Gangsta rap demigod 50 Cent recently hypothesized that Kanye West's popularity stems from a backlash to G-Unit's pop-cult blitzkrieg of the past few years. Fiddy figured that fans were growing tired of his own gratuitous violence and ridiculously exaggerated masculinity and wanted a kinder, gentler, more metrosexual take on hip-hop. Although the assertion does confirm Fiddy's elevated sense of self-importance, there is also a sliver of truth to it. West's lyrics convey a thematic complexity, alternately accepting and rejecting his peers' conspicuous consumerism and reconciling his middle-class, Judeo-Christian upbringing with hip-hop's more nihilistic archetypes. Sure, his production work -- which effortlessly balances walloping, riddim-fueled momentum and supersize choruses with nuanced samples and deceptively intricate drum patterns -- is an obvious draw. But ultimately the secret to West's success is that he clings to the one rule that matters to an artist: Speak from your heart about what you know. Or in hip-hop terms: Don't front. Long live King Kanye.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.