October 7, 2004

Kanye lives up to the hype
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

While many superstar artists allow their media hype to overshadow their actual music, some still struggle to raise the standard even when they are the standard. Despite his recent over-exposure, Kanye West has continued to produce innovative tracks for a diverse group of emcees at a furious pace. While he makes millions on royalties from radio hits like "Jesus Walks" and superstar collaborations with Jay-Z, Kanye has also remained dedicated to his roots in the subterranean hip-hop scene, offering phenomenal beats to Talib Kweli and Dilated Peoples. But after a year of non-stop Kanye on the radio, even Chuck D started to wonder why "somebody gets top-notch producer credits for speeding up old records." Rather than stagnate and disappear, Kanye has recently elevated his game with two new tracks for underground heroes Common and Pharoahe Monch.

Common - "Food"
In the last few months, it seems like Kanye has been selling beats to anyone with some cash, but when fellow Chi-town native Common asked to collaborate, Kanye made the upcoming album, Be, a priority. The public caught its first glimpse of the result over the summer, when Common and Kanye appeared together to perform "Food" on The Chappelle Show. Hip-hop heads bumped a poor quality MP3 rip of the live show that was circulating on the Internet until a studio version of the song leaked recently.

If for nothing else, Kanye deserves our thanks for accompanying Common back to his classic emcee style after his recent eclectic intergalactic music journey, Electric Circus. Though I support artists like Andre3000 and Common who experiment with less conventional projects, hip-hop sorely needs another classic album. Common's return to rap will most likely give Kanye yet another reason to brag about himself.

Pharoahe Monch - "New World Symphony"
If for nothing else, Kanye should be respected for bringing lush musical instrumentation back to hip-hop. Of course, to really give credit where credit is due, Israeli violinist Miri Ben-Ari deserves to be recognized as the source of much of Kanye's genius. Though he sculpts her violin sample into a great beat, I can't imagine Kanye actually composes Ben-Ari's ridiculous violin solos, which grace the end of most of Kanye's tracks. I appreciate his decision to offer this beat to Pharoahe, who enjoys great respect in the underground but (so far) minuscale sales.

Maybe the Kanye touch will have the same effect on Pharoahe as it did on Twista, catapulting his career from underground purgatory to certifiably platinum. "New World Symphony" doesn't disappoint either, promising in the chorus "We are the future, you are the past." In his verse, Pharoahe prophesizes about America's future under the current president, "In twenty zero nine, speech will be a crime."