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Hip-Hop News: Hip Hop Producer Must Prove His Worth
He may have tallent but Kanye West must prove he has what it takes before he wins.
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Posted by Dave
Rap News Network
12/9/2005 6:04:43 AM

Tags and topics realted to this article include Kanye West. Hip Hop, Rap, Awards and Grammy.

When it comes to hip hop and rap producer Kanye West, there's no denying that the 28-year-old Chicagoan has built an impressively successful music career. 
 
As a producer, he's assembled the beats and pieces behind hits for the likes of Jay-Z, Alicia Keys and Talib Kweli. As a label mogul, he's signed solid talent in the progressive rapper Common and the neo-soul singer John Legend. As a recording artist, he's sold a few million copies of his 2004 debut, "The College Dropout," earned 10 Grammy nominations and took home trophies for best rap album, rap single (for "Jesus Walks") and best R&B song (for writing Keys' "You Don't Know My Name"). The hotly anticipated follow-up, "Late Registration," reached No. 1 in Billboard and in about three months has sold more than 2 million copies in the United States. 
 
Get past the quantifiable achievements and piles of critical plaudits await. Time magazine made him a cover subject and listed him among the world's 100 most influential people. Vibe magazine proclaimed him a genius (then again, that same July issue also said he won the Grammy for best new artist, conveniently forgetting that Maroon 5 took home the trophy in question). Robert Hilburn, longtime pop critic for the Los Angeles Times, gushed about West's current road show: "This is not only shaping up as the hip-hop tour of the year, it is one of the most inspiring ever." 
 
It gets to the point where separating the worth from the hyperbole gets difficult. But when Hilburn goes so far as to suggest that "hip-hop may have found its Stevie Wonder," it's time to say, "Wait just a polymer-picking minute!" 
 
Popularity often creates a backlash, and that would seem likely especially in the case of West, who is known for an outspoken kind of confidence that doesn't border on arrogance so much as gives it a loving embrace. But the point here isn't to condemn West uncritically either. What we want is a more balanced, broader assessment. 
 
And that's where the next two weeks come in handy. West will play Portland twice in that period, headlining a Friday night show at Memorial Coliseum, then returning as opening act for U2's Dec. 19 appearance at the Rose Garden arena. 
 
At the very least, it should be interesting to mark the differences in West's two performances, to see how he approaches and is received by his own fans and by what probably will be an older, maybe even a rock chauvinist, audience at the U2 show. 
 
Can he effectively present the stylistic variety and balance of his recordings in a live setting? Can he perform with compelling charisma? Can he win over an audience not familiar with his songs? Answering these questions won't settle West's place in music history, but it should at least give us a more direct sense of him and his talent, independent of the relentless hype. 
 
For this critic, West still has a lot to prove. His two albums are fine collections of pop and hip-hop, but they seem hampered by West's outsized commercial ambitions. He's often praised for subverting the standard bling-and-thug expectations of mainstream hip-hop, but to my ears he's still too close to many of the genre's tired conventions. 
 
All the same, there are plenty of reasons to want West to succeed on more than a commercial level. His desire to gather and elevate a mass audience -- delivering the pure pop thrills that can excite it, while also introducing ideas that challenge and edify it -- is undeniably admirable. If both he and his followers blare the trumpet of this accomplishment a little too loud, well, time will tell whether West's work will echo through the years as powerfully as, say, Stevie Wonder's -- or U2's for that matter -- still does.

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