Kanye West

With Common, Fantasia, and Keshia Cole. Saturday, October 29, at the Wolstein Center at CSU.

Kanye West
Those who complain about Kanye West's ego and flow might as well be dissing the entire history of mainstream rap. From its birth, hip-hop has been about living large despite life's shortcomings, and that includes shortcomings in vocal prowess: the most audacious and unprecedented thing about those first rappers, after all, was that they could command center stage even though they couldn't sing.

Now Kanye West has become hip-hop's prime mover, even though he lacks the lung power and verbal dexterity of your average bigmouth rhyme-slinger. Instead, he makes like Kurtis Blow and offers up star-power (a Type A combination of confident swagger and unhinged melodrama) and an uncanny populist touch (a self-deprecating sense of humor and a great ear for building hooks). He's got smarts (a full awareness of the contradictions inherent in his embrace of family and rebellion, capitalism and revolution, religion and hedonism) and a daring dash of musical originality (deployed first in his samples, later in his collaborations with white-pop maestro Jon Brion to create soundscapes for his second album, Late Registration). Hell, he even boasts what Kool Moe Dee used to call an aptitude for "sticking to themes" -- a talent for rich storytelling that's become conspicuously absent in hip-hop.

So even West's most superficial raps are as engrossing as the polysyllabic word-spray of the underground's illest headz and more outrageous than any thug rapper's scar tissue. That doesn't mean Late Registration is as great as The College Dropout -- part of the problem is that it sticks too much to its predecessor's theme -- but it does suggest that West will create new ways to overcome his shortcomings and take full command of the real stage on this highly anticipated tour. Expect a string section, a full backing band, a superstar the L.A. Times calls as animated as Spider-Man, and a touch of the unexpected.

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