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Artists of the Decade: Kanye West, Hip-Hop Revivalist

The editors of Rolling Stone pick the artists of the decade, who not only made the best music but also led the way

December 24, 2009
Kanye West hip hop revivalist
Kanye West at the Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Frank Micelotta/Fox via Getty Images

Let's get this out of the way: we know Kanye West can seem like an asshole. But it's almost like he plays up the abrasive side of his personality as a smoke screen, to deflect attention from how much he exposes himself as a composer. His music is emotionally risky and open on a level that's shocking before you even notice the raps. He redefined hip-hop in terms of heart-on-sleeve expression, from his jubilant soul samples on Jay-Z's The Blueprint, to the deep-freeze Auto-Tune depression of 808s & Heartbreak, the weirdest breakup album since Neil Young's On the Beach. Where others would use a harpsichord or cello as a sound effect, he manipulates them as musical tools. Who else would move the crowd with Can or Laura Nyro samples? Who else makes tracks that soar like "We Major," "Hey Mama" or "The Glory"? And those were just his deep cuts. No wonder Yeezy wants everyone to think he's a dick. It's less pressure than getting recognized as the compulsively personal singer-songwriter he is.

This story is from the December 24th, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

“Stillness Is the Move”

Dirty Projectors | 2009

A Wim Wenders film and a rapper inspired the Dirty Projectors duo David Longstreth and Amber Coffmanto write "sort of a love song." "We rented the movie Wings of Desire from Dave's brother's recommendation, and he had me go through it and just write down some things that I found interesting, and they made it into the song," Coffman said. As for the hip-hop connection, Longstreth explained, "The beat is based on T-Pain. We commissioned a radio mix of the song by the guy who mixes all of Timbaland's records, but the mix we made sounded way better, so we didn't use it."

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