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-- by Shaheem Reid and Shari Scorca

Kanye West isn't exactly the most punctual of MCs. His last album was called Late Registration, don't forget. After a couple of years in limbo, his 2005 collaboration with John Mayer, "Bittersweet," has finally found a little light. It was leaked to the Net this week. About time.

MTV News was actually in the studio with the duo a few years ago in L.A. when they were recording. They had just gone to see the movie "Ray," and Kanye was inspired to make a little record called "Gold Digger." During the session, Kanye played us the "Gold Digger" beat and he hadn't even finished the vocals yet. Jamie Foxx was nowhere on it, just to give you a little perspective of how long ago that was.

The release of "Bittersweet" might be just that for fans. See, according to West's rep, the song obviously was left on the cutting-room floor for
Late Registration, and for now, there's no plan for it to be on West's upcoming Graduation. Even so, what better time to take a stroll down memory lane and relive the day we caught two creative friends in the lab, doing more laughing than working.


###


It's less than a week before Kanye West will stand in front of the world and find out how many — if any — of the 10 Grammy Awards for which he's nominated will be his. But Kanyeezee, at least for today, is already looking toward the 2006 awards as he plays his good friend John Mayer some selections from his upcoming second album, Late Registration, at the Record Plant in Los Angeles.

  MTV News Report
Kanye and John Mayer
in the studio
There's a track that incorporates a sample from the voice of a fellow 2005 Grammy nominee, another that has enough bounce to make Lil Jon drop his pimp cup, and some unfinished songs that are just vague soundscapes. But no matter whose vocals are filling the room, West is rapping with so much vehemence you'd think he was onstage.

As soon as the music stops, the jokes get rolling.

"He's a white man with a black name," Kanye says, introducing the studio engineer, Tyrone. Mayer cracks up.

When you think of music's most likely dream teams, West and Mayer are probably not at the top of the list. But when you see them in the lab, the duo looks more like Magic Johnson and James Worthy than Laurel and Hardy. When one says a funny, the other chimes in, right on cue, with a straight face. But even 'Ye couldn't keep from doubling over with laughter when John ends a joke with the punchline, " 'Daughters' bitches!"

A very different dynamic was at work just a couple of weeks earlier, when Kanye found himself in the studio with one of his idols, P. Diddy.

Diddy says he's retiring as an artist, and called on Kanye and his Joe DiMaggio-like hit streak to help ensure he goes out on a high note. But it's different with Diddy: Sure, Kanye is going to approach the collabo like the fate of the free world depended on it. But this session has less to do with jokes and more with poppin' their collars: Yes, Kanye has found the one dude in the industry that has just as much, or even more, drive than he does — and is even less shy about speaking on it.

Take a gander below at both studio sessions and hear why "black people like John Mayer," why 'Ye thinks it's his duty to spread his musical blessings around, and Diddy's plan to go out while he's still "pretty."

John Mayer: Hi, I'm John Mayer here in the studio with Kanye West. You know, people wanted to find out, how does a hit happen? First, the white guy and the black guy must meet, and a fumbling must occur from the handshake to the hug. Watch what just happened about 15 minutes ago: Hey, Kanye! [They demonstrate awkward greeting]

Kanye West: What up, man?

Mayer: Oh, hey man!

West: Start with a pound, come on, that was good.

Mayer: Well, that right there is the awkwardness that we brought into the studio when we did a little track called "Bittersweet," and I think you can hear that awkwardness. No, you can't — [Kanye] took it out. [Laughter, Kanye starts playing the piano]

West: I got C-Minor, that's all I do.

Mayer: Just hit all the white keys ... Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, affirmative, affirmative, affirmative ...

West: Is that an affirmative-action joke?

Mayer: Affirmative!

MTV: So is this what a session is always like when you are together?

West: Not at all. There's a lot of label people coming by and trying to see how they can make some money off of it.

Mayer: He's kind of right. It only takes about three people to make a record, and about 30 to say they were there so they can go, "I worked on that," but they really were just there. So I kind of sneak in the studio — if I ever tell anybody I'm going to be in the studio, everybody wants to be there.

MTV: Does label pressure and all that ever interfere with the art?

  "Each line is really important to me and I can't rush that process."
West: Well, they were trying to rush this [song] out and put it on a soundtrack, and I'm anti-"getting the music out." Like, with The College Dropout, a lot of those songs took four, five months, a year to write. I made this beat back in July, and throughout the whole Usher tour I would go back and sit in my room and just play the beat, like, a hundred times trying to figure out what I was gonna say. Each line is really important to me and I can't rush that process. I felt like the last album didn't sound as good as it could have because I had these deadlines, so this time I'm gonna make sure that I put everything I want into the record before it comes out, and I can't give up a piece of my life to a soundtrack. This is a whole creation, Late Registration. A lot of times people see that big buck, and I even got offered astronomical amounts. It's not about the money; it's about making the best record possible. And a lot of times you've got to stop the execs from being involved. I'm not saying they have bad ideas, they have creative ideas, but I really just hooked up with John Mayer because I was a fan of his music. He's one of those artists that, when I'm around white people, I can name and it makes me seem like I really listen to white music. [Laughter]

Mayer: Well, your world is what you sing about and what you write about, and artists are kind of defined by that. Kanye's world is like the front porch, Star Wars toys, a nice bowl of soup, a nice bracelet and a watch.

West: And some strippers!

Mayer: And some strippers ... I wrote this thing about Kanye for Teen People and they didn't use this line: "Some rappers come from the wrong side of the tracks, but Kanye comes from the wrong side of the mall." Which I think kind of sums it up: Kanye is from the Food Court, in front of the Orange Julius, right there, on that bench, where you kind of feel uncomfortable eating when there's no other tables available.

West: You really described my life, like, I really used to be in the mall when other rappers were in the streets: trying on stuff, putting stuff on layaway, looking for girls.

MTV: How long have you guys actually known each other?

West: I knew him before I actually met him, like, through his music, I felt like we were ... kindred? I don't want to say that because it sounds too —

Mayer: No, it's all right.

West: You know how fans will come up to you and they just feel like they know you, because they live through your music?

Mayer: I think he and I are after the same things, at the core of it. Actually, the first time I talked to Kanye on the phone, I talked about how I was hitting eBay for all the things I never had as a kid, and one of those things was the Millennium Falcon from "Star Wars," and he was like, "I'm looking for that!" Our reference base was kind of the same.

MTV: When did you decide to start doing music together?

West: Well, I never actually wanted to do any music with him.

Mayer: Thanks! [Starts to walk away]

West: No, for real, like, whenever I like an artist, I just want to enjoy it, I just want to be a fan. Whenever I work on something, anytime a song comes on, I'm listening to it after it's out, like, "Man, I wish I turned that snare up higher or placed this chorus here."

"I think that was the question you were asking: 'Why do black people like John Mayer?' "
Mayer: I stopped by the studio just to say hello, and they said, "Kanye is in the studio," so I said, "Great, I'd love to finally meet him." He was with Common, playing some stuff. I remember I was sitting there and I raised my hand and said, "I can add to that!" I remember, I took your car and I raced back to my place, grabbed my amp and my guitar. When I hear something I can go on, and there's not a lot, as a guitar player, that's out right now that I can find a nice situation for. But I heard that and I was like, "I have got to put something on this." The next day, I came back and did some vocals.

West: We went to see "Ray." Me, Common and him.

Mayer: And that was a good thing to watch before we went in the studio and worked some more.

West: It was like, you know how basketball players watch game tapes and watch Michael Jordan or something? Actually, we went back to the studio and did "Bittersweet" and we also did Common's next single, "Go," which [John] is featured on.

MTV: [To Mayer] How does it feel to be accepted by the hip-hop community?

Mayer: It's great.

West: [In a funny voice] Why do black people like John Mayer?

Mayer: I think that was the question you were asking: "Why do black people like John Mayer?" I can give you number one ... which is, I don't think if I were a black person that I would want ... If I were Kanye, I wouldn't want someone like myself, whenever I'm around him, to all of a sudden kind of push my tongue out a little harder when I talk and just be like, "Yo, what's goin' on, what's killin', that's killin." I bring what I do into the studio or into hanging out and I stay myself. And all being in hip-hop is, is just being yourself, [amplified] however many hundreds of times you can make it amplified and send it out to people. And that's all I'm trying to do. It just happens to be a different kind of self.

West: Yeah, because my publicist talks pretty black around me, and I was trying to teach him, like, it was something he said where he was trying to leave the "S" off the end of a word so it would sound like slang. Aw, I wish I had the example because we were at the Super Bowl and I just had to correct him: "No, you use 'ain't' in that!"

Mayer: You talk like you talk, I talk like I talk, and we arrive at the same destination. We just take a different route to it.

MTV: [To Kanye] How do you feel about not being the underdog any more?

West: Naw, it's not the favorite, it's the "I can't wait for him to drop some weak sh-- so I can ..." That's what I am! I'm the dude that talked way too much sh--, and now I gotta back it up.

Mayer: Do you wish you hadn't?

West: No, not at all. I like it, it makes it funner.

Mayer: When I talk about Kanye, people go, "Well, let's talk about Kanye, because I did an interview with him a week ago, a month ago, a year ago, he was terrible, he was arrogant, he was stuck-up." And it's like, "You know what? The guy is smart enough to have a master plan, and part of his master plan is making you feel something about him." If Kanye is on the cover of a magazine, whether he's gonna make your blood boil or not, you're gonna wanna read it. There are too many boring-ass people in the world already.

MTV: I'm going to end by asking you two gentlemen when we're going to get your new albums.

West: It got pushed back, for one reason, because I was working on Common's album, so I had to push back my schedule. But the other reason is Common's album is so good that I feel like we have reached a new plateau in hip-hop: Common's album is as good, if not better, than The College Dropout — and the Game album, I really like that one, too. I got the last album to live up to, I got the Common album to live up to. I feel like I've got maybe 70 percent done, but one of the problems is that I'm just getting real nice on the raps, so I write something and it is real nice, so like a week later I just want to rewrite because I'm crazy nice.

MTV: John?

Mayer: I'm writing songs as they come and when I get them. I'm taking the year off to really supplement my head and heart with a whole bunch of ideas, musically and otherwise. My next record probably won't come out until about 2006. It is called Continuum.

West: The title is deep, son.

Mayer: You like that?

West: That title is mad deep, son.

Mayer: And the funny thing is that no one at [Mayer's label] Columbia has any idea. This will be the first time they will know the title of the record, when it is coming out and what I am doing, because, hey, if you are going to announce it to the world, do it on MTV.


NEXT: 'Right now, I'm sitting next to Puff on MTV. I'm gonna go home and call somebody!' ...
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Photo: MTV News

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