Saturday, 2 August 2008

Kanye West @ Westminster Central Hall, 20/08/2007

Kanye West@ Westminster Central Hall
20th August 2007

Somehow, in the past couple of years, a producer from Chicago who wears a yellow plastic watch has become the most important hip-hop artist in the world. Kanye West is a pretty unusual suspect for such a title. For a while back there in 2005 it was looking like Fiddy was bringing thuglife back, with his unmistakable delivery down to a gunshot wound in the mouth. Kanye, in contrast, is not the world’s best rapper. He would admit it too, if only to himself. But dang, the guy has got the Midas touch when it comes beat-making.

Kanye’s real genius lies in the way he breaks the mould. First, his look. His clothes fit him; he namechecks Dior; he’s got that yellow G-Shock watch. G-Shock! Second, his attitude. He’s constantly spoken out against homophobia in rap music, something that has, predictably, led to rumours about his own sexuality. He made headlines for slamming the President’s handling of Hurricane Katrina on live television, when he claimed that ‘George Bush doesn’t care about black people.’ On the other hand, his hit singles have relied in reworking samples of, well, already very good, very memorable songs and, y’know, rapping over them. New single ‘Stronger’ samples – or rips off, you decide - that instantly recognisable Daft Punk loop from ‘Harder Better Faster Stronger’. Say what you want, that’s pretty much the crux of his act, even if he does do it very, very well.

Finally making it on stage over an hour late, Kanye launches into his fashionably short set with the kind of manic energy you rarely see in rap, stomping across the stage and reaching out to the screaming girls at the front. Backed by an all-female new rave orchestra (down to the matching neon prom dresses and hi-tops), Kanye’s live show includes green laser beams and endless silver confetti - but in case we’d forgotten that this whole performance was for televison, he insists on doing the first song again. Leaving ‘Gold Digger’ and ‘Jesus Walks’ off the set list shows that Kanye is either hugely confident about the quality of his output or dying to get back to the safety of the VIP area (also spotted: Javine, well known ‘Popstars: The Rivals’ runner-up and all-round hip hop groupie). There’s no encore, and the whole show barely makes the 45 minute mark. I guess that’s what you get when the audience is full of Vodafone competition winners – I mean, they haven’t even paid for their tickets, they should be grateful to get anything, right? And did I mention the advertising? The whole event is so plastered in promotional material I can’t figure out where the gig ends and his PR company begins. Those mortar boards the security staff are wearing? All for Kanye’s new album, Graduation, in case you hadn’t heard. Free phone charm? Courtesy of Sony Ericsson. Souvenir paper sunglasses to remind you of the release date of Stronger? Take a handful.

But here’s the thing. These songs are brilliant. And more importantly, Fiddy Cent has said that if Graduation sells more copies than his own new record, which comes out on the same day, then he’ll quit rap. So. Buy it, and by supporting Kanye and his plastic accessories empire you can contribute to the end of pointless posturing thugrap.

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