By RYAN PEARSON
AP Entertainment Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Producer lends beats to seminal hip-hop album, then tries the solo route.
Kanye West faced long odds when he did it five years ago, turning from Jay-Z's "The Blueprint" to his own "The College Dropout." Now longtime friend 88-Keys is trying to walk in West's shoes — with a little boost from West himself.
The New York-based musician, whose real name is Charles Njapa, was in Los Angeles recently to meet with West. At the video shoot for their humorous single, "Stay Up (Viagra)," both men donned prosthetics makeup to make them appear in their 80s, then drove around the city in a limo with video vixens.
They looked ridiculous, but that's the point. Keys says he's trying to bring a sense of lighthearted fun to a genre that can get bogged down in negativity. And West seemed ready for something silly after the serious themes of his last album, "808s & Heartbreak."
"What's so dope about jokes in raps is like you can tell super-duper unfunny jokes, but if you put a rhyme with it, it's like cool," West noted as makeup artists began the aging process. "But it's not a joke that works in really real life."
West executive produced 88-Keys' album, "The Death of Adam," released late last year on independent label Decon Records. It blends various genres to tell the story of a womanizing man who meets his demise.
Keys kept his voice mostly off the original version of the album, which also features Bilal, Redman and others. But West pushed his friend to place himself in the spotlight.
"I liked his raps, what he was busting was mad original," West said of 88-Keys. "I was like wow, this is like really dope and is musical and has concepts and all that, so I wanted to be down with it."
Keys sees the album as a second chance of sorts. He worked with Mos Def on two seminal hip-hop albums from the late 1990s (and it was Mos that introduced Keys to West), but then found himself treading water in the music industry.
"To put it bluntly, and truthfully, I kind of fell off in the industry," Keys said. "I felt like I was doing a lot of shucking and jiving, trying to chase other peoples' coattails. I was like 'You know what, I know one person who I can make beats for, or who I can submit beats to, and I won't get turned down.' 88-Keys! This guy, right here."
He's a bit of a throwback, a married father of two and writes about his latest industry exploits at a blog titled "I Heart My Polo Lifestyle," a reference to the Ralph Lauren Polo gear that he's worn daily for over 15 years.
The question is whether the critical and commercial success of another fashion fan, West, has opened the door for big-selling debut albums from alternative hip-hop artists like Keys and the likes of KiD CuDi, Wale, Charles Hamilton and Asher Roth.
Keys said that at the very least, they can learn from West's legendary confidence.
"I've been to meetings where, when he used to shop his own demo and he would play people 'Jesus Walks.'" Keys said. "Just like a lot of hits that he made on his first album, A&R; reps were like 'Oh man, we love that beat. I think that would sound good for DMX.' And he was just like 'Naw, this is my music, my album.' He put his heart and soul into it. So I took a lot of cues from him as far as like knowing what I had, and my potential. ... And here I am today."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
By RYAN PEARSON
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