By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
It's hard to write something bite-size about Kanye West, because there's nothing bite-size about him.
Part retail whore, part corporate loose cannon, Kanye is hip-hop's most complete package since Lauryn Hill. In the '06 please continue to stand up for a cause other than caviar wishes and champagne dreams.
Tracy E. Hopkins
Brooklyn, New York
Kanye West is hip-hop's textbook example of a reduced black public intellectual and that's why the media worships him. He produces an album by longtime homophobe Common in the same year he admonishes hip-hop homophobia on MTV. Then he lambastes George W. for dropping the ball on Katrina, but leaves it to the Legendary K.O. to show what a genius Kanye could be if he actually had an ideological platform.
Kanye cared about black people, making room for Jamie Foxx, Common, Black Person Extraordinaire Jay-Z, his grandpa, and ever-more-obscure samples. Late Registration also found the space to piss off remaining rockists with the most determinedly iconoclastic move since Stevie Wonder indentured Jeff Beck: Kanye hired Adam Levine to inject the soul some think he's too smug to do himself.
It was something to see how nervous and agitated West was as he forced himself to say what he wanted to say; it felt like the only such instance since Sinéad O'Connor's SNLdebacle where a pop star had actually departed from the script for a vertiginous leap into no-man's-land.
I have no doubt we will feel very progressive while giving record of the year to "the Fiona Apple of hip-hop" Kanye West for the 38th best disc of 2005 because it's exactly what we're allowed to vote for while still obeying the rule of I'm-a-genius-and-here's-my-record (which is basically all Kanye has ever said with one important exception before he went back to being an absolute prick, which is neither here nor there he just didn't make half as many great songs as Jazze Pha).
Something I didn't see anybody else pick up on in Late Registration was easily one of the most fascinating things about the album: Kanye's "Crack Music" slam on the Game. Dude got his verse cut, his huffy flow mimicked for the hook, his true-to-name vacuousness mercilessly parodied, and he didn't even realize it.
View Late Registration as a rap record and it's something of a letdown. Treat it as a pop album, though, and the expansive melodies and grooves deliver on its outsize ambition, much as visionary records by Curtis, Marvin, and Stevie did in the '70s.
What would Kanye West's album sound like if he were about to be imprisoned for a year?
Brooklyn, New York
The most interesting thing about 50 is that like voodoo's Baron Samedi he's the laughing face of death incarnate, a zombie incubus with a sardonic overbite who really did destroy his enemies Supreme and Murder Inc. with the most laconic of spells, chants, and verses.
Toward the fall, 50 Cent started prefacing his raps with an introduction: "It's 50." What, for the three or maybe four people in the entire universe who still don't know who the hell you are? Perhaps you meant studio temperature"It's 50 [degrees Fahrenheit]"or your lunch order"It's 50 [sandwiches]" ?
Insert R. Kelly joke here. Or don't. Because in "Trapped in the Closet" he creates a hermetic moral space where he and only he gets to pass judgment. When the world is trying to keep you down there's only one thing to do: make your own world, one where you're God and everyone elsethe players, the haters, the people comparing you to Wesley Willisare perverts just sharing it with you.
Brooklyn, New York
No neo-soul singer wears the idiom's quavering falsetto with more credibility, or conviction, than this most troubled of soul men, with the words to matchand the showmanship.
R. Kelly's Kloset Kollection provided the year's creepiest and most entertaining attempt at resurrecting the modern musical and, not incidentally, seemed to ask for a little understanding. After all, aren't we all creatures of libido trapped in our own soap operas? That the escapades of a bisexual preacher and company are nowhere near as freaky as Kelly's own piss-drenched, underage Narnia seems to have escaped him.
Can someone tell R. Kelly that opera is often sung by more than one person? It really streamlines all the "and then she said" bullshit.
R. Kelly admirers with a newfound taste for serial narrative might check out Jelly Roll Morton's "The Murder Ballad," especially part five, the lesbian prison twist. Know your history!
How can you tell you're in R. Kelly's closet? There's only one hook.
Jersey City, New Jersey
R. KellySometimes I am all the way "fuck that dude," and change the station. Sometimes I listen with a curious mix of horror and awe. Sometimes, sometimes I go there: I know the words, and I sing along. Confliction is a weight-bearing exercise, fundamental to third-wave feminism and pop criticism.