The majority of the hip-hop community hardly batted an eye when Everlast did it as Whitey Ford, and they cheered Lauryn Hill when she did it. And Andre 3000? He did it so big and brilliantly that no one could be mad at him. So, now that Kanye West is doing it, why is everyone up in arms?
Maybe because 'Ye literally was the hottest MC in the world when he said that he would be singing for the majority of his latest album 808s & Heartbreak. The Grammy-winner was coming off planetary dominance with a classic, multi-platinum rap album (2007's Graduation), an unforgettable tour of Earth (the Glow in the Dark Tour) and a string of hard-hitting guest appearances on such hits as T.I.'s"Swagger Like Us" and Estelle's"American Boy." Then, at the VMAs in September, we heard him debut "Love Lockdown" — and the banter began between his fans and his peers.
"I don't think the fans will forgive him for this," 50 Cent, one of 'Ye's most vocal detractors, told MTV News. "I don't think it's cool," 50 added, unabashed as ever. "I like Kanye as an artist. I don't like the record, to be honest — the entire record, I heard seven of them [songs] already. But I love him as an artist and I'd like to work with him in the future. It's a tough time for him. He's realizing the pressure of being in competition with the best artist he can be in competition with — that's Kanye West. When [the fans] put you up against your best material, you really realize what it's like."
For his part, Kanye is probably coming from his most honest point with 808s. The music was conceptualized from the pain of losing his mother and the breakup of his engagement, all while having to deal with his fame growing to out-of-control proportions. Singing, he says, wasn't a move to try and get more fans — call it divine intervention.
"It was just what was in my heart," West told MTV Europe two weeks ago. "The type of ideas that it was coming up with, the melodies that were in me — what was in me I couldn't stop. I think it's a path; it's a road that's been paved and given by God. There's so many signs, and I just have to follow the signs and the arrows of where he wants me to go and just be fearless about it. It's so crazy — hip-hop used to be about being fearless, and now it's, like, all about being afraid. It used to be about standing out, now it's all about fitting in. Like, you know, I wear my tight jeans and stuff, and stand out, and people want to talk about me. ... Because when I had my baggy clothes and I was hip-hop, people talked about me too. Now hip-hop is like a big high school or something. So that's why I respect people who just do whatever they want to do."
Disses or applause aside, everyone has been interested in what the entire 808s album is going to sound like. 'Ye's first-week album sales are projected to be high — #1-album-in-the-country high. Another question is, will his new artistic turn hurt his credibility as an MC? You're talking about a guy who was able to break just about every barrier he faced as a rapper — 'hood or hipster, they loved Kanye's raps. And they'll still love them, if you ask some of his other peers — the Louis Vuitton Don has been keeping his weight up as a rapper through more guest spots. He has a video out for DJ Khaled's "Go Hard," appears on "Therapy" off of T-Pain's Thr33 Ringz LP and will appear with two of the game's best rhyme-snipers, the Clipse, on their 2009 LP Till the Casket Drops.
"I think he's a great MC," the youngest Clip, Pusha T, says. "When people tried to deny him in the past, he came with back-to-back-to-back great albums and songs to make you say, 'Damn, he's nice.' All the features and all of that, it just solidifies him. For him to come with 808s & Heartbreak, I feel he's so proven in one lane. ... He's a creative guy. He does what he wants. He's proven himself to me — not that he has to prove himself to me, but he does what he wants to. This 808s album is hot. 'Heartless' is my sh--."
"Do I love the music that's out right now? I love it with a passion. I can sing your single word for word with you," Lil Wayne recently explained to Mixtape Monday. "Am I excited by it?" Does it motivate me? Not one bit. That's because 808s & Heartbreak hasn't come out."
Weezy appears on the 808s track "See You in My Nightmares," and "innovator" is one of the first words that comes out of his mouth when asked to describe his friend. The New Orleans Fireman has hinted that he, too, will be singing heavily on Tha Carter IV, which he has confirmed will have a rock edge. Wayne's had success with his singing over the past few years, smashing the game with choruses on records such as "Duffle Bag Boyz" and "Can't Believe It." His most successful turn at singing was the #1 single "Lollipop."
However, before "Lollipop" and before T.I. had a singing hit with "Whatever You Like," Diddy surprised everyone in 2006 with his singing on the sleeper blockbuster "Last Night." Chairman Combs recently revealed to MTV News that his next record will be singing-heavy.
"To be honest, even when 50 [sings on his songs], we have vulnerability," Diddy offered. "We are cats that always looked up to Mary J. Blige, or always looked up to Sam Cooke or R. Kelly. We always wanted to sing, like singers wanted to rap. When we sing, we singing from the heart. It ain't about the key — you're getting exactly the rawness of how it feels. That's why people are digging it. Thank God for Auto-Tune and thank God for T-Pain."
Pain, who is the new Auto-Tune king, has not only given his blessing to Wayne, Kanye and Diddy, he's been working with all three. Diddy even paid Pain some extra points for teaching him how to use the voice-enhancement device. The CEO of Bad Boy surmised that regardless of how you deliver your music — singing or spitting — if it's hot, it's hot.
"At the end of the day, it's about hit records," Diddy said. "Whether he's singing on it, he's going to the left, he's going to the right, his base is energized. He's gotta energize his base on the hit records they already bought from him. You gotta hit them with hit records. A hit is a hit. If Kanye's 'Heartless' breaks through, it ain't because he's singing, not singing, it's a controversy with the Auto-Tune — it's because it was a hit record."