THE FAMES (AND SHAMES) OF MR. WEST 


;Kanye West is the most important figure in popular music today. That's not hyperbole, either. Since his debut in 2004 with The College Dropout, an album that by all accounts never should have happened, the producer-turned-rapper-turned-whipping boy has endured doubts over his sexuality (from his own labelmates, no less), the embrace of right-wingers over his outspoken born-again status, and then rejection from the same group when he flew too close to the flame. Within West's own genre, it hasn't been any easier. Rap elitists shun his shameless commerciality and mass-market ambition, while the commercial market is often turned off by his indie/backpacker leanings.

;;Next month sees the release of his third album in as many years, Graduation, and as the music world awaits the next attention-getting twist in the West saga, let's take a look back at some highlights and lowlights from Hurricane Kanyeezee.

;;

;BEST

1. "George Bush doesn't care about black people"

;;It's so easy to forget the rage. The shivering in his voice, the inability to catch his breath from the nerves, the base-jumping high of going off-prompter. The moment that made YouTube YouTube is memorable for Kanye's outrageous punch line from out of nowhere, but it's Mike Myers' attempted recovery from West's initial rant that allows the rapper the time to gather his fury. The resulting Hulk thunderclap heard around the world did more in seven words than many "political" rappers take endlessly rambling stanzas to not achieve.

;;2. Golden honey

;In battling evil, the poet says, excess is good. In cementing rock-star status, it's essential. When Kanye performed his smash single "Gold Digger" at the 2006 Brit Awards, he was joined by Jamie Foxx and 77 "hand-picked" female models, all painted gold, and in one tongue-wagging instant, viewers collectively realized that fellow award-winner James Blunt was kinda gay. This, kids, is what modern showmanship looks like.

;;3. Scenes from a breakup

;;Kanye West is always at his best when playing the role of an average Joe, and it doesn't get more everyday than a fight with a loved one. "Arguments," an unreleased-but-leaked outtake from sophomore album Late Registration, has a hopelessly mundane half-time beat and an exhausted John Legend chorus, but this gem is a showcase for West's unbeatable couplets ("I got a girl at home, but she don't cook/I have my condoms in the stove 'cause she won't look") and his eye-rolling impatience for petty annoyances like, you know, communication and stuff.

;;WORST

;;1. Jesus Christ!

;Despite a physical resemblance to Christianity's namesake that's infinitely more historically accurate than Jim Caviezel's, Kanye West set off a firestorm with his January 2006 Rolling Stone cover story. Splashed over convenience stores across America was West's bloodied head, wearing a crown of thorns. Qualifying as heresy to the religious sect (notably in those Middle and Southern parts of America), and evincing poor taste even to nonbelievers, the only positive side of the photo was that it took the focus off West's sniveling interview inside, in which he confesses to being a porn addict and complains, "In America, they want you to accomplish these great feats. … You want me to be great, but you don't ever want me to say I'm great?" Actually, that's exactly it, Kanye. And weren't there some gold-plated dancers around here somewhere? Yeah, bring those back, please.

;;2. The spy who blew it

;"Shirley Bassey. A-ha. Fred Durst. Yes, I've won countless Grammys, the respect of my peers and the affection of millions worldwide, but there's one elixir I have yet to taste. I want what those greats had: a spy-movie theme song! It shall feature the liberal use of bongos, a tone-deaf Keyshia Cole (she'll be huge, I swear!) and that really fast rapper that nobody cares about. I don't have time to write coherent lyrics, so I'll drown out my verse with layers of '80s rock guitar, a soul singer and a horn section, and I will name it ‘Impossible.' It will only see limited official release."

;;3. Graduation cover art

;French robo-pop we can deal with. For "Stronger," his first single from Graduation, West challenged his audience to think globally and swallow that Daft Punk could be hip-hop, and he succeeded beautifully. Yet, as he's known to do, he took it one too far with the album art: a Japanime art piece from renowned Warhol ripoff Takashi Murakami, featuring the bear we've come to know and (begrudgingly) tolerate from West's previous album covers. Only this time the bear is being ejected from some futuristic university whose campus is apparently in the sky. Other creepy animals watch him in admiration as they throw their graduation caps.

;

;Does this mean the former Dropout, who spent at least half his debut album denouncing the need for a degree, has grown up and faced his responsibility, and is now being thrown headfirst into the real world in the purple sky? No. It doesn't mean crap, which would be a poignantly existential message in itself … if he hadn't paid Murakami a truckload of dough to make the non-statement for him.

; music@orlandoweekly.com

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