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
Debuting as a rap artist in 2004 with the groundbreaking album College Dropout, Kanye created from a perspective to which the common consumer could perhaps relate. His style and content reflected a hip-hop eccentric and painted with 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 coordinate footpath. To the layperson, emcee and producer Evidence may seem like Kanye’s musical antipode.
Kanye West, a Black American Chicago native, has reached star status perhaps appearing larger than life. Evidence, or Michael Perretta, is of Russian decent and hails from Venice, Los Angeles 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 “CREAM” / But when the well runs dry we go beyond our means.“
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 college dropout, leaving Santa Monica College after less than two years.
Evidence has a rather blue-collar background in the visual arts for which he is alternately known as “Bucket,” the graffiti artist. Interestingly, that medium may have served as a symbolic presage to his music career.
Straddling a hazy boundary between the aesthetics and vandalism, graffiti art is one of those things that may not particularly be embraced by the masses, but those well versed in the culture know better.
Fittingly, this too explains Evidence’s appeal as a recording artist.
Evidence | “It Wasn’t Me” (prod. by Rahki & Daniel “Danny Keyz” Tannenbaum) | 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.“
Interestingly, the first line, “my first album…,” is a spinoff of “Got Yourself A…,” a 2001 song originally made by Nas, one-time adversary of Kanye’s “big brother,” Jay-Z.
“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 Los Angeles headquartered Capitol Records in 2000, the same year Kanye landed production credit on “The Dynasty: La Roc Familia” album. Though they emit different sounds, Evidence, like Kanye, has crafted his production with clever sampling.
Featured on the Dilated Peoples album 20/20, their last for Capitol Records, Evidence sampled Soul Children’s “Don’t Take My Kindness for Weakness” and produced what would become simply “Kindness for Weakness” featuring Talib Kweli.
Evidence and Kanye West eventually collaborated in the studio and touring circuit in 2004. Evidence silently procured a 2005 Grammy award for assisting in producing “Last Call” of College Dropout. Kanye also handled production duties and was featured on the single “This Way” by Dilated Peoples, which was released on the 2004 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.“
“The rest,” told through his 2007 song “I Still Love You,” alluded 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 from a cosmetic surgery. Both artists seem to have negotiated their mothers’ passing similarly.
Evidence maintains his visual art practitioner work with 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).
Evidence’s Instagram photography
Kanye West has shown his prowess as a visual artist with some abstract album art and his Donda imprint, a design firm namesake honoring his mother.
We’ve praised Kanye for quite some time for his background story and artistic vision. Hip-hop has carried him to prominence, more easily done because of his transparency.
But what about the other Mr. West? The Mr. West who attracts an audience privy and daring enough to exhume hip-hop’s hidden gem 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.