NEW YORK — Kanye West knows how strange and unpredictable life can be. Less than two years ago he nearly died in a car accident, but then he built the horrific experience into a breakthrough solo single, "Through the Wire."
And although lately West has been making hits with superstar acts, "Slow Jamz," a Twista track that has probably gained Kanye the most recognition, came with assistance from a man who's known more for making fun of musical performers than for making records: Jamie Foxx.
"That n---a was cool as hell," Kanye said Tuesday night at Sony Studios, explaining that he was convinced he needed Foxx on the record after seeing the comedian's "I Might Need Security" special in which Jamie shows off his crooning abilities. "He's a fool anyway. I'm probably gonna do 80 percent of Jamie's next album. We're just bringing the fun back to the music game.
"Can we just get a couple of years where people could just throw their hands up in the air and feel good?" he asked. "[Can we] have one-night stands and go to church the next morning?"
Kanye had been known as just an innovative new producer, but now he's graduated to A-list status thanks to blockbuster tracks for Ludacris ("Stand Up), Alicia Keys ("You Don't Know My Name") and Jay-Z (The Black Album's "Lucifer" and "Encore"). But forget about the producing — West is generating the biggest buzz for any debuting MC since 50 Cent.
Like his muscle-bound peers, Kanye is reaching a broad fanbase from kids to thugs to the grown and sexy crowd to straight-up older folks. Not only is he touching hearts with soulful soundscapes, but he's also been able to surprise people by being humorous and thought-provoking in his words — something lacking from many rappers today.
"Now he's rapping," Jay-Z said recently. "I didn't know he was that good. I knew he was solid, but I didn't know he was good. He's really good."
"It feels overwhelming," Kanye said of his success. "When I almost died in an accident, the fact that my life was spared, I know that God has a plan for me. I don't even know if the plan is to ultimately sell records or use that as a plateau to do something else to do something better for the community or the world. I'm just living every day step by step and just trying my best. It feels really good that people are accepting this new form of music and so many people get to hear it."
On Tuesday a gaggle of industry tastemakers, including Roc-A-Fella CEOs Dame Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke as well as artists John Mayer and Common came to Sony Studios to listen to Kanye play his February 10 debut, College Dropout. However, the session turned into more of a concert when West lip-synced and performed most of the album and even gave a speech to his spectators.
One of the evening's highlights found Kanye and Common going back and forth on a performance of "Get Em High," which also features Talib Kweli, who was absent.
"She said her favorite rapper was the late, great Francis/ W.H.I.T.E./ It's getting late, mami/ ... And bring a friend for my friend, his name Kweli," West rapped to the smiling crowd.
Later Common upped the ante by jumping on a desktop during his verse. "They got you supped up, video hard to watch like Medusa," he said before ascending above the crowd. "Even your crime record getting boosted up/ ... I ain't the mad rapper, just a rapper with a temper.
"Get 'em high" Kanye and Common urged in unison.
Other gems unleashed on the audience included "Spaceship," in which Kanye talks about stereotypes and hypocrisy, and new version of "All Falls Down." West said Lauryn Hill didn't clear the sample of her vocals that were included in the original version, but Syleena Johnson has re-recorded the chorus. The reworking is so much to Kanye's liking that he's selected the track to be the next cut off his album after the next single, "Two Words," which features Mos Def and Freeway (see "Producer Kanye West's Debut LP Features Jay-Z, ODB, Mos Def").
On Saturday West finished shooting the video, which he co-directed with Hustle Films. In it we'll see West and Mos Def perform; stock footage from New York, Chi-town and Philly; and an impromptu jam session at a museum.
"Everything goes in cycles," Kanye determined. "This is the resurgence of Melle Mel or [Public Enemy] or A Tribe Called Quest. At the time when all those rappers came out, it was an era of nothing but a certain type of rap and it was refreshing [to see them emerge]. I'm the refreshment for the new millennium."