Were Kanye and Beck Separated at Birth?

Let’s consider the evidence.

While certain creatures, like the Brazilian three-banded armadillo, are born fully formed and can walk immediately at birth, musicians are relatively useless for the first few years. For some, finding an artistic groove is a career-long project. But others, like Frank Zappa and Sufjan Stevens, create worlds as intricate as Russian matryoshka nesting dolls from the beginning. Because of the breadth of their work, being introduced to such artists is less a ride on pop music's roller coaster than a trip through a multisensory funhouse that can intimidate the uninitiated.Kanye West, the son of an upper-middle-class English professor at Chicago State University, and Beck, the progeny of artsy East L.A. layabouts, are members of this fraternity. Both have made careers of reveling in their otherness and chameleon-like savvy, establishing a presence on multiple platforms before doing so became an industry necessity. To wit, Beck draws upon the Spanish slang and old-school hip-hop of his youth, while Kanye, who at age 10 lived in China for a year, wears his upper-class roots with pride, favoring sweater vests and Asian designs.Kanye's blog (kanyeuniversecity.com/blog) contains enough posts about portable fireplaces, Visvim backpacks, Ato Matsumoto Cow Hide Boots, and sleek sofas to rival a design school dropout (New York magazine just called him the "world's greatest blogger"). Meanwhile, Beck's Web site makes use of the same dusty-scrapbook, "boots and a thimble of absinthe" aesthetic that's been his trademark since Mellow Gold. Despite the lack of a blog, Beck's fingerprints are all over the site, which features links to McSweeney's, Minneapolis' Walker Art Center, and UbuWeb, an independent news site for avant-garde and outsider art.This MO also extends to their music. Neither seems overly interested in creating songs with consistent beats or threads. Kanye's "Stronger" is too slow to dance to, despite the fact that he performed it at the Grammys this year with Daft Punk. Similarly, the tracks on Beck's The Information, much like those on all his albums, are wholly unconcerned with consistency. Further contorting the bpm are the ever-present remixes: Guerolito, a full-length reinterpretation of Guero, was, like West's I'm Good and Get Well Soon, met with the sort of excitement usually reserved for full-length releases.Not since Eminem has it been more OK for white kids to like rap than with Kanye. His collaboration on Late Registration with Jon Brion, best known for his work on the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind sound track and for producing Fiona Apple's last two albums, was just a sign of what was to follow: Working with Adam Levine and John Mayer isn't in How to Make a Hip-Hop Album for Dummies.Unlike other polyaesthetes like Gwen Stefani, Kanye's and Beck's styles don't seem to have evolved with the sole purpose of launching clothing lines. What's more, they refuse to don stage personas more befitting their genres: Kanye as the gun-toting drug dealer or Beck as the perma-drunk skinny-jeaned rocker. And while Kanye's "Jesus Walks" treads the line between mainstream Christian music and hip-hop, Beck is a Scientologist, which initially makes no sense until you realize that a belief system based on science fiction is the only natural fit for him. These men, like all real artists, refuse to compromise.music@seattleweekly.com

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