Twelve years ago marks the mainstream emergence of Kanye West, a then blossoming producer renowned for his work on Jay-Z’s The Dynasty: Roc La Familia and The Blueprint. He debuted as a rap artist in 2004 with the groundbreaking album College Dropout.
Kanye creatively underscored a perspective to which common consumers could relate. His style and content reflected a hip-hop eccentric and painted typical challenges and experiences — withdrawal from college, monotonous retail employment, early financial woes, a horseshoe toss to fatality, and a work ethic that progressively packaged it all into triumph.
Kanye West ft. GLC and Consequence | “Spaceship” (prod. by Kanye West) | College Dropout | 2003
While West may be recognized as a trailblazing pioneer of music, and few in entertainment match his commercial success, he is not the only hip-hop act with such a footpath. On the surface and to the layperson, Venice Beach emcee and producer Evidence may seem like Kanye’s musical antipode.
Kanye West, an African-American Chicago native, has reached star status perhaps appearing larger than life. Evidence, or Michael Perretta, is of Russian decent and hails from Southern California with his artistic origin and presence remaining mostly subterranean.
If it is Kanye’s sheer artistry that has garnered him world renown, Evidence certainly has those roots covered. By the same token, if Kanye has reeled in his audience by baiting us with the commoner’s testimonial then Evidence has cast the same line yielding a different catch.
“I pay the mortgage and the storage and it keep pouring. Can’t afford it so I gotta keep on touring. Trying to make a record in between was never foreign. But I’m familiar when there’s no way to avoid it. No way I was loyal in believing in “C.R.E.A.M.” but when the well runs dry we go beyond our means.“
Evidence ft. Krondon | “When The Well Runs Dry” (prod. by Sid Roams) | Cats & Dogs | 2011
Evidence has a background story comparable to Kanye interwoven with academia and art. Kanye West bears the college dropout title after withdrawing from the American Academy of Art. Evidence is also a dropout, leaving Santa Monica College after less than two years.
He has a rather blue-collar background in visual arts for which he is alternately known as “Bucket” the graffiti artist. Interestingly, his art medium at the time may have served as a symbolic presage of his impending music career.
The general perception of graffiti tagging tends to straddle a hazy boundary between the aesthetics and vandalism. Graffiti is not particularly embraced by the masses, but those well versed in the culture know better. This to the same effect describes Evidence’s appeal, or lack thereof, to music’s mainstream community. Unsurprisingly, an underground visual artist would also carve a career as an underground recording artist.
Evidence | “It Wasn’t Me” (prod. by Evidence) | Cats & Dogs | 2011
“My first album only had underground appearances. So what’s the outcome? I’m still an underground lyricist. And fame don’t even capture what my interest is, I’m halfway to famous, halfway away from infamous“
Ironically the first line, “my first album…,” is a spinoff of “Got Yourself a Gun,” originally made by Nas, Kanye’s big brother, Jay-Z’s, one-time adversary.
“Keep a plant in my car like Good Friday, keep my world godly. I stay grounded like my lobby, tagging ‘Bucket’ on the wall but never tatted on my body“
At the same age of 35 years, Evidence holds four years of recording seniority over Kanye. Accompanied by emcee Rakaa Iriscience and DJ/producer DJ Babu, Evidence flourished from the cracks of the Los Angeles underground music scene as the three comprised the group Dilated Peoples.
Their second album The Platform spearheaded their major label debut with Capitol Records in 2000, the same year Kanye landed production credit on The Dynasty: La Roc Familia. Though they emit different sounds, Evidence, like Kanye, has crafted his production with clever sampling.
Evidence flips Soul Children’s “Kindness for Weakness” into what would become Dilated Peoples’ “Kindness for Weakness,” featuring Talib Kweli, off the album 20/20, their last for Capitol Records.
Kanye West and Evidence eventually collaborated in the studio and touring circuit in 2004. Evidence silently procured a Grammy award for assisting in producing “Last Call” of College Dropout. Kanye handled production duties and was featured on the single “This Way” by Dilated Peoples, released on the album Neighborhood Watch. Later that year, Dilated Peoples joined as opening act on the College Dropout Tour. Circumstances would separate Evidence from the tour, but also box him and Kanye into the same corner.
“When Kanye was chasing spaceships all over the nation, I was at the gravesite face on the pavement. Left “College Dropout,” first flight racing from Scranton, Pennsylvania on a crop plane praying. Heart ’bout to pop out my chest in Pittsburgh. Paranoid in first class, heard a voice whisper. Just touched back in LAX and my phone starts buzzin to a thousand texts. Out the gate and runnin like I’m motorless. (I Still Love You) explained if you don’t know the rest.“
Evidence | “I Don’t Need Love” (prod. by Evidence) | Cats & Dogs | 2011
The “rest” alludes to the passing of Evidence’s mother Jana Taylor two weeks after he left the tour. Three years later, in 2007, Kanye would face the same misfortune, when his mother Donda West passed after complications with a cosmetic surgery. Both artists seem to have negotiated their mothers’ passing similarly (see below).
Evidence continues to be a visual arts practitioner with lauded and creative use of the mobile application Instagram. He credits his mother Jana, an accomplished photographer, for his snapshot art.
Evidence explains his mother’s influence on his use of Instagram with 2DopeBoyz (0:00 – 1:45)
Source: Instagram (@Evidence)
Kanye West has advanced his appreciation for visual arts with some abstract album art and his Donda imprint, a design firm named after his mother Donda West.
We’ve praised Kanye West for some time, be it due to his background and/or artistic vision. Hip-hop has carried him to prominence, and has easily done so likely because of his transparency. But what about the other Mr. West? The Mr. West who shines brilliantly to a privy audience daring enough to exhume hip-hop’s hidden gem and has been molded by comparable pressures as “the Mr. West of hip hop.” Evidence, hip hop’s Mr. West, and Kanye West, the Mr. West of hip-hop, meet below.
Kanye West | “Last Call” (prod. by Kanye West and Evidence) | College Dropout | 2004
Evidence (with Dilated Peoples) takes the stage with Kanye West in 2008, performing “This Way.”
Dilated Peoples ft. Kanye West and John Legend- “This Way” official video.