By Dan "Monty" Montalto
Long before either album leaked in its final retail form, many of us here in the newsroom were asking the same question: Who will win this week's epic showdown between Kanye West and Guns N' Roses (a.k.a. Axl Rose and a bunch of new guys)?
In this corner, we have Kanye West with 808s & Heartbreak, which comes just 14 months after Graduation bested 50 Cent's Curtis on the charts. He managed to put together 808s in a year marked by lots of touring and lots and lots of appearances at awards shows (seriously, does this guy ever NOT get invited?). Not only has 808s been on repeat in the newsroom all week, but we've been recounting some of our early Kanye memories right here on the blog.
By Whitney-Gayle Benta
Like my colleagues Rahman, Shaheem, Erica and Yasmine, I have many fond memories of Kanye West's early days as he transitioned from producer to musician. The story that sticks out the most was during his first tour.
In 2004, the same year Kanye released his debut album, The College Dropout, he was also asked to join Usher's the Truth Tour as the opening act.
By Rahman Dukes
During my 10-year-plus experience at MTV News, I've had the pleasure of watching some of the biggest artists' careers take off. Fabolous: check. Alicia Keys: check. And none other than the esteemed Kanye West: cccccchhhhheeeeccckk!
Like my coworkers Erica, Shaheem and Yasmine, I've known Kanye for quite some time, and it's been a real joy watching his rise to stardom. I met 'Ye during his time with Jay-Z, producing tracks for the classic Blueprint album. My intern at the time noticed an article we ran on the fledging producer and informed us that 'Ye was his friend. And to put any doubt to rest, that very next day my fregging intern — my intern! — shows up at the MTV office on the 29th floor with none other than Mr. West. Incredible. At that time Kanye was an energetic, humble producer. He also told everyone that he was into rapping. As Shaheem pointed out, producers turned rappers were traditionally known to not go over so well, and in this case we had no reason to think Kanye would be any different. Boy, how wrong would we end up being.
I've had a number of memorable experiences with Kanye, from him playing tracks such as "Hey Mama" and "Jesus Walks" for us in a little Caribbean restaurant not far from MTV to chopping it up with him just days after his tirade against MTV during the 2007 VMAs. Read More...
By Erica Laden
I knew Kanye when he had braces. I knew Kanye when he would sit at my desk at MTV and play his music, asking me what I thought. I knew Kanye when he used to ask me for tickets to MTV awards shows. I knew Kanye when I had to convince at least four different security guards at MTV's Video Music Awards in 2001 that he was the producer of Jay-Z's "H to the Izzo" and that they needed to let him in. It's a good thing I had all-access credentials and was wearing a headset. I must've looked official, as he made it all the way to Jay-Z's dressing room. Read More...
The first record that really brought Kanye West to my attention was Beanie Sigel's "The Truth" — just an undeniable collection of good old-fashioned 'hood-street bop mixed with gangsta zoot-suit grace. I had no idea that the producer of the song would grow to be a superstar. Then, Kanye hit me with the whammy on Jay-Z's Dynasty album: "This Can't Be Life." Incredible. My favorite song off the album and one of the best album cuts you'll ever hear. The soulful loop was drenched with so much pain and hope — it was the perfect musical backdrop for Hov's, Beanie Sigel's and Scarface's tales of weariness. Then I started to research Kanye. "He's gonna be one of the best producers in the game," I thought. 'Ye confirmed my suspicions on Beanie's "Nothing Like It," from The Reason album.
Luckily, I was in place to tell the world about the guy whose beats just captivated me. His music sounded like the civil-rights movement mixed with backwoods juke-joints and Sunday-morning church services. (The kind of "sister Johnson just passed out praising the Lord, throw the white blanket over her and let her lie there sweet Jeee-sus" church services — you know, the good ones.) Even back then, Kanye could hit you with so many emotions in his tracks. Once I decided to profile him on MTV News, it didn't really take me any time to set up the interview — I was in great standing with the Roc-A-Fella family then.
So, during our first interview in 2001 — Kanye's first-ever interview, I believe — we talked about his producing and, surprisingly, he revealed to me that he would also be rapping. I was unsure until he played me some early recordings of "Jesus Walks" and "Hey Mama." The guy had so much aggressive passion about his music — and still does, to this day — how could he have not been a winner?
Gosh, writing this blog post is like the ultimate trip down memory lane. I remember telling people that after the whole experience of essentially introducing a then "sort of" unknown star to the world by the name of Kanye West that if this is the beginning of my career, I can't wait to see what happens next!
So let me share with you the story of how I befriended one of the world's biggest superstars and subsequently helped jump-start my career. I began working as a PA with MTV News in June 2001. A lot of crazy stuff would go down that year. My first of many MTV Movie Awards, MTV's 20th-anniversary celebration, Aaliyah passing away, the VMAs and, of course, the tragedy of September 11. But within my first month of working at MTV, one of our interns, Nick (a.k.a. Aqua), caught me leaving control room A at 1515 and was super-eager for me to meet his friend ... some music producer. So, he walked me to his friend, who was sitting in a chair in the studio lobby, and introduced him. "Hey, Yas. This is my friend Kanye. He did the beat for Jay-Z's 'H to the Izzo.' "
OK, now before I go on, I have a bad habit of sharing my feelings, thoughts, etc., no matter how brutal they might be. One can never accuse me of holding my feelings inside. That being said, when Nick told me Kanye produced "Izzo," I kind of made an "ouch" face. And Kanye asked what that was about. I, in all my Capricornian honesty, told him that I don't really like the song that much. He asked why. I explained, and pretty much from then on, I think I won Kanye's friendship.
Read more about Yasmine's friendship with Kanye and check out his You Hear It First video! Read More...
First off, let me just say thank you. In these tough economic times, I can always count on you to help me fill my daily story quota and keep a roof over my head. And second, let me just say that you are an enigma wrapped in a conundrum and swathed in a layer of Murakami-patterned mystery.
After your stage-rushing MTV EMAs rant from a couple of years ago and, well, all your other awards-show flip-outs and boycott threats, I thought that it was losing that set you off. Now you've gone and flipped the script completely by ranting about winning! I'm beginning to think your whole career is one big performance art piece that we're just not hip enough to get.
Former Death Row boss Suge Knight has a well-established reputation as a tough guy. From his supposed over-the-balcony, by-the-ankles dangling of Vanilla Ice to a beatdown he allegedly dealt in a hotel lobby the night Tupac Shakur was gunned down, the former UNLV defensive end always gave off a manly vibe. Why, then, is the gangsta-rap guru suing Kanye West over the "loss of use and enjoyment" of a 15-carat diamond stud earring?
Read the whole story of Suge Knight's lawsuit against Kanye West here.
Kanye just can't get a break. No matter how hard he tries to make his albums and shows special surprises, some joker is always lurking in the shadows ready to pull back the curtain and reveal the inner workings of his twisted mind.
The latest case in point: "Robocop." A rough, early version of the '80s-sounding Auto-Tune-fest from 'Ye's upcoming 808s & Heartbreak album leaked over the weekend, and Kanye swears he wasn't behind the preview.
"I did not leak Robocop!!!" he wrote on his blog on Sunday. "That's not even the finished version. ... I'm pretty upset about it, but that's the way life is sometimes!"
Read more about the "Robocop" leak here.
About a week ago, word got out that Kanye West was having a listening party for his new album, 808s & Heartbreak, in L.A. Not much information was provided on the invite except the date (10.14.08), time (9 p.m.), location, an excerpt from one of the tracks, "Welcome To Heartbreak" — "My friends showed me pictures of his kids and all I could show him was pictures of my cribs" — and the fact that the event would be a collaboration with artist Vanessa Beecroft. So, a week later, the assignment of covering the event came to me. Lucky me!