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Kanye West honored for positive hip hop image

By Damon Muhammad
Entertainment Contributor | Last updated: Mar 6, 2005 - 8:02:00 PM

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Million Man March 2005 Image Award winner Kanye West Photo: KanyeWest.com

(FinalCall.com) - There are many places that have contributed a great deal to the entity that is called hip hop. New York is known as the birthplace of the culture, bringing the world the likes of Africa Bambaataa, Kool Herc, Busy Bee, and many others; while California is styled as a home to outlaws, such as N.W.A., Ice T, and Too Short, just to name a few.

Over the last decade, the southern states of America have also yielded talented artists, like Outkast, The Geto Boys and Master P. The midwest region of the U.S. has remained relatively quiet, with the exception of St. Louis native Nelly who has sold millions of records to date; Chicago’s Common, who made a splash in the early 90s and continues to have substantial underground audience; as well as Twista (formerly known as Tung Twista), who has endured a fickle industry to recently achieve international notoriety after being signed to Rocafella Records, formerly co-owned by hip hop sensation Jay Z.

Rocafella Records also became home to another Chicago artist, Kanye West who, before stepping into the limelight, was responsible for producing music tracks for Jermaine Dupree, Foxy Brown, Jagged Edge, Dead Prez, Lil Kim, Goodie Mob and a long list of others.

He made the decision to step in front of the microphone with his debut album College Dropout and has been catapulted into the commercial success that few in hip hop achieve, which includes winning Grammy Awards for “Best Rap Album,” “Best Rap Song” for the song “Jesus Walks” and “Best R&B Song” for his songwriting credit on the Alicia Keys hit, “You Don’t Know My Name.”

During the Saviours’ Day 2005 event this year on Feb. 27, Kanye also became the first recipient of the Million Man MarchTM Image Award. Despite the desperate attempt to be present at the event, he was unable to accept the award personally. However, he sent a very heartfelt acceptance via video. He thanked the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Million ManTM March committee and vowed to do as much as he could to make the 2005 return to Washington, D.C. a success.

His Kanye West Foundation is very active in the Black community, especially where the youth are concerned. “The Kanye West Foundation has started a program called Loop Dreams to help retention in the high schools ‘cause we have so many major cities (with a high dropout rate). L.A. (has a) 52 percent dropout rate. Chicago (has a) 52 percent dropout rate. I know that people might have gotten jaded by the title College Dropout, but college is a choice; high school is a necessity,” the artist shared with thousands all over the world who were waiting to hear Minister Farrakhan’s anticipated address.

Loop Dreams is an initiative committed to keeping musical instruments in schools and providing the opportunity for “at-risk” students to learn how to write and produce music. He also mentioned the skillful way in which he was able to put a positive message in his music, by using great production or by the position and manner in which that message is placed in a song.

Proof of this genius is evident in the song “All Falls Down,” which features the vocals of another Chicagoland artist, Syleena Johnson. The song highlights the struggles faced by many young Black women making their transition into womanhood:

“Man I promise, she’s so self conscious / She has no idea what she’s doing in college / That major that she majored in don’t make no money / But she won’t drop out, her parents will look at her funny.”

More overtly the song “Jesus Walks” stands out as a defiant anthem amidst the filth, violence and misogyny, to become the first spiritual hip hop song to have consistent commercial radio spins and video play on MTV and BET. It’s a testimony of faith and conviction that was strengthened by surviving a highly-documented, near-fatal car accident that occurred Oct. 23, 2002, and is the substance for the breakout single “Through the Wire:”

“They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus / That means guns, sex, lies, video tapes / But if I talk about God my record won’t get played Huh? / Well let this take away from my spins / Which will probably take away from my ends / Then I hope this take away from my sins.”

In addition to receiving the Million Man MarchTM Image Award, Chicago declared Feb. 27 to be “Kanye West Day” and it was ushered in by a free concert at the House of Blues.

The Million Man MarchTM Image Award, the brainchild of MMM committee member Latonja Muhammad, will be given to men and women in recognition of the strides and accomplishments in the Black community in the fields of politics, business, religion and entertainment. The award will be given to other deserving Brothers and Sisters throughout the country in the months to come approaching the 10th Anniversary of the historic Million Man March. These recipients will become part of an empowerment platform that will address the needs of the Black community.