From critiques of his relationships to negative takes on his music, the comment pages of the internet are rife with folks casting aspersions Kanye West's way. But as we slowly creep up on the eighth anniversary of West's first studio album, The College Dropout, it has never been more abundantly clear that the rapper, designer, producer and newly minted reality-TV star is as A-List as it gets.
He's even hobnobbing with George Tenet, the former director of the C.I.A., as reported by West himself and confirmed by Wired.
A quick snapshot of the world West inhabits: His girlfriend is the most famous woman in the country, his latest album has fought off extremely negative reviews to claim the No. 1 spot in iTunes, he sat front row at New York Fashion Week, has been mentioned (if derisively) by two presidents and shared the "Throne" with the only rapper more in demand than himself, Jay-Z.
West boasted about that final nugget in "Clique," a song off Cruel Summer. In a brief vignette, the rapper offered the following scene: "Yeah, I’m talkin' business, we talking CIA/ I'm talkin' George Tenet, I seen him the other day/ He asked me about my Maybach, think he had the same/ Except mine tinted and his might have been rented."
'Ye went on to describe how "white people" never spend their money the same way he does ("I'd rather buy 80 gold chains and go ig'nant -- I know Spike Lee gonna kill me but let me finish").
But why on Earth would the Chicago-raised rapper be rubbing shoulders with George Bush's spy king? Wired reports that the two once happened to be in the same building in New York. In a twist that somehow still defies imagination, they actually "chatted briefly."
Others on West's level of fame include Tom Cruise and Jay-Z. But Cruise is embroiled in the never-ending tabloid cycle of his much beleaguered Church of Scientology. It's true that Jay-Z's wife, Beyonce, is probably nearly as famous as Kim Kardashian (a quick Google search offers 20 million more results for the latter), and that Jay-Z is Obama's favored entertainer. But it's also entirely possible that George Bush has never heard of Jay-Z. (Bush famously said that West's accusation that the president didn't care about black people was among the low points of his eight-year administration.)
Sure, Cruel Summer has been maligned as a disjointed collection of hits and misses, and rumors of a new sex-tape starring West (and not "home video" superstar Kardashian) are unlikely to endear him to his many haters. But let's at least admit that the 35-year-old rapper has your attention.
Perhaps 35 is a bit young to run your own rap mafia, but Kanye's rapid ascent from gifted beat-maker to emotional rapper to G.O.O.D. Music boss seems to have been forged through nothing but sheer force of will. Now often accompanied by girlfriend Kim Kardashian, Kanye walks a fine line. It's sometimes surprising he hasn't been completely reduced to a walking meme. Sure, West finds himself flirting with the tabloids more than perhaps any other rapper that hasn't assaulted a woman (hi Breezy!), but more often than not, he drops a song that makes anyone paying attention to hip hop <em>pause</em> and give credit where it's due. Previous Tracks: I mean ... "Through the Wire," "Jesus Walks," "Can't Tell Me Nothing," "Roses," "Runaway," "New Day," "N----s in Paris."
R. Kelly's comeback (from some time off, from some pretty unfortunate legal troubles) seems to be near complete. Look at it this way: If Kels can jump on a track with Kanye, he's regained his footing in the music industry. After all, the R&B singer once had a pretty serious falling out with Jay-Z -- and not <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/05/nicki-minaj-hot-97-summer-jam-funkmaster-flex_n_1570304.html" target="_hplink">in a Nicki Minaj/Hot 97 way</a>. Robert Kelly walked off the stage during the Madison Square Garden stop of the Best of Both World's Tour. Jay-Z stayed and finished, viciously -- and understandably -- mocking Kelly for the duration of the program. Kels -- who said he thought he saw someone waving a gun at him -- latter admitted he panicked. His appearance here, on "To The World," is classic R. Kelly: You don't care what he's saying, because it just sounds right (note: he's singing about flipping the bird). Also, he wrote a memoir. Previous Tracks: "Ignition (Remix)."
What can be said! Though Jay and 'Ye share the Throne, they're different in an astounding number of ways. Jay, the smooth, calculating businessman and father. West, the often unpredictable, quality-obsessed <em>artiste</em>. But that's why the two work so well together. On "Clique," the only <em>Cruel Summer</em> song on which Jay appears, the elder rapper provides a dose of street-tested bravado that -- in concert with Big Sean's all-the-women-love-me verse -- sets up Kanye perfectly. By the time West comes in to round out the track, all he has to do is speak of spending massive amounts of money at designer stores. It's almost sweet, no? Previous Tracks: C'mon!
Fun fact: Sean was actually born in Santa Monica, Calif. But he grew up in Detroit, so when he raps that he "gives her that 'D.' because that's where [I] was born and raised in," he's technically lying. Fibs aside, Sean is the rapper who took Kanye's blessings the furthest. Both he and CyHi the Prynce were featured prominently in tracks released on the "G.O.O.D. Fridays" leading up to Kanye's last solo effort, and they both offered stunning performances (see: "Looking for Trouble"). But only Sean has emerged as a viable solo artist. Previous Tracks: "Dance A$$," "Looking for Trouble," the G.O.O.D. Music Cypher.
Pusha's been a respected rapper since the '90s, when he (as half of Clipste) emerged as one of the nation's most fiery "coke rappers." But at 35 (yep, the same age as Kanye), Pusha has been given second life as a constant feature on some of Kanye's most notable songs. Since "Runaway," off <em>My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy</em>, Pusha's occupied role of tough man in the G.O.O.D. family, all while exploring his newly formed fashion interests. It's a good fit (he recently told <em>Rolling Stone</em> that he doesn't "give a f--k what Drake says), and Pusha's strongest performance on <em>Cruel Summer</em> is his meanest, on "New God Flow." Previous Tracks: "Grindin'" (as Clipse), "Runaway," "Dirty Money."
Born Dennis Coles, Ghostface emerged to national prominence with eight friends from Staten Island. The Wu-Tang Clan has since been named the No. 1 rap group of all time and spawned an impressive number of solo careers. Ghostface still tours frequently, bringing his speed-rap to colleges and concert halls around the States. Here, he adds a dose of something special to "New God Flow," a track from which he was absent when it was teased as a single. Previous Tracks: "Cherchez la Ghost," "Bring the Ruckus," "Protect Ya Neck," "Ice Cream."
Raekwon is a peer of Ghostface Killah and another rap legend who forged a successful career outside of his work with Wu-Tang Clan. And along the way, he's emerged as one of rap's elder statesmen. Known as The Chef, Raekwon even started his own label just two short years ago. Previous Tracks: "C.R.E.A.M.," "Can It Be That It Was All So Simple," "Criminal," "Incarcerated Scarfaces."
Once a Chicago spoken word artist, Common is now a Brooklyn resident known for being on the Obama's favorites list. The rapper was invited to speak at the White House, much to the chagrin of right-wingers who quickly called him violent and dangerous. Nonetheless, he went -- <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/13/common-obama-chicago-violence_n_1880633.html" target="_hplink">an experience he described to HuffPost Entertainment as "incredible."</a> His ode to hip-hop, "I Used to Love H.E.R.," is widely considered among the genre's all-time best recordings. Previous Tracks: "I Used to Love H.E.R.," "The Light," "The Dreamer."
2 Chainz! While not officially a member of the G.O.O.D. Music family, Chainz (or Deuce) is sort of the heart of the bunch. Or maybe he's the party starter. Also experiencing a second wind (sense a trend yet?), the 36-year-old trap rapper burst onto the scene with a new album and scorching appearances on "Mercy" and "Beez in the Trap." Formerly known as Tity Boi, the rapper was a part of Georgia rap group Playaz Circle. He changed the name to be more family friendly and went on to release a wildly popular mixtape, <em>TRU to My REALigion</em>. He just released a follow-up studio album, <em>B.O.A.T.S.</em> ("Based on a Tru Story'). He's also an ardent champion of ex-felons like himself, working to help get their voter rights reinstated and generally advocating for second chances. Plus, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/09/2-chainz-mitt-romney-based-on-a-tru-story_n_1758029.html?utm_hp_ref=entertainment" target="_hplink">he thinks he can beat Mitt Romney</a>. Previous Tracks: "Riot," "Beez in the Trap," "Mercy," "Yuck!"
CyHi The Prynce
CyHi got his first dose of real celebrity when Kanye put him on a bunch of G.O.O.D. Friday songs, including "So Appalled" and "Looking for Trouble." He always delivered on those verses, so it has been a little frustrating to see him stay out of the national spotlight since the release of those tracks. He's back on <em>Cruel Summer</em>, however, doing his thing on both "Sin City" and "The Morning." But if a Kanye vote of confidence is the gold standard here, it's worth noting that neither of those tracks has a Mr. West verse on it. Previous Tracks: "So Appalled," "Looking for Trouble," "Ray Ban Vision" (with A-Trak).
Cleveland's stoner-rap hero! Cudi is known for brooding meditations on love, nightlife and, well, smoking weed. Cudderz is also known for his interests in art and film, having starred in a number of shorts. He's a versatile performer, easily stretching from dark songs like "These Worries" to David Guetta pop-dance joints like "Memories." An anecdote: The rapper was known as being the only housemate who didn't play basketball while recording <em>My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fanatasy</em> in Hawaii. Previous Tracks: "These Worries," "The Rager," "Memories," "Day n Nite."
D'Banj hails from Nigeria, where he's built a successful career as a songwriter and harmonica player. The award-winning performer <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/jun/23/d-banj-interview-nigerian-music-star" target="_hplink">sees himself as a link between the African and Western music industries</a> -- a bridge made partially possible through his relationship with Kanye. West signed D'banj to G.O.O.D. and appeared in the later's music video for "Oliver Twist." Previous Tracks: "Oliver Twist," "You Bad," "Mo Gbono Feli Feli," "Confused."
It's sort of unclear <em>why</em> DJ Khaled shares song credits in a manner unlike any other producer. He drops albums and only offers the following three chants: "<em>DJ <strong>KHALED</strong></em>," "We takin' <em>OVER!</em>," and "We the <em>bbbest</em>!" Nonetheless, the studio exec (Khaled's the president of Def Jam South) and radio personality has an ear for a catchy song. Here, he's heard dropping his ad-libs on "Cold," a song that was born "Theraflu," went through adolescence as "Way Too Cold" and is now just known as "the song on which Kanye went after Kris Humphries." A quick conversation starter: Khaled's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/30/dj-khaled-bus-explosion-photo-picture_n_1464974.html" target="_hplink">tour bus exploded recently</a> -- causing no injury but the loss of property estimated in the tens of thousands. Previous Tracks: "We Takin' Over," "I'm on One," "All I Do Is Win."
The-Dream likes to refer to himself as the original Weeknd, and while it's probably not necessary to keep making it obvious (who forgot about The-Dream anyway?). This is the soulful singer-songwriter who penned "Single Ladies" for Beyonce, gave Justin Bieber his "Baby" and united Britney and Madonna on "Me Against the Music." He's also the crooner behind three solo albums, all of which start with the word "love." A fourth is coming soon. Previous Tracks: Probably most of the songs you've had stuck in your head while <em>not</em> being ashamed.
Ma$e was one of Diddy's earliest Next Big Things. This is <em>way</em> before <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGyN_h1bjWo" target="_hplink">he was shutting down the studio on "Making the Band."</a> Born Mason Betha, the Harlem rapper's career came and went, and then came and went a few more times. He staged a comeback in the mid '00s, when "Breathe, Stretch, Shake" and "Welcome Back" received decent radio airplay. It's a big surprise to see him on <em>Cruel Summer</em>. Previous Tracks: "Feels So Good," "Welcome Back," "Lookin' at Me."
John Legend may be the first beneficiary of the "Kanye effect." While we've already discussed how Big Sean, CyHi and 2 Chainz have been benefitted from the Mr. West boost, Legend also started out in 'Ye's camp. Now? He's a nine-time Grammy winner and shares a gorgeous New York apartment with Victoria's Secret model Chrissy Teigen. Previous Tracks: "This Time," "PDA (We Just Don't Care)," "Stereo," "Save Room."
A newer voice out of Houston, Texas, Travi$ both produced and performs on "Sin City," a track which is generating a fair amount of buzz for not having Kanye, Pusha or Jay on it. The upstart has been performing at a smattering of New York's hot spots lately, including the Darby and Chez Andre. If you want to keep up with Travi$, <a href="http://travis-x.tumblr.com/" target="_hplink">just follow his tumblr</a>. Scott is releasing <em>Owl Pharaoh </em> very soon.
This 21-year-old rapper hails from Harlem, where she is said to have picked up a microphone at just 4-years-old. She was signed to Pharrell Williams at the age of 15. Eventually, she ended up in the studio where Kanye was recording <em>My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy</em> and contributed vocals to "Dark Fantasy" and "Hell of a Life." She also dropped a mixtape called <em>The Misunderstanding of Teyana Taylor</em> (yes, she says she's inspired by Lauryn Hill). And now she's G.O.O.D. -- the first woman to be signed the label. Previous Track: "Google Me," "Christmas In Harlem," "Show Off."
Known as The Wordsmyth, Yusef is a Chicago legend. As a community leader and spoken word artist hailing from the South Side, Yusef is an inspiration to many in the city. (Common told HuffPost Entertainment that he's "a very strong force for good in the local community.) He also wrote "All of the Lights," the Grammy-winning single off <em>My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy</em>. He also released his debut album, <em>The Great Chicago Fire; A Cold Day in Hell</em> in 2003, followed up by <em>G.O.O.D. Morning, G.O.O.D. Night</em> in 2009. The latter features appearances by West, Adam Levine of Maroon 5 and Common. Malik is also a <a href="http://huffingtonpost.com/malik-yusef" target="_hplink">HuffPost blogger</a>. Previous Tracks: "Would You Like to Ride," "A Cold Day Hell," "Welcome 2 The Chi."
Ambrosius is an R&B talent from the U.K., known to fans of R&B and soul as half of Floetry. The duo enjoyed success with <em>Floetic</em> their debut album. Ambrosius has since worked with everyone from Jamie Foxx to Earth, Wind & Fire. Leave it to Kanye to pair her up with 2 Chainz. Previous Songs: "Floetic," "Say Yes," "Butterflies" (Ambrosius sang backup for Michael Jackson), "I Hope She Cheats On You (With A Basketball Player)."
Of all the artists on <em>Cruel Summer</em>, none comes with as much controversy as the young -- perhaps youngest -- rapper. Chief Keef has made headlines recently for a series of unfortunate tweets, some of which mocked a recently murdered teen rapper, Lil Jojo. In other tweets, he lashes out at Lupe Fiasco, who recently said Keef "scares" him (Fiasco was referring to the culture that Keef represents). In both instances, Keef claimed his Twitter account was hacked. (Keef regularly tweets and shouts out "300," a reference to the Black Disciples gang. Jojo was a member of an opposing gang, the Gangster Disciples.) The violence is a tragic reminder of the near-constant gun violence plaguing Chicago. (For more, read <a href="http://gawker.com/5943930/chief-keefs-gun-rites-of-passage" target="_hplink">Gawker's excellent story on the case</a>.) Keef also has a complicated history with West. West added some trappings to the beat of "Don't Like," a song that was originally Keef's. Soon after West's remix came out, Keef (who once pointed a gun at a cop -- and then was taken to a shooting range by Pitchfork), <a href="http://www.complex.com/music/2012/08/chief-keef-claims-kanye-west-didnt-help-his-career" target="_hplink">tweeted that West "didn't do shit for me."</a> Naturally, the "300" hashtag was added. Previous Tracks: "Only Thing I Know," "Leafy Swag."
Jada! Perhaps the most memorable laugh in hip-hop, 'Kiss started making music in the mid-'90s, when he founded The Warlocks with Styles P and Sheek Louch. That was eventually shortened to The LOX. Time passed, though, before Jada put out his first studio album, 2001's <em>Kiss That Game Goodbye</em>. He went on to collaborate with pretty much everyone, from Mariah Carey to Lil Wayne. Like R. Kelly, Jada's been able to move past a Jay-Z controversy (though Jada's was admittedly much smaller in scale). Jadakiss contributed a verse to "It's Good," a track on which Lil Wayne and Drake went on to diss Jay-Z. Good feelings were restored when Jadakiss made it known that he recorded his verse before the YMCMB artists went in on Jay. Previous Tracks: "U Make Me Wanna," "They Ain't Ready," "Put Ya Hands Up," "We Gonna Make It."
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