Raise a glass for the man putting the good times back into hip-hop…
So, you saw the NME Cool List. You applauded Nick McCarthy’s rise from shy, jitterbuggin’ art-rock axeman to the picture of frosty cool; you wrung your hands over Selfish Cunt’s Martin Tomlinson, a man primarily famous for his ability to accurately lob horseshit at passers-by, sneaking in at Number Nine; but you still felt like something was missing. Then it hit you like a slug to tha’ chest: “Where’s my man Kanye?” Because if ever there were a character worthy of your respect, it’s Kanye West – the platinum-selling rapper/producer who, judging by his taste in pastel knitwear, would look more comfortable fronting Blue Peter than helping Roc-A-Fella tighten its kung-fu grip on the rap game. He’s the flamboyant genre-smashing hip-hop guru for those that find Andre 3000 a little too ‘outré’. His favourite album of 2004 was the one by those Franz Ferdinand guys. Like him yet?
It’s a cold night in Glasgow when Kanye West rolls into town for the second time in as many weeks to play another sold-out gig – even the cabby chauffeuring NME to the venue knows someone selling tickets (“£120, mate”). The queue outside the Academy itself is disconcerting, for a number of reasons. See, you’d expect the crowd waiting outside the concert of one of hip-hop’s great unifiers to be a diverse lot, but judging by the burly dudes doing chimp-hoots every time someone darker than them passes by, Glasgow has a lot to learn about peace, love and understanding. Conversely, the hip-hop scene down in London is a seemingly colour-blind affair, with mixed-race crews like SkinnyMan’s Mud Family, Jehst’s Champions Of Nature and Dizzee’s old Roll Deep Crew tearing shit up. Folks still get stabbed, though.
It was only a few short years ago that a relatively unknown Kanye was playing second fiddle to Talib Kweli, with West twiddling knobs on 2002’s buoyant ‘Get By’. But now the tables have turned, and it’s none other than Talib Kweli opening for Kanye West tonight. And we’d never thought we say it – after all, this is the man that tells us “I make the streets run red like a stop sign” – but Kweli’s set is a rather safe affair. With only a few songs pulled from this year’s ‘Beautiful Struggle’, what we’re left with are limp ‘interpretations’ of Snoop’s ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ and MOP’s ‘Ante Up’. And the B-boys. Sweet Christ, the B-boys. When Kweli offers, “If you’re a real B-boy, get up onstage”, three scrawny youths of gradually increasing breakdancing proficiency take up the challenge. It’s an embarrassment for all concerned, and Kweli can barely hide his chagrin.
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To the delirious chanting of “KAHN-YAY!”, West bounds onstage in his now-trademark cashmere and fat Roc-A-Fella gold rope. His cuddly appearance masks a startling level of perhaps not entirely undeserved arrogance. After all, this is the man who managed to transform hip-hop’s oldest joke, Twista – he who lays claim to the world record for fastest rapper, and little else – into something of a phenomenon.
It’s this arrogance that sees West dropping in little minuets from his production back catalogue throughout the set. So we get Ludacris’ colossal one-stop testosterone injection ‘Stand Up’ before West’s own ‘We Don’t Care’, and Dilated Peoples’ ‘This Way’ before the Marvin Gaye-sampling ‘Spaceship’. And, of course, Kanye’s schmaltzy calling-card ‘Slow Jamz’, during which the crowd is thankfully allowed to fill in for Jamie Foxx’s self-satisfied crooning.
Later in the set, West makes like an iPod with ADD, pushing his DJ aside to rapidly flick through all his tracks until he hits on the cut that gets the loudest cheer. He chooses Jay-Z’s ‘Encore’. He produced it, y’know.
If you ever needed proof that hip-hop is now a global phenomenon (as if sales statistics weren’t proof enough for you), witness 2,500 skinny white arms pounding the air to ‘Jesus Walks’. Actually, fuck that – what’s more mesmerising is that West has 2,500 kids chanting “Je-sus walks with me” with nary a trace of irony. Give this man the papacy!