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Artist of the Year: Kanye West

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kanye thumb Artist of the Year: Kanye WestOn July 28, 2010 — a date which will live in infamy — Kanye West joined Twitter. At approximately 1 p.m. ET on that day, the rapper who was formerly quoted as saying “Everything that Twitter offers, I need less of,” delivered his first tweet. “Up early in the morning taking in the Silicone Valley,” West wrote, and while the immediate reaction had more to do with West’s spelling fail, five months later, those 58 characters can better be classified as the first 58 characters used in the most genius promotional campaign behind a new album ever. From that day forward, the 33-year-old rapper had us by a string.

Few men have the capacity of going from the most despised to the most celebrated, but that’s just what Kanye West has done in the matter of one calendar year. To be fair, the Taylor Swift incident was probably the best thing that ever happened to him, and conspiracy theorists could probably even come up with a sound argument about how West knew what he was doing the entire time. Yes, he was a public outcast, even an asshole, according to people like President Barack Obama. The Chicago MC even later admitted that he contemplated suicide in the weeks that followed. Ultimately, though, West chose the route of seclusion, moving to Japan and then Milan, where he rediscovered and then re-imagined himself. By spring 2010, Kanye West had moved to Honolulu, where he took shelter in a mansion/studio to begin work on his fifth full length effort. Fellow MCs like Kid Cudi, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, and Pusha T contributed rhymes; Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon added auto-tuned choruses, and Elton John sang about lights, all while the likes of Q-Tip, RZA, and Pete Rock put it together from behind the boards.

Perhaps that’s what makes My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy‘s first single, “Power”, fitting. No man except Kanye West could have that much power — he had the best rappers, the greatest producers hanging by his every word and his every rule. Before West managed to take over the real world, he had the rap world working together in earnest and secrecy to create one of the best albums of 2010. There was to be “total focus on the project in all studios,” which meant “No Blogging,” No Tweeting,” “No Hipster Hats,” and of course, to “Just Shut The Fuck Up Sometimes.” Then, on May 28th, West shared the result of all that power, a blitzing first single that summed up his last six months in just four minutes and 54 seconds. It was our first taste of West’s latest and perhaps greatest: 13-tracks of self reflection. It was also the first four minutes and 54 seconds in what would be a heavily orchestrated six-month publicity campaign.

In the era of blogs and torrents, where quality is sacrificed for the right to claim first and where the very idea of “Hall of Famers” dies by the year, being an artist means much more than just one’s ability to create music. Twenty years from now, when we choose the voices and influences of this era who are most worthy of being placed alongside the likes of legends past, we’re going to have a pretty tough time finding more than just a few candidates. After all, quality of music is just one criteria. The ability to take that music and bring it to the forefront, where it can then transcend countries and continents, speak for generations, and change the world — in other words, its legacy — is just as important. In the previous decades, this was the job of labels, and with so few of them competing against one another and no Internet to deal with, it was easy to find the best and make sure they got heard. These days, of course, marketability is usually considered more important than talent. Thus, the musician must be innovative and creative beyond just his ability to write a song. He/she must find a way to be heard.

kanye live 2010 Artist of the Year: Kanye West

There is no one more successful at that than Kanye West. Sure, he has the backing of major label, but that’s the not the reason why the rapper has proved to be the most successful artist of 2010. Everything about his fifth studio album, from its content to its promotional push, was well-planned and perfectly executed. The result is a story — or a fantasy — that topped the headlines for nearly six months. It was like something we had never seen before.

With “Power” dominating the headlines, West then attempted to rehabilitate his image by embodying a new look — or movement. Inspired by the Rosewood Civil Rights Movement, West’s Rosewood Movement was his attempt raise the level of sophistication within the rap and hip hop world. It required good manners, no profanity, and a dress code, which according to Luxist.com, included a Dior Homme Black Classic Skinny Suit.

West then moved on to the rehabilitation of music by launching an ambitious weekly series known as G.O.O.D. Friday. He described it as “exercise in the power of art,” with the idea being that he — along with a collective of guests that ranged Jay-Z and Mos Def to Beyonce and Charlie Wilson — would record every Friday and then release it for free on the Internet. Incredibly, the results often proved much more than just throwaways, with several of the tracks — including “Monster” — even making their way onto My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Looking back, though, G.O.O.D. Friday was much more than just an “exercise in the power of art.” It was a brilliant marketing means of riling fans and bloggers alike — two of the most important entities in music these days. Free new music every week? And it typically kicks ass? Of course we’ll blog about it every week, even if it means waking up at 4 AM on a Saturday night!

West’s artistic prowess was further emphasized with jaw-dropping performances on the MTV Video Music Awards and Saturday Night Live, where the rapper introduced the world to one his most exposing narratives to date — “Runaway”. With such a blunt admission of assholeness, his image rehabilitation came full circle. He was applauded and embraced, even managing to upstage Taylor Swift’s cry for attention at the VMAs.

kanye west my beautiful dark twisted fantasy1 e12873608208221 Artist of the Year: Kanye WestBut “Runaway” was much more than just a public apology. Both performances were accompanied by equally dazzling imagery and offered our first taste of West’s 35-minute short film of the same name. “Purple Rain, The Wall, Michael Jackson’s Thriller – I wanted to do a modern version of that,” West explained during Runaway‘s London premiere, adding that it’s “an overall representation of what I dream,” inspired by artists like Picasso and Matisse, and that it was his attempt to “bring real culture to popular culture.” It was perhaps the most ambitious of all of Kanye’s projects in 2010, yet like everything else he touched, the end result proved successful. It was aired by MTV, VH1, and BET simultaneously, and while some likely poked fun at West’s less than stellar acting skills, it was hard to ignore the film’s incredible art direction and soundtrack, which featured nine songs off My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. If there was any doubt that West had reached a creative climax, his talents were proven here.

West’s endeavors didn’t just end there, however, as 2010 also saw him develop his imprint, G.O.O.D. Music, into one of the more exciting labels in all of music. West nabbed heavyweights like Mos Def and Clipse’s Pusha T, while the homegrown talents of Big Sean and Cyhi da Prince were developed with weekly G.O.O.D. Friday appearances. Plus, protege Kid Cudi preempted My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy with the G.O.O.D. Music release of Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager, which debuted at #3 on the Billboard Top 200.

With a few hours left over each day, West kept himself busy with a slew of guest appearances. His rhymes could be heard in tracks from the likes of T.I., Cudi, Nicki Minaj, Lloyd Banks, and even British pop star La Roux. For one of the G.O.O.D. Fridays, he teamed up with Raekwon for a remix of Justin Beiber’s “Runaway Love”, and while overseas, he produced a track for Korean pop superstars JYJ. And if all that weren’t enough, West announced a second new studio album months before My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy hit shelves. It’s a collaborative effort with Jay-Z titled Watch the Throne, and the two rappers have already held two separate studio sessions to record the album’s 10 tracks.

But music headlines only take you so far, and West’s understanding of this is what made his 2010 like none other. West utilizes his divisive nature to his advantage, and while this may alienate many, it also allows him to stay in the headlines, and as your high school journalism teacher probably told you, no press is bad press. Again, the conspiracy theorists could argue that West’s actions — like his Saturday morning Twitter apology to Taylor Swift — was not some off-the-cusp idea but rather something well thought out and perfectly timed. It would, after all, give music’s biggest story in 2009 another chapter but this time presenting both Swift and West as victims. And, of course, every article published on the story would mention the fact West had a new album coming. This was not so much the case with the Matt Lauer incident that followed in early November, but again, no press is bad press, especially when a former United States president is issuing statements about you.

kanye lauer Artist of the Year: Kanye West

But then, without any notice, his massive promotional campaign came to an abrupt end days before the November 22nd release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. His “exercise in the power of art” ceased, as did his “Rosewood Movement.” He has tweeted only three times since November 15th, and all of them had to do with something completely unrelated to himself or his projects. What are we to make of it all? Either Kanye West is an evil genius who manipulated the industry with enough baseless ideals and insincere projects to muster 500,000 copies his album’s first week, or he just forever re-defined the idea of music marketing in the 21st century. Perhaps the two conclusions are one in the same, or maybe he’s just too busy working on Watch the Throne.

Whatever the true answer may be (and I’m sure we’ll relive it all again as Watch the Throne‘s February release approaches), the fact remains that West stunned and thrilled us every day for six straight months. If you count the G.O.O.D. Friday tracks, he delivered two top-notch albums, one equally captivating film, enough guest spots for about 20 Norah Jones-styled Featuring… albums, a label to be reckoned with, and about 1,400 other things not mentioned that would extend the 1,800 words you just read to 18,000. So seriously, Mr. West: good ass job.

Artist Highlights

Runaway

“Power” live on Saturday Night Lve

“Monster” ft. Jay-Z & Nicki Minaj live at Yankee Stadium

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