Kanye West and the Abandonment of Chicago

Updated: Feb 9, 2020

"But if you really cared for her then you woulda never hit the airport to follow your dreams"-Kanye West, "Homecoming"

Kanye West is one of Chicago's more interesting sons. Similar to Al Capone, Michael Jordan, Ryne Sandberg and Mike Ditka, these people weren't born in Chicago, but they came to represent the city. Moving to Chicago when he was three years old after being born in Atlanta, Kanye made his way up the ranks with a unique sound melding soulful samples with a futuristic sound.

It took a couple years to get GOOD Music started, but the talent was legendary: underground grinders like Really Doe, GLC and Consequence as well as Neo-soul singers like John Legend and Tony Williams as well as Chicago hip-hop legend Common. Other talent came and went, including Yasiin Bey (FKA Mos Def), Cyhi The Prince and Kid Cudi, but more talent went than came. Of that original line-up, the only Kanye West remains on that label. Big Sean and Pusha T are the only two established acts remaining, but recent moves such as 070 Shake, Valee and Sheck Wes might be able to change their fortunes.

Kanye has always had a good eye for talent, but the label hasn't been able to keep them. Kanye West has been so far ahead of the curve looking to the future that it seems that he forgets about the now. He's recently gotten better at that, especially with his apology in Chicago last week. But what if he never abandoned Chicago? What if he kept to his roots and his original brand on his label? How different would he be?

Of the twenty-five artists signed in GOOD's history, only four were from Chicago and it took thirteen years to sign another artist from Chicago. This gap was arguably during Kanye's peak, from 2005 to 2018. Some of Chicago's biggest artists made their name during this time, and almost all of them had label issues. Imagine this: the original line-up as noted above, including Sa-Ra and Malik Yusef in 2005. In 2006, GOOD Music signs Lupe Fiasco, who was featured on West's "Touch The Sky" in 2005. GOOD Music signs Big Sean in 2007, Kid Cudi in 2008, Mr. Hudson in 2009 and Pusha T in 2010. In 2010, GOOD Music signs Lupe Fiasco's collective All-City Chess Club made up of Pharrell, Asher Roth, B.o.B, The Cool Kids, Charles Hamilton, Blu, Diggy Simmons, Wale, J. Cole, & Dosage. Also in 2010, the label signs Chief Keef and in 2012, the label signs the Chance The Rapper, Vic Mensa and Towkio.

Fast forward to now and imagine the clout GOOD Music could have. You like conscious hip-hop? Lupe Fiasco, Vic Mensa and J. Cole join Yasiin Bey, Common, Consequence, Really Doe and Q-Tip. You like alt hip-hop? Towkio, Wale, Asher Roth and the Cool Kids serve that demographic. Like harder hip-hop? Cyhi and Pusha T lead the way with Chief Keef. More artistic and experimental hip-hop? Pharrell, Travis Scott, Chance The Rapper and Kid Cudi are there for you.

Let's take it a step further: if Kanye West, a groundbreaking producer-turned-rapper, allowed other acts to cultivate and grow artists from their hometowns? Lupe Fiasco's 1st And 15th with Sarah Green and Dosage. J. Cole's Dreamville with EarthGang and JID. Travis Scott's Cactus Jack with Sheck Wes. Kid Cudi's Wicked Awesome with King Chip (FKA Chip Tha Ripper). Chief Keef's Glo Gang, possibly including King Louie. SaveMoneyMilitia with Vic Mensa, Chance The Rapper, Towkio and Taylor Bennett.

My major realization was that besides the original trilogy and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, I've liked the idea of Kanye West-the avant garde producer extraordinaire who represents Chicago and fights for art-more than I've liked the actual person. Diddy's Bad Boy label and Dr. Dre's Death Row and Aftermath labels became legendary first by owning their cities-New York and Los Angeles respectively-before expanding to other cities. GOOD never did that. GOOD went the way of Kanye, going from local celebrity to worldwide star to attempting a rebrand. It's interesting to think about an alternate history of what could have been.


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