No one needs to let Kanye West know how good he is. The college dropout is more than happy to tell you himself. Ever since he was a beat hustler for Jay-Z, he's been talking up his chances. The thing is, unlike many wannabes with a big mouth, the Chicago rapper/producer actually backed up his brags. West's College Dropout debut dazzled with its quirky grooves and clever jokes, and the follow-up Late Registration goes it one better. Collaborating with top-notch rappers and dragging in unexpected cohorts like Jon Brion, the 28-year-old auteur has fashioned a provocative disc that's one of the sharpest records of the year. VH1 touched the hem of his garment.
VH1: After all the attention received from The College Dropout, how much pressure did you feel making the new disc?
Kanye West: People tried to put pressure on me, but I wouldn't accept it. They try to overwhelm me with the comments, like "sophomore slump" and all that, but all I did was work through it. It's like after [Chicago] won the championship, Jordan still had to go back and practice and then this year we came out and got the record. Like when the Bulls got the most wins of all time, that's kind of like what this album is to the game. It'd probably be like the most wins of all time for one album. You know, it's just my observation.
VH1: Very modest expectations...
KW: I never have modest expectations. I shoot for the stars, so if I fall I land on a cloud.
VH1: How much farther can you take this educational theme in the album titles? What's next?
KW: Graduation, and then what you're supposed to get after you graduate: a good ass job -- that's something everybody wanted to have when they was growing up. A good ass job could be at the post office, something where you got benefits, health care.
VH1: Jay-Z, Common, the Game all show up here - how do you pick your collaborators?
KW: I didn't pick [the people I picked] because of their name or whether they're marketable; it was because their voices meant something to me. It did something to my soul when I heard them. I remember [Maroon 5's] Adam Levine voice, I remember being at the Grammys and right when the band opened up and they started singing, his voice sounded like a bird flying through the room. So, if anything, I would be anti-doing it -- I'm popular, he's popular, it only seems like something the label would put together. Brandy doesn't have an album out right now. It's not about "Ok, let me get the hottest person out," but her voice is classic, and when you hear it you know who it is. What she's singing was just so appropriate. Paul Wall, he hadn't even put an album out yet, but he's just a lyricist. Anybody on this album that was spittin' rhymes is a super lyricist, anybody that was singing was singing.
VH1: How does it feel to know you have the power to bring Jay-Z out of retirement?
KW: The question kind of answers itself. I remember being in the club and approaching Jay-Z, like "Yo, I'm a new producer and one day hopefully I can just work with you." And then me trying to pull my five seconds in the club into ten seconds, and him telling me, "Dog okay, that's good, now let me just go." Now I can actually call him, like "Hey boss, can you like rap on this joint right quick?" It just shows you how far you can take it when you dream and you talk it into fruition, and you don't let people kill your dreams, and you don't let people tell you, "Why would you think that big?" What's wrong with aspiring for greatness? I want this to be five stars. I want it to be perfect. I want to take over the world. And then people say, "It's kind of cocky to think that." How's that? It seems like everybody has that mentality, where if the teacher asks the class, "How much money do you want?" And, some people write down $2000. I'm gonna put down that I want 100 million, billion dollars. And that's the thing -- throughout all my interviews they're asking me, "Well, Kanye what do you want, what do you plan to do?" I want 100 million billion dollars. That's an analogy to what I did to the music game. I guess that's what Late Registration is -- it's the 100 million billion dollars of albums.
VH1: How sensitive are you about what people say?
KW: I just had to realize that, "Yo, I'm famous so people are just gonna talk sh*t as much as they want to. That's why I'd rather just approach whatever you want to say. If I approach it first, you can't take anything away from me. And I had to realize that people are just gonna make up stuff. Mike Tyson could be in a party where there's a fight and then they'll say that Mike Tyson is in a fight. The one thing I'm doing to cut that down is [asking for approval of a piece]. People say, "Only Prince gets approval, and you're no Prince." But I'm on the cover of Time, so obviously I'm something.
VH1: Why are people receptive to you being on the cover of Time?
KW: I am conscious of everything that is going on in my surroundings. Say I'm talking to a group [of people] of all different races and genders; I'm not going to speak in a way that only the people I hang out with will understand. A lot of times in rap, that's the way it is. [People are always asking], "Well what does that mean?" When I came out the gate I planned to have raps that were just as ill as Jadakiss and just as understandable as Will Smith. So that's the reason why I can have the most album sales but still be the most respected. Those two things usually never go together.
VH1: Tell me how Late Registration might change people's lives?
KW: They are songs like "Roses," where I'm talking about my grandmother being at the hospital, and people who have experienced something like that -- the album has only been out three days, and I have had at least at least 30 people come up to me tell me about how that song affected them. Or "Hey Mama," about how my mother supported me even though I was doing the opposite of what she wanted me to do. Or "Crack Music," where I talk about how crack was placed in the black community. Certain things just come out of me that I think I was put here to say. That's my job.
VH1: You were known as a producer. Why was it so important for you to rap?
KW: I think I had something to say -- when I figured out how to say it, and God placed different people in my life to show me how to get there. When I hooked up with Dead Prez, they showed me how to make positive stuff sound cool, how to make it still sound hard, because rap has to sound hard. If you go back to LL, Run-D.M.C., Public Enemy, that's one of the main purposes of rap -- to get you pumped up. I'm getting you pumped up but still saying things that get your spirit pumped up as well.
VH1: Some people would have been happy just being a producer.
KW: People always settle. When I was doing beats for Jay, they're like "What more could you want? You're doing beats for the greatest rapper alive." I want to be rapper, too? "Get the f*ck out of here, you could never be a rapper. How could you possibly compete with Jay-Z?" I was like "Yo, I could probably make more money being a rapper than a producer." Ah, no way. So I sat up there, I named ten rappers that I'm sure [made] way more money than I had at that time, and they were like, "Nah you'll never be on their level. You'll never be on that level." I used that as my fuel. I remember someone told me -- I'm not gonna say who told me this, but when I got ten Grammy nominations, they were like "Yo, you gotta make the most of this. This is a once in a lifetime thing." There's all type of stuff I could get nominated for: album packaging, mix down, how about producer of the year? How about we take out that stipulation in the Grammy's where if you sample you can't be nominated as producer of the year? That's some bullsh*t.
VH1: VH1 is doing a segment on producers, how does it feel to be considered a super producer?
KW: Wow -- I'm in their company? Actually I was a super producer way earlier in my career, now I'm just super.
VH1: Did you once say you were the best dressed man on the planet?
KW: It's arguable, it depends on what day you catch me. What I'll do today though, as a survey -- I'll walk around with this outfit, and then I'll see if there is anybody dressed better than me. I'll call you later and tell you.
VH1: Why do you think you deserve that title?
KW: Cause I spend a lot of time in Gucci. They have a blow up mattress for me in the back of YSL. When I'm shopping and I get tired, I take like a power nap and I go back out and I go "OK, let me see a size 40!"
VH1: You're kidding.
KW: Yeah, I am.
VH1: How much pressure is it?
KW: They try to put the pressure on me, but I love it. It's just like music, cause the thing is, I love the music, I love clothes, I love the visual arts. So, if it's bringing a groundbreaking video, or maybe dressing a way that will set the trend for the next two years, hey, that's what I do. There are people here to do certain things, and I'm here to make classic albums that change people's lives and show people how to dress -- so, those are my main goals.