Sway: Adam Levine from Maroon 5 is on your track "Heard 'Em Say." How did you get him on a record?
West: Rick Rubin gave me his number. We were on a plane to Rome, to some awards show where I didn't win. I got robbed again. Um ...
Sway: Did you throw a temper tantrum?
West: I was really more upset that you couldn't actually see my outfit on the show. I had this dope-ass, pink-and-brown outfit. But I just always like to play people new music, and "Heard 'Em Say" was the first song I had recorded for the new album. So I had it in my iPod, and on the plane over we were sittin' up in first class, where artists sit. And I played it for him and he said, "Yo, this reminds me of a song that I wrote but I don't know if my band will want to do it. It sounds kind of R&B. But I want to do the song." I said, "Yo, we should work together." And that's all it was.
He came to the studio right after the Grammys and he sang the song and the melody fit perfect with it. He added something to it, it was just like the magic, the frosting on top. And that's one of those times that God is working in the studio with you. Those are those days that he's really on his job.
One of the reasons I defended the first album so much was I was scared that I couldn't make an album comparable to the first one. Again, 'cause I know I didn't make it by myself — I know that God had heavy involvement in it. And I didn't know if he might have been tryin' to focus on someone else's career, to get 'em to the point where I'm at. Not that he can't do two things at once. But there's times with "Jesus Walks," with the blood diamonds, with "Crack Music," where I know that God is speaking through me. I know that's something he wants me to say. I know he's connecting people. He put me on that plane with Adam to bring out that song.
Sway: Tell me about "Diamonds (From Sierra Leone)."
West: Mark Romanek, the director that did Jay's "99 Problems," and Q-Tip both brought up blood diamonds. They said, "That's what I think about when I hear diamonds. I think about kids getting killed, getting amputated in West Africa." And Q-Tip's like, "Sierra Leone," and I'm like, "Where?" And I remember him spelling it out for me and me looking on the Internet and finding out more. I think that was just one of those situations where I just set out to entertain, but every now and then God taps me on the shoulder and says, "Yo, I want you to do this right here," so he'll place angels in my path and one angel will lead to another angel and it's like a treasure hunt or something. And I finally found the gold mine, which was the video "Diamonds (From Sierra Leone)."
With the remix verse, the diamond industry's thinking I'm doing something to try to hurt them. But how is it hurting y'all for me to just tell people that there was a 10-year war in Sierra Leone where black people were killing each other over diamonds and that it was a monopoly and that there are still situations that are next to slave labor, with people working for two cups of rice a day?
Sway: So you come into that knowledge and put that in the remix, but you still wear a lot of diamonds yourself. What's the logic behind that?
West: How are you a human being, would be more of the question, like, "How are you still human when you know what's going on? How do you still wear what it took your whole life to get?"
Sway: Someone from the outside might say, "There he goes again," and say that that's borderline hypocritical.
West: Yeah, a whole part about being a human is to be a hypocrite. They say that if you're an artist you have to stand for this, and they try to discredit you. Like they'll try to discredit Dr. King or Bill Cosby or Jesse Jackson 'cause they say that they saw them with a woman or something. So what does that have to do with what Cosby's TV show meant for us, what it meant for the black image and meant for our esteem, like "Damn, we could do that, we don't have to be like 'Good Times' all in the projects"? What does that take away from Martin Luther King, from what he did?
Sway: Do you admit to being self-conscious?
West: How could you be in this situation with this amount of pressure and this many people looking at you, waiting for you to show them a magic Houdini trick or a David Blaine, waiting for you to not make it out of your chains when the casket goes into the water, and not be self-conscious? How could you not be scared when you step out on that stage? How can I not be scared on the second album? How could I not be scared when I dropped "Diamonds" and there's people who say, "I don't like 'Diamonds' "?
Sway: With this Late Registration album, when you wanted to get it complete, you went to another producer, Jon Brion, who is known for a lot of records, but it's what he's done for Fiona Apple that attracted you. What made you want to work with him?
West: I always loved that album [Fiona Apple's When the Pawn Hits ...] so much. It hit me in a way and I wanted to know, who got the drum sounding like that? Who went into these dark chords, these string arrangements? Who brought Fiona's pain to life? I needed someone that could bring my plight to life.
And the Fiona Apple album kind of sounded similar to Portishead, too. I just felt no one was doing that in hip-hop, no rapper has ever captured that sound and rapped on it. It's like, how many more sped-up soul samples do you want? We gotta push the envelope a little bit. And I always wanted to feel like I was rapping at the top of a mountain or something. On "Diamonds," when the harpsichord and the music crescendos with the horns in the back and the drum rolls and everything, and I'm like, "Right then, my body got still like a paraplegic .../ Yeah, the beat cold but the flow is anemic ..." That moment in that song right there is what hip-hop is about.