ACL Fest 2011: Kanye West, a very public life
For all of Kanye West's success as a musician — close to 10 million albums sold and a small warehouse full of industry awards — the one thing he's even better at is getting the populace to talk about him. Since emerging a decade ago as one of rap's most promising producers, and later as a solo artist, West has had a temperamental, often-controversial persona that's at times bigger than his many hit songs.
With his second high-profile 2011 stop in Austin coming at tonight's Austin City Limits Music Festival, there's a natural question of whether West's almost-certainly impressive performance will bring with it any sort of tantrum, spectacle or tabloid-worthy escapades. To get a sense of what we might be in for, we decided to trace the highs, lows and colorful in-betweens of West's decade lived in the limelight.
Sept. 11, 2001: The release date of Jay-Z's "The Blueprint," featuring West-produced hits "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)" and "Takeover." Goes on to work with Nas, Scarface, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, T.I., Ludacris, DMX, and Monica.
Oct. 23, 2002: A near-fatal car accident on a drive home from a recording studio causes, among other injuries, West's jaw to be wired shut, an episode he'd later chronicle in his first solo hit, "Through The Wire."
Feb. 10, 2004: Release date of West's solo debut, "The College Dropout." Greeted with instant acclaim, it goes on to sell 3.1 million copies.
Nov. 14, 2004: West storms out of the American Music Awards after losing the Best New Artist award to country singer Gretchen Wilson, later saying "I felt like I was definitely robbed. I was the best new artist this year."
Aug. 30, 2005: Release date of West's sophomore album, "Late Registration." Produced largely by film composer Jon Brion, the album is another critical success, and sells more than 3 million copies.
Sept. 2, 2005: During a benefit telethon for Hurricane Katrina relief, West uncorks his infamous "George Bush doesn't care about black people" assertion. Segment partner Mike Myers still hasn't erased the look of shock from his face.
Dec. 9, 2005: After the announcement of the 2006 Grammy nominations, West said he would "really have a problem" if he did not win the Album of the Year, saying, "I don't care what I do, I don't care how much I stunt — you can never take away from the amount of work I put into it. I don't want to hear all of that politically correct stuff." U2 goes home with the top prize.
January 2006: Persecution complex on parade — West appears on the cover of Rolling Stone in the image of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns.
Nov. 2, 2006: West barges on stage at the MTV Europe Music Awards after his video for "Touch the Sky" loses the Best Video award. "(Expletive) dis!" he rants. "(My video) cost a million dollars, Pamela Anderson was in it, I was jumping across canyons and (expletive)! If I don't win, the awards show loses credibility."
December 2006: Daredevil Evel Knievel sues West for violating his trademark with his "Evel Kanyevel" character in the "Touch the Sky" video. The dispute is settled a year later after the two meet and Knievel calls West "quite a gentleman."
Sept. 9, 2007: West suggests that his race had to do with his being overlooked for opening the year's Video Music Awards (VMAs) in favor of Britney Spears, saying "Maybe my skin's not right." West performs at the event, loses all five awards that he's nominated for and later declares that he will never come back to an MTV award show. A promise Taylor Swift later will wish he'd kept.
Sept. 11, 2007: Following a tempest in a ginned-up industry beef with gangster rapper 50 Cent about who would have the bigger opening week sales, West releases his third album "Graduation," which bests his competitor's "Curtis" and eventually goes double platinum.
Nov. 10, 2007: Donda West, Kanye's mother and a decorated scholar, dies of a heart attack during a cosmetic surgery procedure.
April 30, 2008: With Lupe Fiasco, N.E.R.D. and others in tow, West brings his "Glow in the Dark" tour to the Frank Erwin Center. Reviewing the show, our own Deborah Sengupta Stith called it, "the most innovative hip-hop performance I've seen. By a long shot."
June 15, 2008: Playing the Bonnaroo festival in Manchester, Tenn., West's scheduled late-night set goes off closer to dawn and lasts roughly half its planned length. The flap was blamed on West refusing to share time while headliners Pearl Jam — who played for three hours — were on stage across the park.
Sept. 10, 2008: West and his bodyguard are arrested in Los Angeles International Airport on felony vandalism charges after an altercation with two paparazzi. The charges are later downgraded to misdemeanors.
Nov. 14, 2008: West is arrested shortly after getting into a scuffle with a paparazzo outside the Tup Tup club in Newcastle, England. No charges result.
March 19, 2009: Appears at South by Southwest at the Fader Fort. During a set with Common and Erykah Badu, raps the couplet "New crib, loftin'/Where's dat Austin?" This will mean something later in the year.
Sept. 13, 2009: Taylor-Gate. During the MTV Video Music Awards, while Taylor Swift was accepting her award for Best Female Video for "You Belong With Me," West goes on stage and grabs the microphone to proclaim that Beyoncé's video for "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," nominated for the same award, is "one of the best videos of all time," sparking months of apologies and some truly great "I'mma let you finish" Internet memes.
Nov. 2009: The appearance of the "New crib, loftin'/Where's dat Austin?" lyric on Rick Ross' "Maybach Music pt. 2" spurs months' worth of gossip around town that West has bought the top floor penthouse of the pricey Austonian high-rise. The rumor, which was never more than that, even leads to the creation of a "Keep Kanye Out of Austin" Facebook group.
Nov. 24, 2009: Releases the mostly sung (not rapped), heavily AutoTuned "808s & Heartbreak." Despite the departure, it's well received and eventually certified platinum.
Nov. 22, 2010: After an uncharacteristically quiet year, releases the wildly praised "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy." Sales to date: 1.2 million
December 2010: Ends 2010 as the decade's third best-selling digital artist. No. 2? Taylor Swift. Irony is alive and well.
March 19, 2011: Makes headlines as the talk of SXSW with a late-night "secret" (not really) performance at a packed Seaholm Power Plant with John Legend, Mos Def, Bon Iver, Pusha T, Jay-Z and Austin's Reagan High School marching band in support. Despite admission and other headaches, it's called an across-the-board success.
May 14, 2011: Leaked as an ACL Fest headliner, along with Stevie Wonder and Arcade Fire, in Spin classified ad. This is confirmed by the festival three days later.
Aug. 6, 2011: At the Big Chill Festival in England, laments that "I walk through the hotel and I walk down the street, and people look at me like I'm (expletive) insane, like I'm Hitler." For those keeping score, in five years West went from Jesus Christ to the closest mankind has come to the anti-Christ. That right there is some range.
Aug. 8, 2011: After almost no lead-up, releases "Watch the Throne," a collaborative album with Jay-Z that in a month has sold close to 800,000 copies.
Waiting by the phone
Kanye hasn't come calling again — yet — but Ormide Armstrong and his band students are making preparations just in case the rap superstar wants them as his backing band six months after an invite during his surprise concert during South by Southwest.
"No word yet but we're still waiting since it was a last-minute thing back in March," said Armstrong, band director at Austin's Reagan High School. "Right until the moment when he gets up on stage on Friday night, it's possible we could get the call."
West returns as one of the headliners for this year's Austin City Limits Music Festival, almost exactly six months after taking the city by storm with an unofficial concert at Seaholm Power Plant that included Jay-Z, Mos Def, John Legend and 17 members of the Reagan band while he performed the song "All of the Lights."
His return to Austin for a set in front of likely more than 30,000 people has sparked memories of the SXSW appearance and plenty of speculation and questions about whether he'll invite the high-schoolers back onstage with him.
"Since ACL tends to be more of an adult thing, the teachers here are the ones who have been asking and talking about it, but people are definitely wondering what will happen," Armstrong said.
The March invite came only two days before the concert, sending Armstrong and his students into overdrive to learn West's requested dance moves and re-learn West's song in a different key than they had performed it for performances last fall.
Because Reagan has a football game tonight against Lago Vista, Armstrong has already selected and prepared a portion of his 60 players who could skip the game and go to Zilker Park to perform there, on the chance West calls again.
After impressing crowds and entertainers at the Seaholm concert, band members like Luis Castro said they're ready for another high-profile show with West.
"Of course we'll be ready," Castro, 17, said at the prospect of performing at ACL Fest. "That (Seaholm show) was one of the biggest things I've ever done, playing for a major musician like that. Whatever happens, happens, but I'm just hanging back and waiting to see what we hear."
After battling nerves caused by being in close proximity to stars like Beyoncé, trumpet player Joselyn Ruiz, called the show a high school highlight and said she's ready for more.
"I was nervous and expected to see lots of famous people, but then when we went to get on stage there was Beyoncé looking at me clearly when we were getting ready," the 16-year-old said. "I hope he wants us back because it was one of those once-in-a-lifetime things that you'll always remember and nothing will ever pass that. I'm just waiting to see what Mr. Armstrong hears."
If the Kanye call doesn't come, the band has other engagements to worry about, including a competition in Dripping Springs on Saturday on top of tonight's game, which features music by another big name at this year's ACL Fest.
"Our halftime show this year is a tribute to Stevie Wonder, so we've got that covered too if he needs us," Armstrong said with a laugh. "I'm a lifelong fan, so I'm hoping we get that call too."