In 2005, Kanye West’s status caught up to his ego. A year after the surprise success of his 2004 debut, The College Dropout, the kid from Chi-Town with the teddy bear on his sweater went from hip-hop star to full-fledged, cover-of-Time-magazine American icon. Splicing a sample of Jamie Foxx impersonating Ray Charles with a marching-band drumbeat, Roc-A-Fella Records’ producer-cum-MC created the song that would become his first to top the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart (and five other charts along the way), “Gold Digger.” Upon its August release, his album Late Registration sold 860,000 copies its first week in stores (on its way to a total of 2.8 million) and was hailed as one of the best albums of the year, if not the best album of the year, by countless critics. Then, a month later, the always outspoken artist injected himself into a national debate on race and class and the failings of the government, when, during a televised fundraiser for victims of Hurricane Katrina, he spontaneously uttered seven words that would become a cultural catchphrase: “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” Maybe not, but everybody seemed to care about Kanye West.
You can’t tell him nothin’. He can tell you a lot. Listen.
I think 2005 was the most important year in making me an impactful artist and making it so I could make records forever… I was riding off the wave of College Dropout to Late Registration, so I had a lot of goodwill at that point, and all I had to do was deliver something that was really good, and people would celebrate it.
I couldn’t even imagine the success level that “Gold Digger” had. I was scared to put “Gold Digger” out. We put the scratch on it, so I felt more comfortable about it, just to make sure that it was super hip-hop, and it just soared beyond my wildest dreams. I think that when you stop being afraid is when you stop being good. And I think that, because of the whole [idea of the] sophomore jinx, I was really in the studio, and I made music like I was really in tune with everything that was going on. People say that the key to failure is trying to please everybody, right? I feel like that’s a cop-out. I say, why not try? If you reach for the stars, you’ll fall on a cloud. Why not try to make something that has a lot of appeal? Why not try to make something that can be played on the radio but also gets respect in the barbershops? Every now and then there’s one of those records that happen like that. But usually rappers get one of those on an album, or maybe one or two of those a year. I said, Why not make a whole album of those? And I sat back and I said, Well, okay, what are the elements? Well, musicality. People like melody. So let’s have melody. Okay, but with hip-hop, you need drums and real lyrics and lines that catch people and emotion, and people relate to it. So put that on there, too. And subject matter. Make it something that everybody can understand. Speak in a way that people understand what the fuck you’re talking about. And that’s what I did.
XXL Staff Picks
Songs of the Year:
“Still Tippin’,” Mike Jones featuring Slim Thug & Paul Wall
“Stay Fly,” Three 6 Mafia featuring 8Ball & MJG & Young Buck
“Candy Shop,” 50 Cent featuring Olivia
“Gold Digger,” Kanye West featuring Jamie Foxx
“I’m a Hustla,” Cassidy
“Hate It or Love It,” The Game featuring 50 Cent
“Wait (The Whisper Song),” Ying Yang Twins
“Soul Survivor,” Young Jeezy featuring Akon
“Sittin’ Sidewayz,” Paul Wall
“Diamonds From Sierra Leone,” Kanye West
Albums of the Year:
Late Registration, Kanye West
The Massacre, 50 Cent
Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101, Young Jeezy
The Documentary, The Game
Tha Carter 2, Lil Wayne