Kanye West | 04.12.04 | The Fillmore Auditorium | Denver, CO

Several days ago an old buddy from college rolled through town and brought along some tunes to trade. It was mostly Phish and Dead and some bluegrass, but out of two spindles worth of music he's grinning as he pulls out a single disc.

"I got the new Kanye West album."

"Really? Sweet man! Okay... I give up. Who's Kanye West and what's the deal with him?"

K. West from nabilelderkin.com
Turns out West has been behind the scenes for years, producing beats for artists ranging from Jay-Z to Ludacris and Britney Spears. Hailing from Chicago, he was involved in a near-fatal car accident that changed his perspective on himself and life in general. Emerging with a greater appreciation for doing what he loves, he was inspired to write his first song "Through The Wire." What's remarkable is that due to the accident his jaw was wired shut and he wound up recording the song through clenched teeth:

"But I'm a champion
So I turned tragedy to triumph
Make music that inspires
Spit my soul through the wire"

That's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. West's new album The College Dropout is a genuine masterpiece, a term that ought not be tossed around lightly. He manages to do an incredible balancing act with the lyrical and thematic elements of the album by tempering his overall message of positivity and personal empowerment with humor and references to movies like Austin Powers and Happy Gilmore. The beats on Dropout are remarkable as well: extraordinary in their intricacy, there are so many layers involved that it's literally impossible to catch everything on the first listen. West realizes this, and while bragging that he "saved the best beats" for his debut album, admitted that the biggest challenge he faced was producing lyrics that would do the music justice.

Kanye West from nabilelderkin.com
Kanye rolled into Denver last week and began his sold-out show with "Two Words," a song with a propulsive beat that got the crowd bouncing. While the album benefited from the inclusion of Mos Def, the crowd at The Fillmore didn't seem to mind his absence. He then brought out Evidence and Ariscience from Dilated Peoples, the night's opening band. A nice gesture, but the collaboration proved a train wreck of major proportions.

My personal highlight of the show was a moment that West would likely rather forget. As they started up "All Falls Down," West was trying to get the crowd juiced up and shouted "C'mon let's get this goin' SEATTLE!" Catching himself immediately, he laughed, cussed, and said "Oh, man... we were in Seattle LAST night... dammit!" The crowd began to give him some grief, and a few people booed. West responded "Man... don't do that! I'm Kanye West--I saved hip-hop! You can't boo me!"

Kanye West by Danny Clinch
What West has is a remarkable intuition for realizing when people's ears are getting tired. He is a virtual wizard with building the music up to crescendos and a few minutes later cutting out everything to sing a couple verses a cappella. The perfect example came during "Family Business," where he sang the entire song accompanied only by the pianist onstage.

The show was definitely solid. Aside from forgetting the city he was playing in, West had the crowd on his side the entire night. There are only a couple semi-negative comments that ought be mentioned. The first is my usual gripe with hip-hop shows: the people working the monitor boards had absolutely no clue how to mix levels appropriately, and the sound wasn't as balanced as it should've been. The other is that the sound itself was not nearly as complex as on the album. This is more a problem of logistics: there weren't any gospel choirs or violins onstage, which resulted in a raw and more basic sound. The final thing is that half the songs were truncated after the first couple verses--not segueing into anything, but fizzling out into stage banter. Slightly unfulfilling, but whaddaya gonna do?

Playing for just under an hour, West's live performances didn't live up to the hype of The College Dropout. The album flows together seamlessly while the show seemed a bit disjointed and choppy. But then again, it's tough to live up to the expectations that come with an album that went platinum in three weeks. Some artists are better live, others in the studio. History will be kind to Kanye, and The College Dropout will go down as a milestone in the evolution of hip-hop.

Excerpt from "Never Let Me Down"

We are all here for a reason
On a particular path
You don't need the curriculum
To know that you are part of the math
Cats think I'm delirious,
But I'm so damn serious
That's why I expose my soul
to the globe 'n the world
I'm trying to make it better for these little boys 'n girls
I'm not just another individual,
My spirit is a part of this
That's why I get spiritual,
But I get my hymns from Him
So it's not me, it's He that's lyrical
I'm not a miracle,
I'm a heaven-sent instrument
My rhythmatic regimen navigates melodic notes for your soul and your mental
That's why I'm instrumental
Vibrations is what I'm into
Yeah, I need my loot by rent day
But that is not what gives me the heart of Kunta Kinte
I'm tryina give us "us free" like Cinque
I can't stop,
That's why I'm hot
I'm talking to you
And my many inspirations
When I say I can't let you or self down
If I were of the highest cliff,
On the highest riff
And you slipped down the side
And clinched onto your life
In my grip
I would never, ever
Let you down
And when these words are found
Let it been known that God's penmanship has been signed with a language called love
That's why my breath
is felt by the deaf
And why my words
Are heard
And confined
To the ears of the blind
I, too, dream in color and in rhyme
So I guess I'm one of a kind
In a full house
Cause whenever I open my heart,
My soul,
Or my mouth
A touch of God
Rains out.

Nathan Rodriguez
JamBase | Boulder
Go See Live Music!


[Published on: 4/20/04]

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