Hip-hop's fasting-rising star is just as likely to rhyme about buckling his seat belt as about getting it on with the ladies. Kanye West, 27, won four Billboard Music Awards last week and got nominated for 10 Grammys--mostly for his debut album, The College Dropout, but also for producing other artists, like Alicia Keys. He freestyled with TIME's Barbara Kiviat.
YOU'RE MUCH PREPPIER THAN MOST RAPPERS. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF HIP-HOP'S IMAGE IN GENERAL?
I love the gansta image. I love that music. I bought 50 Cent's album on the first day. I bought Jay-Z's album on the first day. If it wasn't for that, there would be no me. It's the yin and the yang. I'm really a real person, a personality that someone you go to school with might have. You know somebody that's like me.
SO YOU'RE KEEPING IT REAL?
Yeah, if it can be any more cliché. I'd love to see this transaction in print. That would be dope.
WHAT DO YOU SAY TO PEOPLE WHO SEE A CONTRADICTION BETWEEN THE DEVOUTNESS OF YOUR GRAMMY-NOMINATED HIT JESUS WALKS AND THE PROFANITY AND SEXUAL CONTENT ON THE REST OF YOUR ALBUM?
It's definitely a contradiction. Contradiction is part of who everybody is. I am a real person, and I make my mistakes and I laugh and I cry and I smile and I hate and I love. One song is, I love God, and the next song is, Can you come over? That's how I feel. Sometimes you're in church, and you're looking at the girl's dress right next to you.
IS THERE ROOM FOR MORE GOD IN HIP-HOP?
People have always had songs about God, but it'd be like the last song of the album. It'd be like a real soft-beat piano, never the beats that you would actually get for your [big songs]. It's a subject matter that people now see can be successful. If you take a memorable melody like [singing] "Jesus walks,"then you take the hottest producer and distinctive drum programming. What is a subject matter that almost everybody relates to? God.
SOME OF YOUR SONGS CAST COLLEGE IN A NEGATIVE LIGHT. WHAT DOES YOUR MOTHER, A UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR, THINK OF THAT?
Both my mother and my father feel like college is not particularly everybody's answer. Sometimes it might be better for someone to go to a trade school. [People] try to make it seem like if you go to college and you get all A's, that you'll move to the suburbs, have 2.5 kids and live happily ever after. But in many cases life just doesn't work like that. There are a lot of careers that don't involve college. What I'm saying is, Make your own decisions.
WHAT KIND OF CAR DO YOU DRIVE?
Actually, I don't have a car. I'm on the road most of the time. I just ride with people I know, my friends. Hey, who wouldn't give Kanye West a ride?
WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO BE A GOLDEN BOY?
It feels like everybody feels about me like I always felt about myself. I always planned on it. I used to talk more s___ before I got the accolades. People say losing is a humbling experience. No, for me, winning is a humbling experience. I don't have to talk as much because everybody else is saying it for me.
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU'RE INSECURE ABOUT?
Yeah, I'm so self-conscious. I'm a human being. I got this gap in my teeth that was supposed to be fixed when I had my braces. There are certain pictures you can see it really well.