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It's not as simple as just not wanting to be wack ...



Page 2


Rehearsal is not going to be pretty ...



Page 3


"The man has a lot of courage and speaks for millions of us" ...





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— by Shaheem Reid

Oh, we major? Nope! Not even close. Right now in rehearsal, Kanye West's set is so far from "major" he's about to whip himself into an aneurysm-inducing frenzy.

"Our sh-- sucks! It's everything I've seen before!" he yells into a phone. He's talking to his set designer, who's about to get the ax.

"I want people [seeing the Touch the Sky show] to feel inspired."

"It doesn't match up to the music," West continues ranting. "The visual ... I'm not excited about going on tour. All y'all have is moving lights!"

It's two weeks before d-day — the launch of Kanye's first headlining tour — and he's so unmoved by his current stage centerpiece that he's scrapping the whole thing and starting from scratch. West is in full red-alert mode.

Luckily Kanye's tirade was within earshot of his friend and business associate Richard Brown. "He said, 'I didn't mean to eavesdrop on your conversation, but you were screaming directly in front of me. I have a lady that might be good for that,' " Kanye, now sitting backstage at the University of Miami Convocation Center, says with a smile a few hours before the opening of his Touch the Sky Tour.

Brown suggested award-winning European set designer Es Devlin, who's gained accolades for her work with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre in London. West immediately placed a call to England and got Devlin to agree to hop a plane to New York the next day.

Kanye and set designer Es Devlin

"I want people [seeing the Touch the Sky show] to feel inspired," Kanye says. "I want them to go to work the next day and feel like they can take whatever they're doing to another level. It's not just about sitting there being in awe. Making the world better — that's one of our missions with music and with visuals. So my pain is everybody else's pleasure — how I stress, how I was up all last night, how I'm about to kill myself because it's not perfect. Well, maybe people can feel that when they're in the audience, like, 'Yoooooo! This really took a lot of time. He really put a lot of work in this.' Anyone that's ever been backstage or seen a lot of shows is gonna give this show credit for being so different."

Kanye's known that he's had to be different onstage almost as long as he's known he wanted to be a performer. While other artists have stories of going to shows as kids and being motivated by some of the concerts, Kanye wasn't moved at all.

Kanye tour photos

"As far as stage shows, I always heard the old-school shows are real dope, like Cameo and the Isley Brothers," he thinks back while taking peanuts from a bag and munching on them. "But I never saw that as a shorty. I would only go see people who appealed to my age. And just like today, it wasn't really that special. Visually, there was nothing that captured me. I have a really high bar and low tolerance. How small my gauge is for what's good is what makes me the artist I am today. Basically, I think 99 percent of the sh-- is wack. I don't want to be in that 99 percent."

It's not as simple as just not wanting to be wack. He can't be wack — his ego forbids it.

Admittedly, it's taken a lot of work and study time, but Ye has evolved into one of the best showmen, not just in hip-hop, but in all of music. He stole the show earlier this year at the Grammy Awards, he did the same with Jamie Foxx at August's MTV Video Music Awards, and you'll probably see him and George W. Bush sipping cherry Cokes on the south side of Chicago together before he allows himself to dip below the bar he set for himself.

"Sonically I learned a lot from Common, from Talib Kweli," he says. "Kweli was like, 'You can't rhyme over your vocals. That's why today I don't rap over my vocals or have a hypeman. I learned that from him. The impact of having a hit record and being able to play to that ... having that persona and standing onstage — Jay-Z would teach me about just standing there for a second, soaking in that energy before you even give them something. And giving them the songs they wanna feel at that time."


NEXT: An ugly rehearsal ...
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Photo: WireImage/mtv.com

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