Kanye West touches the sky

The University of Pittsburgh's Peterson Events Center was filled to full capacity last Sunday, as college students and local fans came out to get a glimpse of hip-hop superstar Kanye West, who embarked on a nationwide college campus tour earlier this month.

Kanye ? who blew up in both the pop and hip-hop markets two years ago with his album [ITAL]College Dropout[ITAL] ? builds his music on catchy vocal hooks, gospel and R&B samples, and of course, good rapping. His stage setup accommodated all of his own strengths ? a live string section, backup singers, a keyboard player, a DJ, and a live percussionist.

Unlike other groups with a live backing band (The Roots, Outkast), Kanye's battery of 13 musicians all too often created a cluttered musical context. The value of a string melody or bass line was frequently lost in the mix of excess musicians. In addition, the string section's harp player was hardly heard at all during the performance.

Seeing that the tour was dubbed the "Touch the Sky Tour," it was only fitting that Kanye emerged from behind a silk screen that covered the stage, singing, "We gonna touch the sky tonight!" Kanye ? dressed in a grey blazer and white aviators ? simply owned the stage. He jumped, screamed, sang, rapped, and danced. During "We Don't Care," Kanye encouraged the crowd to do just that, chanting, "Throw yo' hands up in the sky and sing 'We don't care what people say.'"

If rappers are stereotyped for wearing big jerseys and baggy pants, Kanye undoubtedly shattered such preconceptions. Changing outfits every three or four songs, Kanye sported everything from khakis and a polo shirt with popped collar to tight blue jeans and a blazer.

After belting through fan favorites like "Get 'em High" and "Jesus Walks" ? one of Kanye's first hit singles ? he walked off stage and said, "Alright now, when I play this next track, I need y'all to scream so loud I won't even be able to hear the music!" After hearing the opening notes of "All Falls Down," he was deafened. Kanye emerged from backstage sporting a white T-shirt with "PITT" scrawled across the front of it, sending the audience into even more of an emphatic frenzy.

After "All Falls Down," the stage crew brought out a clothing rack and hung a "GAP" sign over the stage. Kanye then invited Consequence to perform "Spaceship," a song about struggling against racism and the competition in the music industry. Kanye ? dressed as a store employee ? passionately belted out lyrics such as "Locked in a room for three summers/Doing five beats a day for three summers/I deserve to do these numbers."

Riding on the success of his new CD, [ITAL]Late Registration[ITAL], Kanye did an excellent job balancing the new with the old. He played new tracks such as "Gold Digger," which features Jamie Foxx impersonating Ray Charles, and "Heard ?em Say," which features Adam Levine from Maroon 5. Neither Foxx nor Levine was present at the show, so West resorted to a pre-recorded tape.

Although Kanye's performance was at times over-the-top, his stage presence, style, and fabulous song writing made for a fantastic evening filled with confetti, props, and ? surprise, surprise ? a disco ball dropping during Kanye's last number, "Diamonds From Sierra Leone."

Towards the end of the show, Kanye mockingly dropped a screen behind himself scrolling negative criticisms of his music: "Despite all the hype, he's really not that good of a rapper" and "His music is excessive, and his lyrics are boring." Although some disagree, Kanye's supporters think of him as much more than just a producer and rapper ? they think of him as a pioneer in the world of pop music.