West's Izod shirts and middle-class upbringing belie a toughness that comes through in his music.
What's more tedious than a multimillion-selling rapper spending his second album bragging on his greatness and complaining that everyone is out to get him?
How good is Kanye West?
So good that even though the 28-year-old, white-hot hitmaker spends a healthy chunk of his intensely anticipated "Late Registration" boasting and bellyaching, it nonetheless confirms his status as hip-hop's -- and therefore, pop music's -- reigning Lord of the Manor.
In case you've been living under a rock rather than listening to the Roc -- that's Roc-A-Fella, the label that released his Grammy-winning "The College Dropout" in 2004 -- West is the man behind the curtain, the wizard that gangstas and popsters, from Beanie Sigel to Britney Spears, go to in hopes he'll bestow upon them a Top 10 hit.
And he's the fiercely determined artist who scored his first hit last year with "Through the Wire," recorded with his jaw wired shut after he crashed his Lexus and nearly died. Ever since, he has seen his star steadily ascend.
Doesn't look the part
He doesn't look like a hip-hop heavyweight. Rappers are supposed to show off bulging muscles and bandannas, a la 50 Cent. Or at least insolent stares in the manner of Eminem. But West -- whose first name is pronounced KAHN-yay and means "the only one" in Swahili -- sports Izod shirts and was reared middle-class on Chicago's South Side. He is the only son of an English-professor mother who split up with his marriage-counselor (and ex-Black Panther) father when 'Ye was 3.
In a genre where doing jail time can be a canny career move, West's perceived lack of hardship was seen as an impediment. After dropping out of Chicago State in 1999, writer-producer West steadily scored hits for rappers including Cam'ron, Sigel and Jay-Z with a trademark style that often involved speeding up samples of old R & amp;B hits. But his Roc-A-Fella taskmasters were reluctant to let him take the mike.
As he remembers it on "Registration"'s "Touch the Sky": "They thought pink polos would hurt the Roc." When West finally got a shot, he made the most of it. "The College Dropout" sold 3 million and ran off a series of hits: "Through the Wire," "All Falls Down," and the particularly brilliant gospel-rap rouser "Jesus Walks." On Sunday, West won the MTV Video Music Awards prize for Best Male Video for "Jesus Walks."
He was a near-unanimous critics' pick as artist of the year last year, which made his annoyance when Gretchen Wilson was chosen best new artist at the American Music Awards understandable, if obnoxious.