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Kanye West: Head of the Class

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It's minutes to Midnight. In the parking lot of little Kean University in Union, New Jersey, amid affordable Hondas and Volkswagens, there's a hulking tour bus devoted to West, and there are two Maybachs, which is, right now, the ultimate hip-hop ride. The superluxury sedan costs more than $300,000; only 600 were sold last year. One miracle whip is Jay-Z's.

West hops out of his tour bus, zips over to Jay-Z's Maybach and climbs into the front seat. Jay's in the back, in a blue Rocawear jacket, crisp Rocawear jeans and sneakers so white he's probably never worn them before. Beside him is a sexy woman in a short skirt and fabulous Pucci boots. There's an assortment of Dentyne packs in the console and The Love Below on the sound system.

West signed with Roc-A-Fella in 2002 and developed a close relationship with his boss. "I still look up to Jay like a father figure," West says. Jay agrees that there's something of a father-son bond between them. "We talk about a lot of things," he says. "About how shit will go, what shit he gonna step in and what to look out for."

Jay-Z has this air of confidence so towering that if you've got even a speck of insecurity, it'll come out. Surely West knows this, but he's got a new toy that he's excited about. He takes the Jesus piece from around his neck and hands it to Jay for inspection. At first, Jay's impressed with the exquisite craftsmanship. Then I ask, "Don't it look funny to you that Mr. 'Jesus Walks's Jesus is white?" With that, Jay's eyebrows lower and skepticism comes over his face.

"That is a little different," Jay says, no longer impressed.

"Nah," West argues. "That's Grandma's Jesus!" It's his first time testing the excuse.

Jay is unmoved. "You gotta darken that face up, man."

"And get rid of them blue eyes," the woman next to him chimes in.

"We tried to get rid of the blue eyes," West says, on the defensive. He knew this would happen. "The blue eyes look best."

"Yeah," Jay says, knowing he's got West cornered. "That's what they make you think." Then he blurts out a laugh at the young rapper's expense.

West tries to explain, but Jay has heard enough. "Yo, man, we got a friend of ours' party to go to," he says. "What time you get onstage? Kick them niggas off or something."

They all say it's tough love at the Roc.

Ten minutes later West hits the stage, still wearing his troublemaking Jesus. Most of the few hundred students know all the words to West's songs, which is a bit ironic. Dropout's songs and skits poke fun at the imperative to attend college to a bitter effect, as if the message were, "You're a fool for staying in school." ("I do think [the skits] are a little harsh myself," West says.) But West's rhymes play up his intelligence while mocking the world of books. Jay-Z won't let him off the hook for wearing a white Jesus, but with his fans, West can have it both ways. Long past midnight, the Kean crowd raps right along with West's smart anti-college rhymes: "Ain't no tuition for havin' no ambition," he says on "We Don't Care." "And ain't no loans for sittin' yo' ass at home. There'll be no hitting the books tonight."

This story is from the April 29th, 2004 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

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Leonard Cohen | 1969

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