The Kanye You Once Loved Is Dead and Gone

We can't say we didn't see this shallower version of West coming. As a man who came into the game full of himself, I always feared the day would come when the hype would take over the talent. But you may remember, it was the talent that blew us all away at first. It's been nearly 10 years, and The College Dropout still kills, a masterwork of still-relevant hip-hop, filled with his trademark, sped-up samples and clever wordplay.

What was also remarkable about him was that, as an artist who works in hip-hop, where experimentation is as frowned upon as flat asses and savings accounts, West wasn't afraid to take chances creatively. His even-better 2005 follow-up Late Registration had him closely collaborating with Fiona Apple producer and film composer Jon Brion, of all people, coming up with wondrous hip-hop that went into so many different directions. He basically went electro for his next album, Graduation, an uneven albeit still daring production. 2008's 808s & Heartbreak, which is quite good despite its over-reliance on Autotune, was basically his I'm-lonely-and-miserable album, revealing a naked humanity that practically set off the emo-rap/r&b boom that everyone from Drake to Frank Ocean to The Weeknd now traffic in.

To be honest, I started to worry a bit after the release of 2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Despite being another critically-acclaimed smash, it did show West at his most prickly--and prickish. An album-long response to Taylorgate, Fantasy saw West all too aware of what a dick he'd become--and how's he very OK with it. If his first three albums showed West as a cocky-but-confident lad proving himself and Heartbreak had him revealing his raw vulnerability, Fantasy was West making a defiant, grandiose salute to his very own ballsiness.

Now, I still hold the man in high regard, especially since he and his music were there for me during a painful time in my life. In the fall of '05, Late Registration was one of the handful of CDs I listened to constantly, trying to put things in order after my mother died of cancer. However, these days, that man who got me through the worst times seems to have vanished.

That same nerd who used to rock backpacks and goofy sweaters is now showing up onstage wearing leather Givenchy kilts/skirts and crystal-encrusted masks. (Don't even get me started on that ghetto Game of Thrones shit he was wearing in that "Mercy" video!) That same guy who famously said, "We all self-conscious, I'm just the first to admit it" is now making rambling rants during his concerts about how powerful and unstoppable he is.

Maybe being a baby daddy will make Kanye West more grounded. There's nothing like bringing a child into this world to remind you what is and isn't important in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps being a parent will get him to lay off the artificial bullshit and back to being the real hip-hopper we all admired. If not, well, there's always Kendrick Lamar to start admiring.

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