Kanye West

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.