bobby Blue Bland, “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City” (“Heart of the City”)…The Doors, “Five To One” (“Takeover”)…Nina Simone, “Sinnerman” (“Get By”)…Max Romeo, “I Chase The Devil” (“Lucifer”)
‘Ye has combined hip-hop with other genres like no other rapper or producer (also see Daft Punk, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”). The Diplomats enjoyed success largely in part to ‘Ye’s chipmunk-sounding samples. There have been copycats, but none can duplicate Kanye’s distinct sound. On top of contributing to hip-hop, he has also blessed Alicia Keys, Monica, and various R&B artists as well. Kanye is our Beethoven and Albert Einstein, combined.
Lyrical Genius. Let me start off by saying that I don’t think Kanye is the greatest lyricist alive. I don’t even have in my top 10, in terms of lyrical ability alone. ‘Ye doesn’t often have rewind factor, makes up words (prerequit instead of prerequisite), and his singing leaves much to be desired. Sometimes his confidence overshadows his message, and the fact that he doesn’t waste 3-5 minutes of our time rapping about guns, drugs, cars, money, and women doesn’t endear him to many people who consider themselves to be fans of the genre (especially nowadays). When Kanye gets off, though, he gets OFF. Listen to the first verse on “Spaceship”. Who hasn’t worked a shitty job for shitty pay and wanted to just get away? He spit “Through The Wire” with his jaw wired shut, the result of a car accident that nearly took his life. The song was his coming-out party. He let everyone know that he loved the art of hip-hop so much, he was willing to rap, despite the circumstances. “All Falls Down” was social commentary at its finest. Kanye has the ability to point out his faults in a day and age when artists of all genres are trying to convince you of how great they are. He acknowledge it in “All Falls Down”, his mini-movie, “We Were Once A Fairy Tale”, and in “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”. The song shone a light on what he thinks of himself, and the conflict diamonds that people lose their lives mining for. “Everything I Am”, “School Spirit”, “Two Words”, “Love Lockdown”, and even “Golddigger” are prime examples of why ‘Ye is the most meaningful lyricist of the last decade. Let us not forget “808’s & Heartbreaks”, an album that showcased his emotional vulnerability following the passing of his mother and a breakup with his fiancee. I didn’t like his use of Auto-Tune throughout the album, but I don’t think I’ve ever respected an artists’s work more.
Lil Wayne is arguable a more popular artists now, and I’m sure he’s outsold ‘Ye over the last 5 years. The same can be said about Eminem. Jay-Z has surely outsold ‘Ye over the last decade, and his clothing line has been popular for the better part of it. Somehow, 50 Cent is still remotely popular. Gucci mane, Drake, and Nicki Minaj are all the rave (even though they rarely ever say anything of substance) and are seen as hope that hip-hop isn’t dying. Still, none of them can hold a torch to ‘Ye. You could make the case that all of the artists I just mentioned are followers or posers. It unnerves me to no end to see that Lil Wayne has become a pseudo-rock star.
Kanye West is a revolutionary. He’s ushered in a wave of people who are no longer afraid to express themselves freely. He gave those of us who thought hip-hop had died before his debut that it’s still alive and kicking. He let young people know that we need to change our bad ways. There’s nothing wrong with being arrogant, cultured, or different. Our generation rules the nation. Simply put, Kanye West is the greatest hip-hop artist of the last decade…
P.S. I miss Karen and the Moondance Woman!!!
P.P.S. Oh yeah…Kanye is from the ‘Go, too…