West reaching for the 'Sky'


October 30, 2005


Kanye West originally envisioned his fall tour as a celebration not only of his success, but of two artists he's produced via his Good Music label: fellow Chicago rapper Common and R&B singer John Legend. But something went awry.

"That's what I'm wondering: What happened to it? I wish you could've talked to them," West said. (Common dropped out to accept a film role, while Legend opted for a headlining tour of his own.) "But Common is still a good friend of mine, and there wouldn't be a 'Late Registration' if it wasn't for Common. I made it while we were working on 'Be,' so there are completely Common-esque beats, and he helped me find my new sound and develop as a lyricist and as a person."

Even without Common and Legend, "The Touch the Sky Tour" is a stellar accomplishment. Two and a half decades into hip-hop's development, too many performers still treat the concert arena as an afterthought, lazily going through the motions with short sets padded with left-side, right-side shout-outs. West's ambitious, well-staged and nearly two-hour show ranks with the best tours hip-hop has ever produced, and it secures his position as a one-of-a-kind performer.

To help realize the elaborate orchestrations Hollywood film composer Jon Brion crafted for "Late Registration," West augments his DJ and percussionist with four violin players, two cellists and a harpist -- all women dressed in black, a la Robert Palmer's videos. (There's that '80s obsession again.) He gets some assistance from three up-and-coming rappers -- Consequence, GLC and Really Doe -- but he commands the spotlight, delivering almost every track on his two albums without truncating the songs or merging them into abbreviated medleys.

There is plenty of eye candy: In addition to numerous costume changes and flashy videos and lighting, West makes good use of props, singing "Roses" to his ailing grandmother beside a hospital bed and re-creating his teenage bedroom during "Spaceship." But the show succeeds on the strength of his rapping and puts the lie to the criticism that he's a great producer but a weak rapper.

In fact, West said he will no longer produce other artists, saving his best beats for himself. And he is already thinking ahead to working with Brion -- "a great friend and a great person who knows so much about soul music" -- on his third album, "Graduation."

"I'll start recording in about a week: I have about four songs for the new one that I had left over," he said. "There are so many people that want to work with me, and it's not like I don't want to work with them, but it's like I can't make this style of music for everyone. It's like, 'No, sorry.' I'm an artist."