KanYe West / Columbia, SC / 11-10-2004

When Kanye West first released The College Dropout, and I saw the video for “Through the Wire,” something about it just stayed with me.  It’s hard to explain.  I thought it was nice to hear a song and see a video chronicling a struggle to overcome surgery and get signed to Roc-a-Fella Records.  Something as introspective as this from a Hip-Hop artist usually comes later in their career when such a thing is “safer.”  Kanye West had an immediate fan base because with that first glimpse he became instantly relatable to so many people.

I took advantage of an opportunity to see him perform live last night at the Colonial Center in Columbia, SC.   The University of South Carolina was mainly responsible for nabbing Kanye to perform.  The student rap group openers (The Elements) and the deficient crowd had ill prepared me to see West, but when he came out it became immediately evident that the small crowd had his back.

He warmed everyone up with “Get ’em High,” We Don’t Care,”  and “The New Workout Plan.”  West then moved into one of a few portions of his show that he uses to establish comfort and relax the crowd.  DJ 8 Track would cue up songs from other artists meant to show Kanye’s respect for R&B pioneers such as Al Green and newer Hip-Hop pioneers like Jay-Z.  He would say a few times, “I just wanna listen to this for a while” directing his DJ.  I enjoyed these portions of the show because they made him that much more likable, but it was clear to me and everyone there that the bread and butter were Kanye’s performances, which he exhibits with passion and the understanding by the audience that his blood, sweat, and tears went into every word.

Up next was his personal favorite “Spaceship” in which he reminds us all of crappy jobs we’ve had along with fantasy schemes of kicking the manager’s ass and robbing the place.  He then gave us a taste of his upcoming sophomore album, Late Registration, with an a capella rap that was very funny and settled the crowd down for “All Falls Down,” which is one of the bigger hits from his album.  “Celebrity Overnight,” “Slow Jamz,” and the closer “Through the Wire” followed.  I have to say I was waiting for “Through the Wire,” and I wasn’t disappointed.

His encore possibilities slipped my mind until I heard the memorable chant-like opening for “Jesus Walks.”  This is a standout track for me because it takes West into largely uncharted territory for a rap artist.  The song speaks of his difficulties with his own faith as they relate to him and the community in which he grew up.  His finale was “Never Let Me Down,” that dips further into how he was raised and how that relates to his disappointment today with pervasive attitudes that holds possessions (bling) higher than personal character and responsibility.  Of course, he offers that society doesn’t hinder, at all, this tendency.

Overall, I enjoyed the show, and I am glad I saw him perform.  Kanye West is clearly tightly wrapped up in all of his songs, and that is no where more obvious than when he is on stage.  He appreciates the fact that we appreciate him.  In a sea of gold teeth, rappers who want to be ‘Lil somebody for some reason, and videos full of people dancing and yelling at me, Kanye West is needed if only to provide a little balance.  He is intelligent, talented, and has credibility (street or otherwise) coming out of his ears.  However, he is still incredibly approachable, and I would just like to sit down and have a drink with him just to see if I can unravel a little of what’s going on in his head.

-Benjamin Sadler