Kanye's rise complete


February 14, 2005


LOS ANGELES -- In terms of the number of golden gramophones claimed -- eight --the biggest winner as the 47th annual Grammy Awards were handed out on Sunday night at the Staples Center was the late Ray Charles.

But in terms of establishing himself as a musical force to be reckoned with and the artist that everyone was talking about, the evening belonged to Chicago native and hip-hop innovator Kanye West.

The triple-threat rapper, producer and songwriter claimed only three of the almost-unprecedented 10 nominations stemming from his debut album, "The College Dropout," including best rap song and best rap album. He lost the major prizes for best new artist and Song and Album of the Year.

But West stopped the show with his uplifting performance of the hit "Jesus Walks" -- "I feel like I've been saved!" actor and presenter Kevin Bacon exclaimed immediately afterward -- and his acceptance speech for best rap album was one of the most memorable in Grammy history.

"When I had my accident, I found out that nothing in life is promised except death," West said. "If you have the opportunity to play the game of life, you need to appreciate every moment."

Then, West shifted gears and flashed his famously cocky humor. "I plan to celebrate and scream and pop champagne every chance I get, 'cause I'm at the Grammys, baby!" he shouted.

"Everybody wanted to know what I would do if I didn't win. Well, I guess we'll never know!"

West's most difficult loss had to be ceding the best new artist prize to L.A.'s marshmallow popsters Maroon 5. When he met the press backstage later on, even that band's singer Adam Levine acknowledged that West had been robbed.

"Everybody expected Kanye West to win, and he's incredible," Levine said. "I feel like we're sharing this prize with him."

Always fond of honoring departed greats, it was no surprise that voters from Grammy sponsors the Recording Academy gave eight awards to the late Charles for his final album, "Genius Loves Company," a mediocre but double-platinum-selling collection of duets. Among the prizes it claimed were Album of the Year and best pop album and Record of the Year (for "Here We Go Again," Charles' duet with Norah Jones).

One hint that it would be a big night for Charles came early on when Alicia Keys performed a duet of "Georgia on My Mind" with actor Jamie Foxx, the Oscar-nominated star of the biopic "Ray."

Nominated for eight awards herself, Keys claimed four, including best R&B album ("The Diary of Alicia Keys") and R&B song ("You Don't Know My Name," her collaboration with West, which counted among his wins).

Also nominated for eight prizes, 7 million-selling R&B superstar Usher claimed four awards, including best contemporary R&B album ("Confessions") and best rap/sung collaboration ("Yeah!" with Lil Jon and Ludacris).

After Maroon 5's win and Recording Academy President Neil Portnow's annual speech demonizing music downloading, the evening's lamest moment came when John Mayer won song of the year for "Daughters." He also claimed best male pop vocal performance for the acoustic weeper.

Three months after the presidential elections, voters honored two artists who released intensely anti-Bush albums. Green Day's "American Idiot" claimed the prize for best rock album, while Steve Earle's "The Revolution Starts ... Now" won best contemporary folk album.

Accepting the prize, Green Day -- which also delivered an incendiary performance, in terms of both pyrotechnics and musical fire -- guitarist-vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong took credit for proving that "rock 'n' roll can be dangerous and fun at the same time." (He self-censored the nasty words in the song "American Idiot" when the band performed, but he still surprised censors by flipping his middle finger.)

When the bulk of the awards were handed out before the telecast, Chicago alternative-country heroes turned art-rockers Wilco claimed two prizes for "A Ghost Is Born," winning best alternative album and best recording package.

As for the performances, the Grammys took a cue from the Oscars in opening with a whiz-bang, high-energy medley -- minus Billy Crystal, thankfully -- underscoring the show's diversity as the Black Eyed Peas, Gwen Stefani and Eve, Los Lonely Boys, Maroon 5 and Franz Ferdinand offered snippets of their hits.

Continuing a publicity blitzkrieg priming the pump for their spring tour, U2 performed the bland ballad "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own." The Irish rockers also claimed three Grammys, including best rock song for "Vertigo."

"Escapemonos," the much-hyped musical debut of Jennifer Lopez and her third husband, Marc Anthony, didn't generate much heat, despite the boudoir stage setting. But even soggier were the all-star tribute to Southern rock and sing-along version of the Beatles' "Across the Universe" intended as a fund-raiser for tsunami victims.

As host, Queen Latifah was amiable if not particularly inspired. Much better was her medley of the sultry jazz numbers "Lush Life" and "Baby Get Lost."