Well-known music producer Kanye West has sold over four million copies of his debut album The College Dropout, and sophomore album Late Registration to date. On both his albums he has worked with many artists such as Jay-Z, Jamie Foxx and Talib Kweli, and has sampled music from the Jackson 5 to The Doors. He’s not only an internationally renowned artist and producer, but also an active political mind.
Both his albums have touched on many controversial political subjects, and he has voiced his various opinions outside of his music, putting himself into the public eye. He’s become as known for his outspokenness as he is for his ability to make a hit record since his temper tantrum at the 2004 American Music Awards when Gretchen Wilson beat him for the Best New Artist award. Some recent statements include him saying on national television during a benefit for the victims of Hurricane Katrina that, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” This one statement has gotten him a lot of media attention and has given him a wider fan base.
“It doesn’t surprise me that he would say something like that; he’s an opinionated artist. I think he did have a point, however: he knew himself that it was more of a commercialized spiel. He would say it, and he knows that by saying it, more controversy will arise, which means more media attention and that more records are being sold,” says third year Public Relations major, Maria Cabillan from the University of Guelph-Humber.
Kanye doesn’t seem to be the only one using this scheme to boost a fan base. P. Diddy (also known as Sean Combs) is a well-known hip-hop artist who has encouraged youth to vote through his “Vote or Die” campaign during the 2004 presidential elections; he found a way to reach youth by extolling the importance of voting. Now it seems that Kanye West is grabbing the media’s attention by focusing on his right to voice his opinions about U.S. President George W. Bush.
“George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People” was seen on the front pages of several American newspapers, and has now even been plastered on shirts with a depiction of the U.S. President himself.
During another telethon for Hurricane Katrina relief, in addition to his comments about not being able to imagine being homeless or without his family he sent out a new message. While performing his song “Jesus Walks,” he changed his original lyrics from: “They say you can rap-about-anything except for Jesus/That means guns, sex, lies, video tapes/but if I speak about God, my records won’t get played” to “/but if I speak the truth my records won’t get played.”
That was not the first time Kanye has had something to say through his music. Each song on his albums speaks of his life encounters and what he feels about what’s going on in the world. This sets him apart from rappers whose main lyrical focus is sex and violence.
On Kanye’s track “All Falls Down” he raps, “It seems we living the American dream/But the people highest up got the lowest self esteem/The prettiest people do the ugliest things/For the road to riches and diamond rings.” There is nothing in this song that pertains to sex or violence. Alicia Sayles, Grade 12 says, “There aren’t many mainstream rappers, if any, who have the guts to say stuff like that and not be afraid of losing spins, so the rest of them just make party music and forget about substance. He’s outspoken and knows that whatever he says will generate questions – that’s what makes him different from other mainstream rappers. He obviously sends a different message, because his music isn’t always about sex, hoes and money. It makes him unique because these rappers out there all come from the ‘hood’ and therefore only have that to talk about. Because of where Kanye grew up he broadens his dictionary-of-rappatory.”
Grade 11 Jarvis Student, Katie Baldwin, feels that that this makes a difference in how the artist is perceived. “I think that Kanye gets to youth through his lyrics, and of course him being one of the hottest artists of 2005, those messages are what is making him as popular as he is today. As we see in his lyrics, he actually has something meaningful to say and it’s not just a load of crap.”
With his new single “Touch the Sky,” Kanye teams up with Lupe Fiasco and begins to respond to all his critics. For all those who have said of him “You’ll never make it that far, you’ll never make it out of this town,” he’s finally able to show everyone that no matter what is given to him or taken from him he is able to touch the sky.