Kanye West has never been at a loss for words. On his second album, Late Registration, he continues to stay out of the hip-hop box with his lyrics, rhyming about such topics as his grandmother's near-death, AIDS and conflict diamonds.
Out of the studio, of course, Kanye tends to be even more outspoken. And in his exclusive interview with MTV News' Sway Calloway, Ye opens up like he never has before. The Louis Vuitton don reveals for the first time his problems with the widespread homophobia in hip-hop, his battle with Beyoncé's boyfriend and why he was disloyal to the man who first championed him. He also admits to being a bit of a hypocrite. And that's only the beginning ...
Sway: Here we are, "All Eyes on Kanye West." It's been a few years since you first ran up to MTV and said, "I want my own 'All Eyes On.' " Remember that?
Kanye West: Yeah. I'm trying to hide the smile, though. I don't wanna break my cool.
Sway: No, keep your cool for a second. You've come a long way, you're a true rags-to-riches story. When you first came to New York you really didn't have much in your pocket. You were a new artist, so people gave you their honest opinion, and you fought them all the way. You had the same thing with your own record label, and even with Jay-Z. What happened in that situation?
West: First of all, it was just my whole look — my whole aesthetic was very un-Roc-A-Fella. I had Italian shoes, my size medium T-shirts. I dress kind of like a producer, like all producers dress like this. Picture how it looks with me busting a hard rap with a tight T-shirt on. And I'm rapping to Jay-Z, I'm rapping to the greatest and one of the more gangster rappers out there. I was like, "Yeah, Jay," and I've got the suction-cup T-shirt on. He's looking like, "Yo, I don't think this is gonna work right here."
Sway: Jay actually said that to you?
West: No, but he had that look in his eyes.
They were expecting [my rapping] to be outright terrible. So that was just such a shocker to them that I was actually not wack. And Dame Dash figured out a way that he thought it could work. He said I would be like the hip-hop Babyface, we could do an album and it could be like The Chronic, and we can put Cam'ron on it, Jay on it. You know, he's just a mastermind.
Sway: So Dame Dash pretty much put his stamp on you and validated you, in a sense. When the Roc-A-Fella team broke up recently, you chose to stick with Jay-Z. Why did you choose to stick with him when it seems that Dame was the one who supported you in the beginning? Do you think that's disloyal?
West: [He pauses.] Um, yeah.
Sway: You do think it's disloyal?
West: Yup. But you gotta make that decision. I felt like with the relationship that me and Jay built after I was on Roc-A-Fella, we had built a different type of relationship, it was a working musical relationship because of the production, and I built more like a business relationship with Dame because of all the ventures he wanted to involve me with. And not to be cliché, but it's like I was between a rock and a hard place. And it was just like if your parents were to divorce.
Sway: Let's talk about your relationship with Jay-Z.
West: Me and Jay are really close. You know, Jay is one of those people where ... you can't never [truly stop being starstruck around] Jay-Z. I idolize him for certain aspects and he would be my greatest competition, so if I'm writing a rap, I'm writing a rap to beat Jay.
Sway: You think you'll ever beat him?
West: Yeah, I think my verse is better on "Never Let Me Down." I cheated, though, 'cause I had the verse, it was a song that he did and he didn't use it on Blueprint and I went back and spent mad time writing line-for-line trying to beat him out. But I ain't gonna say no politically correct stuff — I think I got him on that.
Sway: You have Nas on the song "We Major" on your album. Nas is Jay-Z's nemesis, and you obviously put Nas on this track without Jay knowing, right?
Sway: What made you decide to do that?
West: Because Nas is one of my idols.
Sway: Can you see from an outside perspective how somebody might question your loyalty again, like, "How can Kanye do a record with Nas?" You don't see how that might look?
West: I think that God spared my life to make music and to help people, to always put out positive energy. One of the reasons why I don't have beef with any rapper or with anybody is because of the positive energy I put out. So even if I hold myself up, I'm not putting anybody else down. Let me tell you this, we made this like Jay's favorite song on the album. So the thing is, when something is so good, you can't deny it. When you hear the horns on "We Major" and you hear the chorus come in and you hear Nas, that could like warm somebody's heart. Good music can break through anything and maybe start to break down the wall between two of the greatest MCs that we have.