Why You Can't Ignore Kanye

More GQ than gangsta, Kanye West is challenging the way rap thinks about race and class--and striking a chord with fans of all stripes

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Contradictions abound on the CD, but what you notice most is the music. West is a master of samples and drum loops, and co-producer Brion can play anything with strings. Together they make one of the better-sounding rap records in history. Diamonds from Sierra Leone features the Bassey sample, keyboards stolen from a Vegas lounge act and a horn section fit for a coronation. Gone opens with an Otis Redding sample (from It's Too Late) and a two-note piano melody. Then there's a thwack of percussion and what seems like eight different string sections playing disciplined countermelodies that change with each verse to modify the vocals. In the middle it slows to a crawl for a few seconds, just because. At the end, West is justified in boasting, "Maybe you can be my intern and intern/ I show you how to cook up summer/ In the winter."

One night while making the record, Brion says, he and West got in a state of giddy exhaustion unique to people who spend hours a day for months on end in a windowless recording studio. "We had just been talking about something, and there was one of those weird, intense lulls," says Brion. "Kanye looks at me, and he goes, 'You know that saying You can't be all things to all people? Well, seriously, why not? I want to be all things to all people.'" Brion waited for a moment, then burst into laughter. "I knew he wasn't kidding, and he's smart enough to know that wanting to be loved by everybody is probably really bad for your mental health, but at the same time his point was, you know, why not try?" You never know. He just might succeed.

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