NEW YORK — Kanye West doesn't do anything by half. At the Tribeca Cinemas Monday night, not only did he screen three different videos for the same song, "Jesus Walks," he let everyone know that money was a small price to pay to get his vision out there.
"This is a song that is very important to me," West told the crowd before admitting he'd actually wanted to do five videos for the song.
West had wanted Hype Williams to direct "Jesus Walks" but decided not to use the director because he'd heard that Jay-Z was thinking about using Hype for "99 Problems" (ultimately, that video was directed by Mark Romanek). Admitting to a bit of "big brother/little brother" competition with Hov, Kanye went with Michael Haussman for the first version of "Jesus Walks," budgeted at $600,000.
In that version, West preaches to a congregation from an altar while angels guide three people, who are embroiled in life's strife, to church. Kanye wasn't satisfied with that clip and convinced label head Dame Dash to shoot another, this one for $500,000. (West paid some of the costs for the second and third videos himself.)
The Chris Milk-helmed second version — probably the most visually riveting and undoubtedly the most controversial of the three — includes footage of drug dealers being pursued through the desert by cops, inmates on a chain gang tangling with guards, and a Ku Klux Klansman setting himself on fire while carrying a burning cross.
The much less expensive final clip, the most comical of the three, was shot in one day, guerrilla-style, in Chicago and depicts Jesus following Kanye from his house through the 'hood and to church. It was co-directed by West with Coodie and Chike of Channel Zero; the video premiers on MTV.com Wednesday (June 23 — click here to see it).
"All of them are groundbreaking," West said about the clips. "That song evokes so much emotion, and four minutes of imagery limits the ideas that you're supposed to give for the songs, so I had to do three. We're probably gonna put together a DVD [with all of them]."
Even though the song and its videos will probably push West's debut, The College Dropout, past the 2 million sales mark, he'll be the first to tell you that he had to work to score the opening slot on this summer's Usher tour (see "On Kanye West's Plate: Usher Tour, Clothing Line And ... Black Jesus?").
"You know I be coming up on TV and be saying a bunch of arrogant sh-- or whatever," he said. "But I'll tell you right now, I had my manager call his mama, I had my mama call his mama — I called and begged to get on this tour, 'cause I needed to be on that. When I tell people that [I'm going to be on the tour], they be like 'Damn! That's gonna be the tour of the summer.' "
The Chi-Town native's reaction was even less inhibited. "I was dancing around the house like in 'The Five Heartbeats,' when they first heard their song on the radio," he said.
Fans can look forward to hearing a Kanye and Usher collaboration any day now: There's a remix of "Confessions, Pt. 2" on the radio and mixtapes that features Kanye, Twista and the incarcerated Shyne.
Kanye teased a little bit of his verse. "Damn, how did you bring it up/ How did it you break it down/ Man, you at the clinic?" He paused for a moment — "Ah, I ain't gonna give you all that, man" — before continuing. "I remember old girl, mm-hmmm, we met her on tour/ I see your baby dance good as hell. It's yours!"
The rapping producer has more than enough to keep his schedule filled through the end of the year. He wants to start on his next album, Late Registration, right after the Usher tour, and his clothing line, Mascott, may be hitting by the fall.
"I don't want to give too much away, but all I'm gonna say is I am real serious," he said about the line. "I go in with the designers and sit with the cat and do the colors. It's not something I am just signing off [on]. I went to art school and I've got a love for clothes. I'm not just trying to make clothes as something to make money. I go to the Polo store or Tommy Hilfiger and I [feel there's] something I want that they don't have; that's what I try to design."
Kanye also talked about his jewelry line, made in association with Jacob the Jeweler.
"People got confused that it's a religious line," he clarified. "I'm coming up with all different types of jewelry pieces. I came into the store and I was tired of everything I saw. The last good Jesus piece that was made was the one Biggie bought out. It was time to innovate."