InsidePulse Jam Session: Kanye West

Right now, there isn’t a more polarizing person in Hip-Hop, and maybe all of music, than Kanye West. He’s an arrogant self-promoter, throwing fits when he doesn’t win Grammys and demanding payment for being on a magazine’s cover. And all this was when the guy had only released one album. Now, however, he’s dropped Late Registration, which may have had the highest expectations of any sophomore album since Guns n Roses’ Use Your Illusion. And who should throw down the gauntlet upon release? None other than Rolling Stone magazine, which awarded the album 5 stars, heralding it as an all-time classic. If that wasn’t enough fodder to spark debate, Kanye made sure we’d keep his name in our mouths by proclaiming on national TV during a telethon to raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.”

Here at Inside Pulse, we decided to take on Kanye the only way we could: with a Roundtable Rocktable Jam Session. Two questions were asked. One, just how good is Late Registration? And two, was Kanye right to say what he said during the telethon?


1) Late Registration: Is It A Classic?

(You can read reviews by JJ Botter, Warren Woo, and Aaron Cameron here.)

Mathan Erhardt: Ok. As the one guy who hasn’t written a review for Inside Pulse; I dug the album.

I’ve heard that some people who didn’t dig the skits. I did. I had a roommate who was an Alpha, so I’ve gotten about as close to being in a Black Frat as possible. The skits served as a continuation of the theme started on his debut. This album Kanye’s in college and how better to illustrate this than using a fictional Black Frat?

I’m a fan of Brion’s work and his collabos with Kanye were really superb. They added a real emotional quality to music (Hip Hop) that often lacks it.

I don’t think that it’s fair to try to measure it up to the “Golden Age” standard. The times are too different. Samples cost more. Biting is acceptable. Standards have changed.

I do think that it deserves the credit it’s getting. Can you imagine all of the critics who were waiting to claim that the “arrogant” MC hit the sophomore slump? For him to come though and deliver another homerun is a pretty big feat.

Is it a classic? It’s too early to tell. I do think that it’s better than almost everything in the current creative slump.

It is a great album. It does live up to the expectations and the hype.

The only flaw, in my eyes, were Kanye’s recycled lines in “Bring Me Down.” That was just lazy.

9.5/10

Gregory Wind: I bought into the hype. I have probably bought less than 20 hip hop albums since a Tribe Called Quest broke up in 1998, and that’s about three a year. Hip hop used to make up a good share of my music purchases, but now I guess it’s more like I don’t want to miss anything new or big. Based on reviews of the new Kanye West album I thought it might be both big and something new, and while big is more or less guaranteed, new is debatable. “Classic” is more than debatable.

Without a label and without the hype I might have dismissed the album after the fist listen, but since others got so much out of it I am trying to find out what makes it tick. The problem is I keep hitting the last track without having cared about any of it. The much-maligned skits are the only parts that stand out.

That’s not to say there’s no merit to it. Some of the lines are good. Other people like it a lot. I have no issue with that. It’s just not for this particular white dad from the suburbs. I may have gotten too far from the hip hop world over the last several years, and it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if it was a matter of being out of touch, but it’s being billed as the one hip hop album you must own this year and I don’t know that that’s true. Feel free to miss it if you are only considering this purchase because people tell you everyone needs this disk.

Addendum: Ok. It’s growing on me (but I deleted the skits, so I’m cheating a bit). I stand by the statement that no one should buy this because they feel like they have to or they’re missing something. I bet there’s a big population of people who were late to Speakerboxx/The Love Below that won’t want to be late to this (read: white suburbanites with little to no previous experience with the artist) and the two aren’t really comparable as far as breaking new ground. Plus, too many tracks just don’t stand out for any reason.

But it does move my rating up to 6/10. I’m guessing more than half the people who buy this album will feel like they got their money’s worth, but few will call it the best disk they bought this year.

Mike Eagle: Classic?…hmmmm

I wasn’t really excited about the album until I heard that Jon Brion worked with him on it. I was looking forward to hearing how Brion’s lush arrangements complimented West’s soulful samples. In the end, I think that it sounded better on paper.

There are definitely some standouts. “We Major” one of the bangingest songs I’ve heard in a couple years, but few of the remaining tracks measure up. “My Way Home” was too formulaic, The beat for “Drive Slow” has been used by Atmosphere and D12, and I don’t understand why Game was only used for the hook on “Crack Music”.

The point is, out of about eighteen songs, there’s only three that I wanna hear more than once. The rest of them have this air of melodrama that doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe it’s the string arrangements, or all the R&B vocals, or even Kanye’s own tendency to over-deliver his lyrics, but the aesthetic of many of the tracks is simply too much for me.

That’s it, it’s not bad, it’s just too much. Somewhere after “We Major” I started to feel like every song could have ended the album. There’s only so many orchestral movements I can take before things start to seem overcooked, especially if the lyrics don’t match the effort…

oh and the skits sucked. I AM an Alpha (06!), and I thought that they were annoying. I thought that they cold have been more imagination put into them.

6.5/10

Michaelangelo McCullar: With Late Registration, Kanye has cemented his status as the premiere producer currently in Hip-Hop. With this album, Kanye’s tried to do something very few people in Hip-Hop have ever tried to do: make an album that could transcend Hip-Hop and make a place for itself alongside such classic albums as Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Purple Rain, Nevermind, and others. An album that would still have people buzzing about it 20 years from now.

Did he succeed?

No, but he came about as close as anyone can these days. Working with Jon Brion was a master stroke, as he gives the album a level of pop sensibility rarely found today. And when I say pop, I’m not talking about the Britney/Christina/N’SYNC/Backstreet Boys type of pop. I mean almost a throwback to the Burt Bachrach style of pop, where anyone from 15 to 50 could listen to and enjoy the music. From the piano in “Heard Em Say” to the lush orchestration of “We Major”, Brion and Kanye work to create an aural background unlike any other modern Hip-Hop album. And only Kanye would think to take a James Bond theme song to make a song decrying conflict diamonds.

Is this album on a level with those from the Golden Age of Hip-Hop (93-95)? I can’t answer that. It’s too early. I know that the vast majority of my CD listening is from that era, and when I throw this disc in alongside them it doesn’t seem out of place like so many other current CD’s do. In the end, if nothing else, Kanye should be applauded for having the ambition to swing for the fences when so many others are content with singles. If it’s not quite an all-time classic, it’s definitely the best Hip-Hop album I’ve heard, not just this year, but since the Millennium.

9.5/10


2) Kanye’s Comments: Was He Right?

(You can read comments from Michaelangelo and Mike Eagle here.)

Aaron Cameron: Kanye West was wrong.

Now, in the interest of open discourse, I should disclose that I’m Black, I’m a registered Democrat and I even liked Kanye’s latest album. You’d think I’d be in the target demographic that West was representing with his rant. But, he was still wrong and the funny thing is, I think Kanye knows it, too.

Now, let me state that West, in my opinion, wasn’t wrong about our President. I’m not naive enough to think that the Democratic party is all that sincere in its efforts to reach out to the African-American community, but Bush and his party don’t even attempt to put up a pretense of inclusion towards the Black Community.

Now, that said, I don’t agree with the forum that Kanye chose to speak his mind. He’s the number one act in music, right now and getting tons of mainstream publicity. The media is coming *to* him in an attempt to sell their magazines and boost their ratings and, in turn, Kanye gets to shill his new album to the world on Time Magazine’s and MTV’s dime.

So, where was all the Bush bile when Kanye was whoring himself out over the last three weeks to anyone with a press pass?

Kanye could’ve said what he said at anytime and at any place. Yet, he chose a telethon? And, with a week’s worth of hindsight, it’s obvious that he came off less like a militant and more like a sh*tty Saturday Night Live skit.

Hell, the red states stopped talking about “the incident” in a day or two. And, for the rest of us, the most lasting memories are Mike Myers and Chris Tucker’s fabulously stupefied reactions, which instantly resuscitated their careers (for the next 15 minutes).

Even, Kanye is backing off, declining to answer questions about it and ducking reporters all together on his recent promotional tour to hype his upcoming “NFL Kickoff Weekend” performance.

It must be nice to stand up for your rights and speak your mind…sometimes. Considering the legacy that his parents laid, they must be so proud.

Mathan Erhardt: I completely agree with Kanye’s comments. I’m just glad that someone actually vocalized them. Kanye said what my roommate and I had been saying for a couple of days (or years in the case of “George Bush doesn’t…”) it was just dope to see a “name” say it. And on live television, completely freestyled and 100% passionate.

And it was most certainly the right time and place. What people are focusing on is “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” They feel free to gloss over “I hate the way they make us look.” It began as an attack on the media. And how better to assault the media than to turn it against itself.

And the media played into his hands by looking to censor for language as opposed to content. It’s refreshing to see the media buy into the stereotypes that it’s perpetuated (a rapper is unable to be critical and thus the only danger they pose is of the vulgar variety.) It was perfect on all levels.

Did his comments affect donations? Possibly, but his comments certainly created a national dialogue which I think is better for the sake of the country.

Kanye’s sales aren’t going to be affected by his comments. The people who were shallow enough to drop is album because of his comments weren’t going to pick it up in the first place. And I’m sure that some more politically minded people, who wouldn’t have picked up the album, now will because he’s gotten their attention. The net change will be minimal. And who cares; artists make their money from touring and endorsements.

Would I have made similar comments under similar conditions? C’mon, do you really have to ask that? Of course I would have. I watch Fox News every night, because it’s entertaining. As a result I’ve witnessed Black folk “looting” for way too many days straight. Although I probably would have changed “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people” to “If this had happened to white people, we’d have been doing this three days ago.”

But now let me respond to Aaron’s comments.

First off there wasn’t really any Bush bile spilled that could have come out earlier. Kanye was making comments that related directly to Katrina. Unless he had a crystal ball how would he have known about the zero tolerance in regards to looters? And sure he may have had circumstantial evidence as to how Bush felt about Black people (Bush’s record of being execution happy as Governor, his indifference to voting issues in Florida) but I think that Katrina really brought the point home.

Should he have also praised the Red Cross for their efforts in disasters past and future, two weeks ago? And maybe he should have called his manager to see how much money he could free up to donate, y’know, in case a disaster were to happen at some point in the future.

And Kanye isn’t talking about the incident because he knows A) folks love to call him arrogant 2) he know his quotes will be taken out of context C) he’s probably been warned that if he “acts up” again another “accident” could be arranged.

Kanye’s smart enough to realize that any more he says about the incident will come of poorly and potentially harm his career. I don’t fault him for not making further comments. He made his point what else does he have to say?

He started the fire, I’m just trying to make sure it spreads.

gloomchen: Do I agree with Kanye? Well, on the rudimentary level that he relayed his comments, well, there’s very little to argue against his assertions. FEMA fumbled on a grand scale, and the question remains that if this had been a hurricane headed up the east coast toward a more affluent area, would the response have been so slow? You’ve got the media making unconsciously racist statements, you’ve got people like Barbara Bush making blatantly aristocratic statements, and there seems to be very little out there to refute the glaring truth that poor, black people in need are being treated as subhumans.

Were his statements appropriate? Oh, of course not. But man, that took balls the size of cantaloupes. You’ve got a white-friendly hip-hop star who has absolutely no reason whatsoever to make waves in his rise to critical stardom. Yet, he felt strongly enough that he absolutely had to take a stand. Good for him. Was it smart? Was it the pinnacle of rhetorical excellence? Oh lordy, not even close. In fact, it was the exact opposite. Would it have been a better move for him to keep silent? Of course! But you have to praise a man who is willing to sacrifice the respect of millions in order to stand up for something he believes in.

I really doubt this affected anyone’s desire to donate and I don’t think it will affect his record sales, either. We as a society are so used to celebrities making multiple grand faux pas to the point where it’s just something to amuse for a few days, and then it’s forgotten. And for those who don’t see his comments as a blunder, more power to him. Regardless, please, will more celebrities create train wrecks like this one? I love the mayhem of disrupting live television, irritating the White House, and making poor Mike Myers and Chris Tucker reveal just how whipped they are. Thank you.

Gregory Wind: I’ve made my feelings on his statement as clear as I can from a race-neutral point of view in the forum. But it wasn’t a race-neutral statement, was it? I don’t know how Bush feels about black people. I don’t feel like I know him well enough to make that judgment, and that might be all you need to know. Clinton seemed to feel comfortable with anyone. You could say the same for Reagan and Carter and probably Ford although I was pretty young when he was around. After almost six years of a presidency, to not feel like you know your president is comfortable around 13% of his constituency — that is probably enough to say West was right.

You can’t prove Bush likes or dislikes black people but you could pretty well prove it for the other recent presidents, unless I’m forgetting one. Oh, right, GHW Bush. Given Barbara Bush’s recent comments (less Kool Aid grandma and more batty old racist grandma) you might conclude the Bushes as a clan are less about “one big boat” and more about “tolerance.” Do you think she understand that if sleeping on a cot in the Astrodome is comparable to people’s pre-Katrina life that there was something wrong with the pre-Katrina state of things? It was about as uncaring a statement as you could make. But I’m getting off the topic.

I think George the younger’s apparent racism is symptomatic of his general view that there is one truth and that truth is his. Other points of view and other contexts are no reason to disagree with him, so people whose upbringing or race lead them to different conclusions are by definition wrong.

Ok. Now imagine little Georgie growing up in Maine, Connecticut and Midland, Texas (read “Friday Night Lights” for a study on race relations there). Got the image? Now picture a kid growing up black in a poor New Orleans neighborhood. Do you think George is going to think like that kid? Do you think he’s going to think like you?