As a hip hop producer, Kanye West is nearly ubiquitous — he's produced hits for Twista, Jay-Z, Ludacris, Talib Kweli, and Alicia Keys. Like a hip hop high-wire act, his productions effortlessly balance walloping, riddim-fueled momentum and super-size choruses with more nuanced samples and intricate drum patterns. West's ascent as an MC, however, is somewhat of a surprise. With a flow that dips in the middle — slow and syrupy — before rising for the inevitable punch line with a gleeful drawl, West sounds more like Bad Boy castaway Mace than P. Diddy's other protégé, the late, great Christopher Wallace. In this age of crunk and gangsta revivalism, it doesn't help West's case that his lyrics exhibit a certain thematic complexity, alternately accepting and rejecting his peers' conspicuous consumerism and reconciling his middle-class, Judeo-Christian upbringing with hip hop's nihilistic archetypes. But West's secret is that he clings to the only rule that matters for an artist: Speak from your heart on what you know. Or, in hip hop terms, Kanye doesn't front. The MC opens for Usher on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 3-4, at the Oakland Arena. Tickets for the second night are still available; call (510) 569-2121 or go to www.theoaklandarena.com.
— Sam Chennault
You know those relationships that make you want to scream things like “Love is the red of the rose on your coffin door” in agonizing multipart harmony while your friends thrash around doing their best Eddie Van Halenin-need-of-Zoloft impression and a neat firing-squad trick on the drums? Yeah, me neither. But then I've never had the pleasure of being a tragically sensitive white boy from New Jersey. It'd be nice if songs like “It's Not a Fashion Statement, It's a Fucking Deathwish” were meant to be as funny as they sounded. But My Chemical Romance is pretty much everything you might think of when you hear terms such as “screamo” or “goth-pop” — howling and/or throbbing guitars; kinetic pulses kicked out faster than your head can nod; plaintively melodic vocal lines capped off with “dark” growls; and enough bloody, Wagnerian lyrics to fill a black umbrella on a sunny day. Then again, Rolling Stone likes the band, so maybe you will too when MCR plays Slim's on Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 6-7; call 255-0333 or go to www.slims-sf.com.
— Rachel Devitt