Kanye West is the oddest sea horse in hip-hop right now. Face mask-wearing MF Doom looks like every other trick-or-treater next to West. Kool Keith? Just another dude with too much porn downloaded to his desktop. West even makes human peacock Andre 3000 look like just another fussbudget with more closet space than Cher.
And though West himself dresses like he's always on his way to meet up with Buffy at the country club and is even less threatening than the Black Eyed Peas, he is one different kind of dude. Normal MCs have beefs with loudmouthed critics and each other. But at whom make that, what does West flip his middle fingers? Higher education.
The college-bashing floating through 2004's The College Dropout felt like both completely misplaced anger and a sarcastically passive-aggressive leitmotif. It grafted a half-assed, cheeky narrative onto Dropout's young-adult saga, dropping background story fragments around the songs' emotional roller coasters.
The return of the higher-education hating on West's Late Registration was odder than finding a skunk in the freezer. Sure, recurring motifs have been a part of hip-hop since Prince Paul first found the "record" button, but West's fixation with college as a fruitless investment emphasis on its price is flabbergasting. Dropout sold pretty effing well and even earned West two handfuls of Grammy nominations and two awards.
The constant reminders that a traditional education plays no role in shaping his musical mind are starting to feel like rubbing your face in his innate gifts especially when what they produce are as instantly playful as Late.
As with most products of autodidacts, a glint of laziness runs through Late. West's source palette sounds like a crate full of Rhodes piano lines, plinking keyboard ruminations, happy horn sunbursts, hip-swaying handclaps, fuzz-tone guitar flourishes, warm double bass and gospel choir surges, as if all he did was raid the collection of a childless uncle who hasn't bought a new LP since 1977, when he threw his last really happening cocktail party.
These are starting points Shirley Bassey's "Diamonds Are Forever," Curtis Mayfield's "Move on Up," Otis Redding's "It's Too Late," Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman" that are effortless catalysts for conviviality, a bubbly adventure that starts at the Ramada Inn lounge on Saturday night and finishes up at home sometime Sunday morning.
As great a producer as West is, his rapping is just pedestrian. He possesses a pleasant, conversational midrange and the generic American accent endemic to the Midwest he even ironically emphasizes slang and street talk in his raps, as if he realizes it sounds unnatural coming from him and has to put it in air quotes.
He sounds like anybody no doubt a good part of his genre-hopping, crossover charm but this common-guy patina sometimes strangles his witty, offbeat word games and corkscrewing rhymes, such as these, from "Crack Music":
How we stop the Black Panthers? Ronald Reagan cooked up an answer
You hear that? What Gil Scott was hearin', when our heroes and heroines got hooked on heroin
Crack raised the murder rate in D.C. and Maryland
We invested in that, it's like we got Merrill Lynched
And we been hanging from the same tree ever since.
That West even bothers to address politics drugs diluting militancy in "Crack Music," the diamond trade and Sierra Leone's civil disputes in "Diamonds From Sierra Leone," his coming out against hip-hop's homophobia, the now infamous "George Bush doesn't care about black people!" statement during a live, televised Hurricane Katrina fundraiser separates him from his mainstream hip-hop kin.
Like another college dropout-turned-producer wunderkind, West doesn't shy away from speaking his sometimes confused, sometimes unflappably proud mind. Like that other crossover genre-hopper, West favors a cinematic touch to his production, and particularly loves the sound of a simple piano figure leading into a charismatic beat. And like this DJ/producer-turned-pop personality, you get the impression that West is both his own harshest critic and biggest fan.
You see, West isn't just the most peculiar hip-hopper rocking the radio dial right now. He's cutting his own idiosyncratically rudderless path to pop like Moby which means that while Late Registration isn't West's Everything Is Wrong or even Play yet, its promise only cranks the expectation for what his mind will hatch in the coming years.
Colorado State Fairgrounds Events Center,
1001 Beulah Ave., Pueblo
Thursday, April 27, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $25, call 719/404-2070 or visit ticketmaster.com for more info.