Kanye and his mom, Dr. Donda West, at the Hotel Sax. West wasn’t afraid to throw in a little self-promotion. “Ask any white person, and I’m their favorite rapper,” he told a roomful of media.
The Kanye West Foundation raised more than $500,000 for education-related programs Friday, through West’s sold-out concert that night at the House of Blues and the foundation’s inaugural benefit earlier in the evening at the Crimson Lounge in the Hotel Sax Chicago. Access Hollywood’s Shaun Robinson emceed the reception, and celeb attendees included Mos Def, who later performed with West at HOB; Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade; and comedian-actor David Alan Grier.
“I have my finger on the pulse of pop culture and what kids are listening to,” West said during a pre-party press conference Friday. “Let’s talk to our kids, and let’s try to educate them in a way that they understand. Rap is the new poetry.”
KWF, which launched in 2003, sponsors programs such as the Loop Dreams Teacher Training Institute, an initiative kicking off this spring that will coach Chicago Public School teachers in using hip-hop in their curriculum, and the $60 million ED in ’08 campaign, which prods presidential candidates to make education reform a top priority. More than 50 percent of African Americans drop out of high school every year; 1.2 million overall. “I don’t think that’s a widely known fact,” West said.
“Your shirt is dope,” West told me. For the record, he was wearing a shirt by Fred Perry/Comme des Garcons (“It’s a few steps above Polo,” he said) and an American Apparel jacket.
I had a chance to chat with West on Friday, and he was happy to talk about subjects other than education—including his upcoming album. Aptly titled Graduation, it drops the same day, September 11th, as his rival 50 Cent’s new record, Curtis. “It was my idea to come out on the same day,” West said. “I knew it would cause a lot buzz, and that’s what I’m here to do: cause excitement.” Although he named Fiddy as one of his favorite rappers, “I’m not reacting to anything he’s doing or saying,” West said. “I’m just making the absolute best album I’ve made to date. This album will go down in history.”
West is nothing if not confident, but there’s a hint of humility lurking in there, somewhere. “I had a couple of bad years,” West admitted. “But that which doesn’t kill me can only make me stronger. All these people have this perception about me that I’m this bad guy and so not likable, just because I love my own music. What am I supposed to say, ‘I think it’s OK?’ I think it’s the best thing ever.”
Actor-comedian David Alan Grier, and his wife, Christine Kim, a curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem, attended Friday’s fundraiser.
Self-promotion aside, West gives credit where credit is due; he also discussed his notorious quote in XXL magazine, “My biggest inspiration and biggest competition is Justin Timberlake.”
“His music connects across the board; from black stations to white stations, everybody likes Justin’s music. He was the number-one black artist this past year,” West said, only half-kidding. “It’s good to have somebody who you look at and say, ‘Let me see if I can outdo him.’”
Take that, Fiddy.