To be considered one of the Hottest MCs in the Game, a rapper has to build a solid case with lyrics and album sales, but buzz is just as important, and few artists can stir up a frenzy quite like Kanye West, who happens to have the verses and plaques to back it up. But that’s just touching the surface when it comes to why the Hip-Hop Brain Trust gave ’Ye the #3 spot on our Hottest MCs in the Game VII list.
The Chicago native set tongues wagging back on New Year’s Eve 2010, when he announced at a party in Las Vegas that his joint album with Jay-Z would arrive at the top of ’11. Although Watch the Throne didn’t actually drop until August 8, 2011, anticipation in the months leading up to its release was palpable.
“Kanye came off of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in 2010, and just the hype from that album rolled over into 2011, as he started prepping us for WTT,” said Nadeska Alexis, MTV News’ RapFix blog editor. “Kanye was the only thing people could talk about for the first few months of the year.”
West and Jay teased fans with the single “H.A.M.” — later relegated to a bonus track — all while Kanye continued to push songs from his Grammy-winning solo LP. A flashy video for “All of the Lights” featured an appearance from Rihanna and generated plenty of chatter, and that folded right into the Watch the Throne hype.
In the weeks before the album debuted, Throne fans were treated to more tidbits from the project, much of which had the indelible Kanye West stamp. Animal-inspired cover art designed by Givenchy creative director Riccardo Tisci? The brainchild of Kanye West, certainly.
“Jay-Z has really stood alone over the course of his career and he never really let somebody else get in the front,” said Rahman Dukes, MTV News’ director of hip-hop news, about the collaboration. “This is the one time [he let someone take control] and that’s a huge nod to Kanye’s genius.”
One of the key elements in building anticipation for the album was that the Throne successfully avoided a leak. The duo even threw a grand listening session at the Museum of Natural History in New York City — select music journalists and A-list insiders from Beyoncé to Lyor Cohen attended — that helped make the project an unbelievable spectacle right up until its drop date.
Post-release, the two rap titans began prepping for their monumental Watch the Throne Tour, a jaunt that ultimately grossed more than $48 million. Somehow, in the midst of all this, Kanye found time to debut his fashion line, DW by Kanye West, at Paris Fashion Week.
“Kanye is interesting even when it’s a side project,” noted Rebecca Thomas, editor/writer at MTV News. “He debuted a fashion line in Paris and people cared — people who arguably wouldn’t even care about that stuff.” “He did the fashion show the same weekend as the BET Hip-Hop Awards and people were giving them an equal amount of attention,” Dukes added.
The tour finally ended and Kanye jetted off to London to work on the second incarnation of his fashion line and the upcoming G.O.O.D. Music album, but the world continued to pay close attention. All it took was one night and one legendary Twitter rant for ’Ye to capture the headlines on seemingly every blog and magazine.
“He just had such a big presence this year, even on Twitter,” Alexis said. “Kanye gets on Twitter and ’DONDA’ is trending for hours and every magazine is writing about him.”
Kanye’s buzz was undeniable in 2011. Couple that with sales of Watch the Throne and its spectacular tour, and he was just unstoppable, winning a majority vote to land at #3 on the list.
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