Kanye West was so confident in his and his crew's chances of continually winning those coveted golden gramophones every February, he made an anthem about it a couple of years ago called "Grammy Family."
"It's something we can stunt with," G.O.O.D. Music artist and "Grammy Family" co-star Consequence laughed Friday. "Having those kinds of projects that get the critical acclaim and rewards from [the Recording Academy] is dope."
"Hi, haters, I'm back off hiatus," Kanye rapped in his verse. "I feel just like you, I mean even I hate us/ Turn the radio down, I mean every song?/ Yeezy got a vision that's clearer than Evian."
Of course, things have changed enormously for Kanye since his mother's death in November. The MC hasn't spoken to the press since then, although he recently completed a European tour and just announced its North American leg, and was recently seen on his blog playing Connect Four with Beyoncé and others. But the question on everyone's mind is: Will this year's Grammys be a bright light after his tumultuous recent months? Back in July, he spoke confidently to MTV News about his prospects.
"This album, Graduation, I been listening to it," he told MTV News in July, almost two months prior to the LP's much-hyped September 11 release-date showdown with 50 Cent's Curtis. "I like it a lot. I really believe I can take home that Album of the Year award at the Grammys. I've won my awards, but they've always been a category: 'hip-hop,' 'rap.' I wanna win Song of the Year, Album of the Year. I wanna deliver this album."
Kanye leads the 2008 Grammy nominations with eight, including Album of the Year and Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, a category he's nominated in twice.
"I'm ready to take over the world once again," he told us in May. "I have a lot to say. I got a lot more music to make. I'm still going through stuff. People are still going through stuff. I make music people can relate to every day. My music just isn't about my story. ... There's not one artist in the world that has as much responsibility as me. When I deliver a piece of music, it has to connect with the most genres of music. I don't care who you name. If you name rap artists, their only responsibility is to rap crowds. If you name a pop artist, their only responsibility is to a pop crowd. If you name some French dance music, their responsibility is to the cool crowd. But I have to deliver songs. All these people are looking at me, from super-middle America to the hipsters, like, 'What's he gonna do next?' "
"I f--- with Kanye tough," said DJ Green Lantern, who has also produced singles for Ludacris and Busta Rhymes. " ... I just literally caught the end of the verse for 'Flashing Lights,' where he says, 'Hey, Mona Lisa, you know you can't Rome without Caesar.' That's a rapper's rapper line. Kanye is nice. The dopest sh-- he does is be super-simple and nice! Be simple, but still be nice. You can be super-wordy all day long and say nothing. But he's talking slick. Even the concept when he did [a remix of Rich Boy's] 'Throw Some D's On It.' Everybody had their various freestyles over the song, Kanye came and talked about some fake t---ies. He's himself and doesn't care what nobody says."
That's exactly where Graduation's appeal lies: in its diversity and unpredictability. There are songs on the album that DJs put on reserve for height-of-the-night spinning, boasting samples from Jay-Z, Michael Jackson, Steely Dan and Daft Punk, and tempos tailor-made for slow-flow lyrical assassinations, dance-floor hysteria and tear-jerking stories.
"I thought he had really become himself," Jermaine Dupri said of Kanye's evolution. "To see him go from one spot to the next to the next — you could see the depth of the artist. It's always great for me to see an artist who learns who they are. That's what Kanye did on this album. ... When I heard 'Can't Tell Me Nothing,' I knew, 'Oh this n---a found himself.' His swagger is right."
"I like the fact he used outside producers — that DJ Toomp factor," added Green Lantern.
"It was inspiring seeing Kanye take his craft super-serious and say, 'I'mma let a producer produce me,' " Dupri continued, referring to West sharing some of the duties behind the board on the album. "It's hard, because producers are selfish and want the credit. Kanye said, 'Let me collaborate with DJ Toomp, collaborate with this person, and let them really produce me, because I want to be an artist.' That was brilliant too. I think he likes being an artist more than being a producer. If you like [a producer], don't be a selfish fool and stunt your growth. Understand what you need to do and make yourself bigger. He knew what he had to do to be a bigger star. That shows his creativity as a person."
Graduation sold almost a million copies in its debut week. "Can't Tell Me Nothing" struck a chord in the 'hood as Kanye had never done before, giving him his biggest street anthem. "Stronger" topped charts all over the world, and "Good Life" is still getting radio love months after its release. He hasn't even officially put out "Flashing Lights" yet, and it's already a club staple.
For almost two months after Graduation's release, Kanye's universe was seemingly perfect: He was getting universal acclaim and selling records during a music-industry recession. But in November, his best friend passed away in a tragedy that came out of nowhere. Donda West — Kanye's mom — died of a heart attack due to complications from plastic surgery.
Obviously devastated, Kanye took some time off to face his worst adversity ever. While no one could have faulted him if he took a year off to gather his emotions and sanity, Kanye was amazingly back a few weeks later, rocking stadiums. 'Ye returned with an international run of his Glow in the Dark Tour. Although we've seen him show his despair over his mom's death in online video from those concerts, Kanye seemed to be drawing strength from the fans' love as well of his love of music. The roles were reversing somewhat between him and his fans.
"I know the power of my words, so when I rap, I know it's gonna impact the world," he told us in mid-2007. "I'm making music for somebody sitting in a car on their way to work trying to get through traffic and my music is helping them zone out, to a 60,000-seater where I'm opening up for the Rolling Stones or U2."
Now, with the Grammy Awards less than a week away, chances are we'll see him hit the stage to accept an award for at least one of his nominations. It won't just be a moment of artistic prominence, but of inspiring perseverance.
"It feels perfect, it feels like he hit his mark," JD said. "A lot of times when we see people who we feel should get a Grammy, they don't hit their mark. You gotta understand the Grammy board and what it is. It's a much wider array of people than just the 'hood. The thing to do in the music industry is make everybody look at you. That's what [Kanye] does. People looked at him from day one — even when he lost [awards]. He put people on notice: 'You should watch this kid. Every year, watch out for me.' "
"All the nominations are definitely a good look for the whole crew, the Grammy Family," Consequence noted. "John Legend is putting his album out this year. My album is coming. Common is getting his due when it comes to Grammy Awards — it's dope. And 'Ye put out an incredible project.
"Hopefully, we don't have to get a temper tantrum," he added with a big laugh.
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