Firearms be damned, he’s got Brand Kanye
Just days after the official release of his new album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye’s been given ten out of ten by Pitchfork and five stars from Rolling Stone.
For those of you who don’t subscribe to the music bibles, that’s unheard of. Critics are acting like it’s the second coming - and for hip hop, it basically is.
Hip hop used to be that stuff only the naughty kids listened to… the kind of music your mum used to ban you from buying… and the sort of album you’d put in your collection if you wanted people to think you walked on the wild side.
Ludacris had hoes in different area codes, Dr Dre just wanted to f*** bad bitches…. and Snoop Dogg? Well no one was quite sure of what he was saying, but damn, it was funny trying to figure it out.
Lyrics aside, the off-field controversies were just as offensive.
While Usher was declaring he was a sex addict, Lil Wayne was getting thrown in jail for possessing firearms, and Snoop Dogg was making a hobby out of getting turned away by customs faster than you could say “fo schizzle my nizzle”
In isolation all these things were headline worthy… and even negative publicity translates into album sales.
But as these events happened time and time again, year after year audiences became immune to the controversy, desensitised by the offensiveness. Jail time? Yawn. Sex scandal? Same old. Crude lyrics? Whatever. Fans were bored. Hip hop needed a shake up.
Cue Kanye West.
Four albums, twelve Grammy’s and widespread critical acclaim. From 2004, anything Kanye touched turned to gold.
That is. . . until that fated moment at the 2009 MTV VMA’s Kanye leapt on stage during Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech, grabbed the mic and announced that Beyonce should have taken out the award. The American public turned, and boy did they turn fast.
He was branded a bully and a racist. President Obama called him a “jackass”. Fellow hip hop icon Mos Def reportedly advised him to get out of the country “You can’t make it in America. You need to move.”
So what happens when you’re a superstar and you crash and burn so magnificently? The road back from being a presidential jackass can’t be a short one.
Well if you’re Kanye West you start staging the comeback of all comebacks.
He went into hibernation for a year. Rounded up a stellar cast of the movers and shakers in the music industry - Nicki Minaj, Raekwon, Kid Cudi, Pusha T, Wu-Tang’s RZA, Rihanna and even a cameo from folk star Bon Iver.
For six months he reportedly worked them to the bone, rewriting, reworking and reproducing every line and every idea till it was perfected.
Playing beats over and over in the studio until it clicked.
The end result is breathtaking. A record that ticks all the boxes.
It’s slick enough and explicit enough to keep the rap fans happy, yet at the same time it is one of the most accessible pop albums of 2010. Hip hop for the masses.
But this isn’t a review of his record, and Kanye isn’t the kind of guy to just let the music speak for himself.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy might be an up yours to all that doubted him, but the real genius comes not from the album’s delivery but the bravado surrounding it - for the moments he chooses to let loose and the platforms where he chooses to unleash.
It began well before the record even hit the shelves.
In August he began leaking free tracks from the album on a weekly basis straight from his studio, one a week. You might think he’d be mad to leak an entire album but Kanye’s a smart cookie. It wasn’t the record sales he was looking for, it was the prestige and the hype.
The move made sure he was a step ahead of the music pirates who would inevitably leak it anyway, and one track a week was enough have his fans on a knife edge waiting for the next track.
Leaking an entire album wasn’t enough, so Kanye made a short film to boot.
Forget the hip hop film clip mentality of gathering hot babes in bikini’s dancing around a swimming pool, Runaway is a triumph in cinematography. Kanye brings in ballet dancers, a grand piano and tells the tale of a Phoenix rising from adversity.
So now the album’s out and the world’s eyes are once again fixed on Kanye, he decides to shake things up even more. He cracks it at Matt Lauer on the U.S Today Show for playing a clip while he was trying to talk.
It’s awkward and uncomfortable, but riveting television. He then decides it’s easier to talk when it’s just him doing the talking during his debut performance at the Bowery he rants for ten minutes; declaring his empathy for George W.
Bush and slamming Taylor Swift for riding the wave of publicity that followed on from the 2009 VMA’s (pot, kettle, black?).
Fans are hooked on every word and so are journalists. The roller coaster ride is playing out in the media everyday. One moment he’s getting booed at the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, the next some crazy punter is forking out $100,000 to watch him perform.
But don’t be fooled. He’s not following in the footsteps of hip hop giants of the past. There are no weapons possession charges, he’s not banned from entering countries, nor has he dabbled in the odd sex scandal.
Instead, he picks his moments carefully, and steps into the spotlight when it’s at its brightest, and all with one goal in mind: expanding Brand Kanye.
While Fantasy has just booted Susan Boyle from the top of the US pop charts this week, Kanye’s got bigger fish to fry.
He’s got fashion lines with Louis Vuitton and with Nike. There’s a new line of Kanye fragrances on their way. He’s the proud new owner of ten more burger stores in Chicago (Fatburger anyone?)
Then he’s set to star in the Kardashian’s new reality show, Kourtney & Kim take New York…
Oh, and all this while he’s recording a new EP with the man who made him who he is, Jay-Z.
Kanye’s not just playing the game, he’s making the rules as he goes along. Each move carefully calculated for maximum exposure.
I don’t know about you, but I’m riveted. You don’t know what he’ll do next, but you know it will be stunning.
Forget sex scandals, forget jail time. This is what hip hop needed.
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