Kanye West: Hip-Hop's 'Creative Genius'

Since the days of Tupac versus the Notorious B.I.G., or Jay-Z versus Nas, disputes between rappers have been a sure fire way to generate lots of headlines.

The media attention didn't cease when industry bad boy 50 Cent challenged the middle-class rap superstar Kanye West. 50 Cent announced that he would retire if West's album "Graduation" beat his album "Curtis" for sales in their first week.

In the end, West won, selling almost 1 million albums in the first week. 50 later recanted his statement about retirement.

But now that this battle has ended, West admits that he and 50 accomplished their intended results -- winning the publicity war.


"Because that's what they want," West tells "Nightline." "They want the black guys to be up against each other, about to shoot each other. And that's not what they got. What they got is two black guys sellin' a lot of records."

And while West is elated for such a grand showing on his third album, in the end, he said, his music is about connecting with his audience.

"'Cuz it isn't about the record sales," he said. "I'd rather sell, you know, 500,000 records to people who listen to them every single day of their life than a million records to people who didn't listen at all."

The rapper ignores the idea of having a "target audience." He compares his music to McDonald's. He's trying to reach everyone. All ages. All walks of life.

"'Cuz I don't care if you got $1 in your pocket or if you're super rich, you might have that urge to go by and get some McDonald fries," he said. "And that's the way it is. I don't care if you're super down on your luck [or] at the Hamptons, you need the Kanye CD. That's my goal."

Raising a 'Creative Genius'

West's musical career started at the age of 14, not in a dance hall or in a music class, but rather with computer software.

"I wanted to originally program video games, like back in seventh grade," he said. "And I forget the name of the program, but it was this music program ... and I found myself having more fun just doing the music part. And I kind of, like, just gave up on the idea of like programming the entire game and stuff. And I just found myself running home to program the music."

He slowly started to produce rap beats for amateur talent shows at his middle school, and soon he saved up enough allowance to buy a sampler, a piece of hardware that influences his unique style to this day.

"Sometimes I'll take a sample out and replay things, or sometimes I'll have a chorus idea, but usually I start from a sample," he said. "It's a collage of different ideas. And one thing about hip-hop -- hip-hop can take any form."

The "sampling" technique alters the vocal sections from other music, usually soul and R&B, and then incorporates other instruments.

'Rap Music Is About Hardships'

"Software" and '"programming" aren't usually the terms that come to mind when describing a successful rap star. And West admits he didn't have the poor, deprived upbringing claimed by many other rappers.

He grew up in an upper-middle-class background in Chicago.

West's mother and manager, Dr. Donda West, was formerly the chairwoman of the English department at Chicago State University, where the rapper attended briefly before dropping out to pursue a career in music.

His mother calls her son a "creative genius" and she continues to be awestruck at how he can recite a fresh rap lyric without a pen and paper.

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