On August 24, 2007, 19 days before the release of his third studio album, Graduation, Kanye West put on a stay-in-school benefit concert in his native Chicago in support of Loop Dreams, a music program run by Kanye West Foundation, the name of the charitable organization he started with his late mother, Donda West, before it was renamed Donda's House following her passing later that year.
Nearly 11 years later, and with his eighth solo studio album on the horizon, the foundation is once again making headlines, but this time it's for Kanye's reported lack of involvement—both physically and financially. Following an ugly public exchange on Twitter with Kanye's wife, Kim Kardashian West, veteran Chicago artist Rhymefest, Kanye's longtime collaborator and one of the executive directors of the foundation, announced that the organization will no longer be named Donda's House Inc.
Kanye has yet to publicly address the controversy and subsequent fallout on his preferred social network (unless you believe he was the ghostwriter behind all of Kim's tweets), but prior to that benefit concert at the House of Blues more than a decade ago, during which he performed Graduation in its entirety for the first time, I was fortunate enough to sit down with him for a brief one-on-one interview.
Following an introductory press conference at the neighboring Hotel Sax, Kanye and I discussed his foundation, his growing legacy inside and out of music, using controversy to sell music, and Graduation's "Barry Bonds," which he revealed was supposed to feature both Lil Wayne and JAY-Z.
Our interview, edited for content, clarity, and length, follows.
DJBooth: Welcome back to Chicago. I know you were just overseas in Europe—how’d that go?
Kanye West: It was incredible—we got the number one record in Europe right now.
If I’m a parent and I have a negative perception of hip-hop, convince me otherwise.
I think America just needs to get real when it comes to the way our kids speak and communicate. They need to understand what happens in rap. 2Pac and Biggie might talk about violence, but in action movies, there are stuntmen who actually have died on set. The amount of people who talk about guns versus who actually uses them is not even close in this millennium. People need to understand that hip-hop that has gun talk is just for entertainment; similar to if you were watching a movie. Film schools don’t have anything against movies with violence. If you can approach hip-hop from a standpoint of “How did they put this together?” and get past the fact that they use profanity, realize that you are a reflection of your parents, more so then the music. Let’s get more into the music itself. How does Dr. Dre, a musical genius, layer all these sounds? What about engineering and Pro Tools and the poetry aspect? We can teach about hip-hop history, we can teach about legends, hip-hop theory. It’s been around so long that textbooks can be written about it. This is a perfect time to capitalize on and get kids excited about [music] education.
The Kanye West Foundation is working closely with Chicago Public Schools. When all is said and done, how you want Kanye West to be remembered?
I want to be remembered for making great music and doing great things for people.
Outside of music, how do you plan to accomplish that?
A lot of artists have a lot of different ventures, I think it’s typical for a hip-hop artist, at this point, to have a bunch of different ventures. So yeah man, I do have different things, but I've actually focused more on music in the past months. I try to deliver because I don’t believe that people are deliverin’ the same quality of albums. You know, it’s not like Raekwon, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., and Nas, Illmatic. Like, what’s the last album we had like that? I think [Jay-Z’s] The Blueprint—so if Graduation was the blueprint then this is the building made from those plans.
One of the new songs on the album is “Barry Bonds” featuring Lil Wayne. People look at Barry Bonds and say, “He cheated the baseball game.” Who do you feel is cheating the hip-hop game?
That’s an interesting question—I don’t really have an answer to that. That’s a clever question that, you know—
Do you think it’s the fans who are not buying the music?
Well, that statement kinda makes it seem like I would think that Barry Bonds cheated, which I don’t think he did. And whatever they say about Barry Bonds, you could say about so many others, [like,] “He couldn’t hit that many.” So, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to call it “Barry Bonds,” you know, ‘cause it was controversial. I think the similarity is a lot of people have a lot of things to say about me, but here’s another hit, Barry Bonds. Like, what do you do? He goes out and makes more hits! So, at what point do you stop hating, you know?
Was that single engineered to catch the controversy train?
I make music as good as possible, but I do reference cultural icons because I want my music to be a time capsule of 2007. You throw everything in, you know, the Kate Moss reference to the Lil Wayne verse to a T-Pain feature—everything is like, “This is what’s happenin’ in 2007.” I want my album to be that one—if you’re making a time capsule you have to throw my album in there.
The single that’s currently impacting is “Stronger.” From touring overseas to creating music to starting a foundation, how do you remain strong?
Man, just tryin’ to get as much sleep as possible, to drinkin' water, and tryin’ to make sure that my people give me the proper information to be able to get in front of people and speak. That’s all I need. I need the information and then I can go. So, as long as I have the information and a little bit of sleep, I can do the rest.
So, what’d you really think about that “Barry Bonds” joint?
Honestly, I don’t think you needed Lil’ Wayne; he has just been on so much lately. Kanye West isn’t an artist who needs a feature verse from anyone.
Well, actually, it was supposed to be me, Weezy and Jay. But Jay didn’t have the time to get his verse in [before the album was wrapped].
So will his verse surface in a remix, possibly?