The Passion of Kanye West

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Days later, on a bright Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles, West is holed up in a wood-paneled studio, working on a song for the Mission: Impossible III soundtrack. He is photo-shoot-ready in dark jeans and a fitted brown T-shirt with fuchsia sequins that spell out the words GETTING OUT OUR DREAMS, the initials of which form the name of his record label. His pastel-colored Nikes are unlaced just so; his khaki Bathing Ape bomber jacket, which perfectly matches his outfit, rests on a leather couch. This was not a look that was just thrown together. (Few things in West's life, it turns out, are left to chance.) As his voice blares from behemoth speakers – "I don't want to hear that bullshit," he rhymes, "I want to hear that official shit/Kanye and that Twista shit/It's so impossible to get it/Get it/It's so impossible to get it" – he dances about the room, vigorously nodding his head, furiously pumping his fists, skipping side to side in immeasurable glee. West is in the zone, and consequently hours will slip away without him noticing.

In the course of the day, he'll receive several visitors, including two execs from the MI3 empire, a representative from the clothing line LRG and Will.i.am, the dread-locked member of the hip-hop quartet Black Eyed Peas. The two buppie rappers immediately launch into a brief conversation about Justin Timberlake.

"I'm finishing up Justin's album, and that shit is dope," says Will, who moonlights as a producer. "He surprised me again." "Oh, yeah," West replies, smiling. "Well, I know who's going to win the Grammy next year." Timberlake, he later says, is one of his idols. The two exchange more pleasantries before Will grows pensive. He is wondering in what direction he should take his upcoming solo album. "Why don't you just do vintage hip-hop?" West suggests.

"Yeah, we kinda did that with Q-Tip's new joint," says Will. "That song is so fresh. It sounds like Midnight Marauders."

It's not long before Will and West are trading compliments. "This shit is hot," Will says, as the line "I don't want to hear that bullshit" plays overhead.

"I love your album," West says. "The only albums that I listened to were yours, System of a Down and Fiona Apple."

West's booking agent at the management firm CAA, Jeff Frasco, drops by shortly after Will takes off. "It's going to be a good year, Kanye," Frasco declares after listening to the skeleton of the new song.

"It's already starting off good," says West.

Before departing, Frasco says, "Duran Duran asked me if you'd do a track on their album."

West is noncommittal. "Oh, yeah" is all he offers.

Later in the afternoon, the raspy-voiced Macy Gray, who is working in a neighboring studio, pops in. West immediately enlists her services, inviting her to sing the hook on the new song.

"I know you're a big, famous superstar and all, but can you reference this song for me?" he says sweetly.

Gray agrees, but before bounding into the recording booth she asks, "What note should I sing it in?"

"I don't know stuff like that," West says matter-of-factly.

It turns out that Gray's unique high-pitched voice, to put it kindly, doesn't exactly work for the track. He considers going with Keyshia Cole, the R&B singer many have taken to calling the new Mary J. Blige.

As Gray machetes her way through the chorus, West asks his light-skinned and leggy girlfriend, Brooke Crittendon, what she thinks. "Give her a minute," Crittendon says diplomatically. "Maybe if she sings it in a lower register it will work."

It doesn't work, but nevertheless West continues to solicit advice from his lady throughout the day. In fact, it appears that he likes to create by committee. Background singers and studio engineers, girlfriends and fellow producers, all will eventually be mined for insights, At one point during the afternoon he even turns to me and asks for my help in filling out the chorus. He uses two lines that I suggest and never looks back. (Kanye, I know you're reading this. We'll talk points later.)

"I have to be careful," says Crittendon, a twenty-four-year-old assistant at MTV "because if I tell him I don't like something, he'll cut it." The two have been dating for more than a year, an eternity in the music industry, and she's racked up her fair share of frequent-flier miles jetting around the country to spend weekends with West. "I don't think we've ever been apart longer than seven days," she says, as a screensaver photo of the couple flashes on West's laptop. Entire days spent in the studio are nothing new to her. "Even if he isn't talking to me, he just likes me to be here," she says. How does their relationship work? "By the grace of God," she says, chuckling softly. Does she trust him? "If someone makes an agreement, I expect them to honor it." She pauses. I notice that the two have matching gold Bulgari watches. "I trust him," she says finally. "He's got so much going on, but he never makes me feel like I'm number two."

The clock strikes 3 A.M., which means that West has been in the studio for more than thirteen hours.

The last thing he'd like to be doing right now is an interview. Still, he grudgingly obliges. I ask him about the last line in "Gold Digger" – the "he leave yo' ass for a white girl" line. It's one of his best lyrics, he says. "When I said that line in my head I was like, 'This is why I get paid the big bucks. It's lines like that that separate the good from the great.'" Anyone who may have interpreted that line as an indictment of interracial dating would be sorely mistaken. If it wasn't for race mixing, there'd be no video girls, West argues in all earnestness. And, he continues, "Me and most of my friends like mutts a lot." By mutts does he mean biracial, cablinasian types? "Yeah, in the hood they call 'em mutts."

On "Heard 'Em Say," he rhymes, "I know the government administered AIDS." Does he honestly believe that? "Yes," the rapper says. "My parents taught me that AIDS was a man-made disease designed to get rid of the undesirable people." Blacks and homosexuals, he means.

After spending a few days with West, I start to believe that he has an entire arsenal of grenadelike one-liners, a Louis Vuitton backpack filled with incendiary quotables like "George Bush doesn't care about black people." "With Kanye, it's either say nothing or tell the truth," says Antonio "L.A." Reid, head of the Island Def Jam Music Group. "He's not concerned with all of that bullshit in between."

West is reluctant to relive the evening of September 2nd, when, at an NBC telethon benefiting victims of Hurricane Katrina, he decided to veer off script and speak from the heart, "You don't know how many people have asked me about that," he says, sighing heavily. "It's like my gift and my curse." A quick recap: As comedian Mike Myers looked on in abject horror, West launched into a passionate and unfiltered minute-and-a half rant about Bush's slow response time. "I hate the way they portray us in the media," he said. "You see a black family, it says they're looting. If you see a white family, it says they're looking for food." His voice was noticeably shaky and he seemed just seconds away from wetting his pants. "It was definitely a courageous move," says Aaron McGruder, creator of the popular hip-hop comic strip "The Boondocks," which, over the years, has been particularly tough on the W. administration. "He didn't know what the ramifications would be. He didn't know if it would end his career, and you could see all of that on his face. You're not just dissing another rapper. You're dissing the president of the United States. That's real beef."

West says he didn't set out to dis Bush. "I threw more jabs at myself that night," he says. "Does anybody remember the whole thirty seconds I spent talking about how I turned away from the television set, how I went shopping? No, all anyone remembers is 'George Bush doesn't care about black people.'"

West has been lauded for what he said that night, but in his mind his call to end homophobia in hip-hop during an MTV interview was a gutsier move than blasting the president. Last year the rapper, who has a homosexual cousin, decided he'd had enough of the gay-bashing in an industry where the word "faggot" is as common as the word "the." Instantly, rumors about West batting for the other team began to swirl. "I knew there would be a backlash," he says, "but it didn't scare me, because I felt like God wanted me to say something about that."

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