The #10 Biggest Moment: Kanye Flips The Script
XXL has been in existence for more than 10 years now. (Perhaps you noticed the sirloin-thick anniversary issue that tilted your local newsstand six months back.) In that time, since September 1997, we’ve put out 99 magazines covering, as the saying goes, hip-hop on a higher level—all the moments that made the music mean so much.
It should be noted, of course, that 1997 is significant for another reason. The death of the Notorious B.I.G. in March of that year closed what stands as the most momentous chapter in hip-hop history: the great Brooklyn MC’s rivalry with his California counterpoint, Tupac Shakur. In that light, the XXL era can be seen as the post–Biggie-Tupac era.
As we watch and wait to learn what will define the future, we cast an eye back at what we’ve witnessed so far. In celebration of our 100th issue, here are the 100 biggest hip-hop moments of our time.
#10: KANYE FLIPS THE SCRIPT
SEPTEMBER 2, 2005. NBC STUDIOS, NEW YORK CITY.
During comedian Mike Myers’ entreaty in the horrible aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Kanye West stood silently by, looking like a nervous kid waiting for his turn to talk. He had both hands in his pockets, blinked a whole lot, and even cleared his throat before he started speaking. “I hate the way they portray us in the media,” he began, obviously veering from the script.
For 64 long seconds, West, the son of a college professor and a former Black Panther, stood on a soundstage at NBC Studios and rambled ineloquently about how the United States government failed its citizens. Myers looked on in shock. After all, this program, A Concert for Hurricane Relief, was being carried live to the East Coast on NBC, MSNBC, CNBC and Pax. It was 2005. Celebrities just didn’t make political statements like this anymore. (And, what, jeopardize their next endorsement deal?)
Then, after Myers read another canned statement, West said the seven dirty words that you apparently can’t say on television: “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” The camera immediately cut to a shell-shocked Chris Tucker, and the statement was “edited” (we’ll call it “censored”) from the West Coast broadcast. By the next morning, West was either a hero or a self-promoting blowhard who created a national controversy just three days after the release of his new album, Late Registration—depending on whom you voted for last election.
“I was just glad he had the nuts to do it,” says Atlanta rapper Killer Mike. “He’s probably more gangster than these fake-ass muthafuckas playing the gangster.”
Four days later, however, foxnews.com ran an article questioning West’s artistry. The hit job attacked Kanye for sampling (What is this, 1991?) and for collaborating with singers such as Keyshia Cole and Adam Levine, “since West, you know, like Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs and other rap entrepreneurs, does not actually sing.” It also called Late Registration “a con job.”
Nonetheless, the album sold over 860,000 copies its first week. More importantly, his outburst summed up the feelings of a country fuming over its president’s incompetence in dealing with this latest tragedy. (“Heck of a job, Brownie!”)
“Katrina was the first time in American history since the civil rights era where brutal shit was televised, and America couldn’t push the off button quick enough,” Killer Mike says. “All of a sudden, all of those people who lived below the poverty rate and in unlivable housing projects, you got to see those people in their most desperate hour.”
Some people, however, thought that the moment was more telling of the sorry state of activism and outrage—not just in hip-hop, but in the entire nation. “We’ve been yelling this for years,” says Ice-T, who notably feuded with Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, in 1992. “For someone to get on TV and say, ‘George Bush doesn’t care about Black people,’ and for Americans to say, ‘Wow, somebody stood up,’ to me, that’s kind of corny. Like, duh. If you didn’t know George Bush doesn’t care about Black people, where the fuck you been?”—THOMAS GOLIANOPOULOS
THIS IS ONLY A PREVIEW!
Read the full “100 Moments” countdown in the 100th issue of XXL, on stands now!