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by kenn on 12/14/2005 02:16:00 PM

Kanye West follows 'angels in my road'


Kanye West's Diamonds From Sierra Leone addresses the horrors of the mining trade in the war-torn country, but when he first started writing the song, he wasn't thinking about precious stones.

"When I was saying 'Throw your diamonds in the sky' on the original, I was talking about the symbol fans throw up (thumb to thumb, index finger to index finger) at Roc-A-Fella concerts," he says of the song, which samples Shirley Bassey's James Bond theme Diamonds Are Forever. "But God led me down this path. He put angels in my road to give me all this information. I didn't know I would wind up talking about blood diamonds."

West never embraced hip-hop's overriding thug motif. The Atlanta-born, Chicago-raised son of a college professor and a pastoral counselor doesn't have the 'hood credentials of most rap stars, and he never bothered trying to fake it. Even though he produced music for Jay-Z, Beanie Sigel and others, he had a hard time convincing record executives that he could rap as well. He never doubted it, but he knew his rhymes would be about something other than hustling on the streets. advertisement

"Don't I have the right to write about how things are affecting people?" he asks. "But rap has always had this premise that if you didn't do it, you can't rap about it. I'm more of a writer or poet than a rapper. A rapper is all about image. Being a writer, I have the right to be a person."

That kind of thinking allows him to do such songs as All Falls Down (on debut The College Dropout), on which he confesses his love for expensive things while decrying materialism. On his new Late Registration, he again touches on a variety of atypical topics. Crack Music, featuring the Game, talks about the devastating effects of drugs in the Black community. Gold Digger, with Jamie Foxx, tells the tale of a guy who spent 18 years paying support for a child who turned out not to be his.

"I like to educate people," says West, whom Time magazine this year named one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

"I like to be the one that can reach people who don't like to pick up a book. I like to say something that might change someone's life."

The rapper says his father, Ray West, a former Black Panther and photojournalist, is helping him shape even stronger messages for two future albums, which will complete his "college series."

Ray West says he's not surprised that his son feels the need to teach.

"His mother (Donde West) and I never talked to him as if he was a kid," he says. "We always talked to him like he was an adult, and he sometimes had to catch up to the language. I'm a storyteller. I talk in analogies. . . . I've just sat back and been amazed at where he has taken it."

Kanye West has taken his unusual songs to lofty heights of radio airplay after being warned that a song like the Grammy-winning Jesus Walks would never be successful. He also takes pains to maintain quality in everything he does. After nearly dying in an accident when he fell asleep at the wheel of his Lexus in October 2002, he decided that he'd never do shoddy work.

"When I had my accident, I was working on Beanie Sigel, Black Eyed Peas and Peedi Crakk, and let's just say that those tracks were not my best work," West says. "If I would have passed that night, that would have been the end of my legacy.

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