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by kenn on 12/28/2003 09:43:00 PM

Premiering West

Personal: 26-year-old Chicago native Kanye West is one of hip-hop's premier producers, now emerging as an artist. He nearly died in a terrible car crash in Los Angeles in October 2002, just a few months after signing as an artist with Roc-A-Fella Records. It was during that time — with his broken jaw literally wired shut — that he recorded current hit Through the Wire, a deeply personal, sometimes witty account of the experience. "Who would have thought that that would be a hit single?" he says.

Buzz: More than a dozen media outlets have named his College Dropout, which is due Feb. 3, as one of the most anticipated albums of 2004. In addition to Through the Wire, he's also featured on Twista's Slow Jamz, giving him the two hottest singles on the Nielsen SoundScan national radio chart earlier this month. The album features appearances by several of West's past collaborators, including Jay-Z, Mos Def, Freeway, Ludacris and Twista.
History: West began making beats when he was 14. His big break came when he was introduced to Jay-Z, who used a West beat on Beanie Sigel's The Truth in 2000. He has become one of Jay-Z's favorite producers, working on Izzo (H.O.V.A.), '03 Bonnie and Clyde and Encore— and has provided soulful beats for Alicia Keys (You Don't Know My Name), Scarface (Guess Who's Back), Talib Kweli (Get By), Ludacris (Stand Up) and many others.

Getting the runaround: West says he has been rapping since he was in third grade, but he could never convince anybody to give him a shot. Everyone, it seems, was always more impressed with his production abilities. "Some people tell me that I rap so much better than when they had a chance to sign me. I'll play them a song and they'll say, 'See,' but it will be something I recorded a long time ago. But that's cool. The tables have been turned."

Rapping to a different beat: Other artists have spun out tales about gangsters, drugs, sex, clubbing and the like. But West says he represents the common man. "It's more like the person who works at the Gap but still likes nice clothes, or the guy with a regular job and a car payment who was finally able to afford some rims by the summer."

Overflowing confidence: "One advantage I have is that all my beats are phenomenal. I gave up a couple (including the one for Lucifer on Jay-Z's The Black Album), but for the most part, I think it's a classic album."

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