Kanye West, “Harder Than You Think” (Originally Published October 2007)

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But you’re the same dude that’s thrown public fits over not winning music awards, because you felt you deserved them more than the actual winners? Do you feel like you deserve it over 50?
I mean, there are so many factors that play into it. That first week is definitely the new gold record, but it doesn’t really tell how it connected with the people. I think “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” is the most important rap song of the last year. Maybe since T.I.’s “What You Know.” As an example, let’s use a Busta record. “I Know What You Want,” with Mariah Carey, was probably bigger at radio than “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See.” But rappers wasn’t like, “I wish I had that record.” They were like, “I wish I had ‘Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See.’” Jay-Z was like, “Man, I wish I had that shit.” That’s what I want, for other niggas to be like: “Damn, I want that record. I wish my album sounded like that.” You can’t say who has the No. 1 record until a year later.

But you can’t beat the video game without passing level one. 50 even said he’d retire if he didn’t get that No. 1 SoundScan spot come Sept. 19. What’s your priority?
If you have the best album, musically, shouldn’t you get the No. 1 spot? I just feel like the key is to keep selling more… My biggest inspiration and biggest competition is Justin Timberlake. He’s the only other person that gets an across the-board response and respect level—Black radio, White radio. If Justin hadn’t come out and killed the game, I can’t say that my album, singles and videos would be on the same level that they’re on. We push each other. I look at me and Justin like Prince and Michael Jackson in their day. Prince had to be watching Michael, and Michael had to be watching Prince. Mike ended up being bigger, but Prince was iller.

So do you wanna be Prince or Michael?
Ummm… I would wanna be Mike. Who wouldn’t wanna be Mike? I wanna be Michael Jordan, Mike Tyson, Michael Jackson.

So you’d prefer to be the bigger artist, Michael Jackson, and you wanna compete with Justin Timberlake, but you say you’re not concerned with having the No. 1 album. It’s not adding up. Justin had a No. 1 album.
I wanna be Mike. But, realistically, I might end up being Prince. I mean, you saw how I dropped “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” as my first single, instead of “Good Life,” because I wanna be so ill. Again, I release songs that I wanna perform. I never drop songs for radio. That’s why I think my life [as an artist] is way harder. Because, say, if Justin drops “My Love,” he’s got Paul Hunter, Timbaland and himself. I’m trying to compete with all three by myself. But with the skills that I’ve developed, to compete with Justin, as well as a Timbaland, is the same way I came up as a producer. I was competing with Bad Boy, but Bad Boy had seven or eight producers. I’m in my bedroom at my mother’s house trying to play strings like I’m Stevie J and then trying to find loops, like Nashiem [Myrick] or Deric [“D-Dot”Angeliette] or Young Lord. I’m trying to do what all these guys do, as one producer. I didn’t know the Bad Boy beats would be rough ideas, and then Deric would come in and do this, and Ron [“Amen-Ra”] Lawrence would come in and do that, then Puff comes in and says, “Do that.” It’s the same way I’m trying to compete with Paul Hunter, Justin and Timbaland.

All right. Switching gears from professional to personal, what made you want to get engaged?
Because I was in love. Not was—am.

What makes Alexis Phifer qualified to be Mrs. West?
She challenges me as much as working on a song does. It’s very hard for successful people to have someone who inspires them to want to put in that constant work.She makes me feel like it’s worth
it. It’s so many pretty girls that you have to find someone who you try to not call back, but four days later you have to call ’em.

So how does Kanye West stay faithful in a room full of hoes?
Man, my boy Sakiya had this old technique back when we used to have girls come to the studio. He’s married, so when girls walk in lookin’ too good, he has to leave. It be that one joint that would walk in, and he’d be like, “Aight, fam, I gotta go.” [Laughs] It’s just not putting yourself in certain situations, or removing yourself from certain situations. Just focus on the bigger picture.