Self-assured West wows 'em onstage, shows wit backstage


February 15, 2005



LOS ANGELES -- For all of the cocksure arrogance that South Side native Kanye West presents in public, the 27-year-old hip-hop phenomenon remains refreshingly wide-eyed about his success in private.

When I ran into West moments after the end of the Grammy Awards at the Staples Center Sunday night, I congratulated him on his three wins and told him he'd be on the front page of Monday's Sun-Times for dominating the telecast.

"Really? For real?" he said. "My moms will see that!"

Millions of viewers around the world saw West deliver a show-stopping performance on Sunday with another Chicago great, soul-gospel singer Mavis Staples, and they heard one of the most memorable speeches in Grammy history when he accepted the best rap album prize for his debut, "The College Dropout."

While West joined an elite club by garnering 10 nominations -- only Michael Jackson and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds have earned more -- he claimed only three of the prizes. (The others: rap song for "Jesus Walks" and R&B song for ''You Don't Know My Name,'' a collaboration with Alicia Keys and Harold Lilly.)


A Wilco toast for 'Ghost'

After Kanye West, the other big Chicago winner at Sunday night's Grammy Awards was alternative-country-band-turned-art-rock-group Wilco.

The group bested an impressive slate that included Bjork, Franz Ferdinand, PJ Harvey and Modest Mouse to claim the best alternative album prize for "A Ghost Is Born." The 2004 album also won for best recording package, thanks to the design by art directors Dan Nadel and Peter Buchanan-Smith.

"We were shocked that we were nominated and even more shocked to have won," said Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, "especially considering the people we were up against. We're really happy. Hell, we feel like Norah Jones. We swept the Grammys!"

These are the first two Grammys for Wilco, whose only previous nomination came in 1999 for best contemporary folk album with the Woody Guthrie tribute "Mermaid Avenue."

Jim DeRogatis

In the press room backstage, 75 reporters from around the world shouted and booed when West lost best new artist to fluffy popsters Maroon 5 and Song of the Year to John Mayer, who won for the tepid "Daughters."

But "The College Dropout" is expected to shoot back to the top of the charts next week thanks to the exposure. A whole new audience was wowed by West's performance of "Jesus Walks," and the show solidified his standing as one of the pop world's most innovative producers, performers and songwriters.

In announcing the nominations, the academy that sponsors the Grammys noted that West is a rare triple threat. But he also funds and directs his own videos, and he plans to make a movie. Make that a quadruple threat.

Sporting his flashy white suit and an elaborate design shaved onto his close-cropped head, West spoke to the press shortly after the end of the Grammy telecast. As usual, his comments displayed an impressive self-assurance and a lightning-quick wit.

Q. Kanye, how lame is Maroon 5?

A. [Laughs.] I love Maroon 5! We talked about this before they won: With awards, they try to make it seem like it's one winner, but we're all winners for the fact that we're here. We're winning in life, with our music reaching so many people. Maroon 5 is too good; it's like if I was against Outkast last year -- it would be hard.

Q. Why weren't you nominated for Producer of the Year?

A. Considering that I got so many nominations, it seemed out of place. I was like, "What about producer of the year?" [Laughs.]

Q. Sometimes artists aren't nominated because their label forgot to put them up in that category.

A. Oh, they nominated me for everything! They also put me up for best video and best [CD] cover. [Laughs.] What about best video? I haven't made any money off my album because I spent so much on my videos!

Q. Did having something to prove inspire your performance in the gospel tribute tonight?

A. God inspired me. The opportunity to perform and deliver the message at the Grammys was a dream come true.

Q. Gretchen Wilson said at the Grammy nominations press conference that you went up to her beforehand and apologized for the comments you made after the American Music Awards [criticizing the Dick Clark-produced event]. Can you comment on that?

A. Everything I do, even when I'm stunting -- Write this down: ['Stunting'] means saying something that someone else would be saying on your behalf so you don't seem arrogant [laughs] -- I don't do it to hurt anyone else. I'm really a class clown. Comedians like Jamie Foxx, they can get away with so much. I can say something that I think is funny, but I can't joke or have a good time. In that situation, I felt like I might have been doing something to hurt someone -- Gretchen -- so I apologized to her. But I don't apologize to Dick Clark or the AMAs, because they should never have had me perform and be nominated for so many awards and then not win any awards.

I'm one of those new artists who just want to believe that everything is on the up and up. But now I see that with those other awards shows, it's all political. I could have been political, too, being that I was so hot at the time. I could have said, "I'm not going to perform if I don't win." But that would have taken away from my dream as an artist. I would prefer to honestly lose than to win dishonestly.

Q. Would you have preferred to win more?

A. Oh yeah, definitely! I'd have preferred to win 10! [Laughs.]

Q. You just scored another hit producing the Game. Will you continue working with other artists?

A. If they're signed to my label! [Laughs] Like [keyboardist] John Legend, who's already certified platinum, and [Chicago rapper] Common, whose new album is coming out and who's coming back. He is real hip-hop.