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Welcome to the another installment of Go 95.3‘s Kanye vs. the Classics. Here, every Monday, we’ll compare and contrast a classic Kanye West song against a classic work of literature. It’s the self-professed “voice of this generation” matched against a timeless entry into the canon of human achievement. Which is better? You decide!

Well, the results are in and despite a strong showing from the momumental sci-fi classic, based on your votesKanye West‘s “Stronger” is better than H.G. Wells‘ War of the Worlds. While the 81%-19% margin was the closest Kanye’s come to losing one of these polls since this column began, ultimately Graduation-era Kanye, no stranger to willing support, came out on top. But how will he fair today against a more formidable, if not furrier, opponent?

The anticipation for Kanye West’s Late Registration occupied a rare space in the modern canon of album releases. Set for a fall 2005 release, it’d been just over a year since Kanye’s debut The College Dropout became a sleeper hit, an endearing multi-single rap release that sounded like nothing else on the mainstream rap radar. Going on to become one of the most critically and commercially successful debuts of the decade, it was by no means an overnight success. The short turnaround time for its follow-up had Kanye poised to be a star. The back-to-back release of conscious groove “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” and club banger “Gold Digger” was ready to solidify he status as a something-for-everyone superstar, and sandwiched into the album’s rollout was the song illuminating the clearest path where Kanye was headed, “Heard ‘Em Say.”

Beatrix Potter was a brilliant turn-of-the-century English writer, scientist and conservationist. A lover of animals and visionary in the realm of children’s literature, Potter came up with The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1893, and after several years of rejection, finally self-published the book with illustrations in 1901. A success and instant sell-out of its 200-250 batch printings, it was eventually re-sent to publishers Frederick Warne & Co who revised the book and would give it a wide-release worldwide. Failing to securing the copyright in North America, the book fell into the public domain in the United States and by 1904 had 56,000 copies in print.

“Heard ‘Em Say” is perhaps best remembered as Kanye’s track with Maroon 5‘s Adam Levine at a time when both were still stars on the rise but still just shy of that tip-top level of celebrity. However, the song captures what, even if subconsciously, has become Kanye’s trademarks. An upbeat catchy melody matched with an endearing flow and instant earworm hook seems like an instant surface-level-emotivity home-run. However, the sparse production, especially on an often overproduced glossy album like Late Registration, give the story told in Kanye’s lyrics an even more isolated feeling. A line like “and I know the government administered AIDS” doesn’t sound like post-9/11 political conspiracy rap, but a resignation – especially followed by lamenting the amount of minimum wage designated by the government that a person “needs” to live. Where this storytelling deviates from other Kanye narratives like “Heartless” and even “Through the Wire,” is Kanye isn’t outright using descriptions to guide the listener on how to feel. The couplet “My aunt Pam can’t put those cigarettes down / Now my lil’ cousin smokin’ those cigarettes now” is presented without any sort of judgment, sarcasm or implied irony. It’s read almost monotonously as a laundry list, allowing the listener to draw their own conclusions as to the perpetuating cycle of what dire environments create, and whether the “Say” that’s been “Heard” is about a specific conditioning to enforce the societal system that allows this to happen, or rather if the unfulfilled promises, “worthless words” and the sole constant being nothing lasting forever is the mentality that’s allowing these hardships to continue.

Potter similarly uses these as-they-are elements to create a genuine emotive tension for readers of all ages. When Peter Rabbit disobeys his Mother to stray from his sisters and attempt the same activity that got his father killed, it calls to mind the most hurtful and traumatic disobeying of a parental figure. But Potter doesn’t proceed to present Peter as a delinquent or contemptible character. Rather, when Peter cries after getting stuck in a fence, or when he accidentally gives himself away after sneezing in Mr. McGregor’s tool shed, the play-by-play humanizes and empathizes the character. The unprecedented almost subversive storytelling element of Peter and his family being anthropomorphic animals that still behave like animals gives both a sound logical universe for the story to exist in, as well as an strong method of solidifying a bond with the reader. The fast-action/breather/fast-action/breather pacing also organically creates a tension seldom attempted in children’s narratives, especially at the time. Peter’s SPOILER ultimate escape is a moment of relief, and his mother giving him tea and putting him to bed while his siblings eat isn’t presented as a punishment or punchline, but rather a believable and satisfying happy ending.

This all in mind, which of these two heart-string pullers is better?

DECIDE FOR YOURSELF:

Kanye West – “Heard Em Say” (2005)

VS.

Beatrix Potter – The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1901)

Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names
were–

Flopsy,
Mopsy,
Cotton-tail,
and Peter.

They lived with their Mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a
very big fir-tree.

‘Now my dears,’ said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, ‘you may go into
the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden:
your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs.
McGregor.’

 

‘Now run along, and don’t get into mischief. I am going out.’

Then old Mrs. Rabbit took a basket and her umbrella, and went through
the wood to the baker’s. She bought a loaf of brown bread and five
currant buns.

 

Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail, who were good little bunnies, went
down the lane to gather blackberries:

But Peter, who was very naughty, ran straight away to Mr. McGregor’s
garden, and squeezed under the gate!

 

First he ate some lettuces and some French beans; and then he ate
some radishes;

And then, feeling rather sick, he went to look for some parsley.

 

But round the end of a cucumber frame, whom should he meet but Mr.
McGregor!

Mr. McGregor was on his hands and knees planting out young cabbages,
but he jumped up and ran after Peter, waving a rake and calling out,
‘Stop thief!’

 

Peter was most dreadfully frightened; he rushed all over the garden,
for he had forgotten the way back to the gate.

He lost one of his shoes among the cabbages, and the other shoe
amongst the potatoes.

After losing them, he ran on four legs and went faster, so that I
think he might have got away altogether if he had not unfortunately
run into a gooseberry net, and got caught by the large buttons on his
jacket. It was a blue jacket with brass buttons, quite new.

 

Peter gave himself up for lost, and shed big tears; but his sobs were
overheard by some friendly sparrows, who flew to him in great
excitement, and implored him to exert himself.

Mr. McGregor came up with a sieve, which he intended to pop upon the
top of Peter; but Peter wriggled out just in time, leaving his jacket
behind him.

 

And rushed into the tool-shed, and jumped into a can. It would have
been a beautiful thing to hide in, if it had not had so much water in it.

Mr. McGregor was quite sure that Peter was somewhere in the
tool-shed, perhaps hidden underneath a flower-pot. He began to turn
them over carefully, looking under each.

Presently Peter sneezed–‘Kertyschoo!’ Mr. McGregor was after him in
no time.

 

And tried to put his foot upon Peter, who jumped out of a window,
upsetting three plants. The window was too small for Mr. McGregor, and
he was tired of running after Peter. He went back to his work.

Peter sat down to rest; he was out of breath and trembling with
fright, and he had not the least idea which way to go. Also he was
very damp with sitting in that can.

After a time he began to wander about, going lippity–lippity–not
very fast, and looking all round.

 

He found a door in a wall; but it was locked, and there was no room
for a fat little rabbit to squeeze underneath.

An old mouse was running in and out over the stone doorstep, carrying
peas and beans to her family in the wood. Peter asked her the way to
the gate, but she had such a large pea in her mouth that she could not
answer. She only shook her head at him. Peter began to cry.

Then he tried to find his way straight across the garden, but he
became more and more puzzled. Presently, he came to a pond where Mr.
McGregor filled his water-cans. A white cat was staring at some
gold-fish, she sat very, very still, but now and then the tip of her
tail twitched as if it were alive. Peter thought it best to go away
without speaking to her; he had heard about cats from his cousin,
little Benjamin Bunny.

 

He went back towards the tool-shed, but suddenly, quite close to him,
he heard the noise of a hoe–scr-r-ritch, scratch, scratch, scritch.
Peter scuttered underneath the bushes. But presently, as nothing
happened, he came out, and climbed upon a wheelbarrow and peeped over.
The first thing he saw was Mr. McGregor hoeing onions. His back was
turned towards Peter, and beyond him was the gate!

Peter got down very quietly off the wheelbarrow; and started running
as fast as he could go, along a straight walk behind some
black-currant bushes.

Mr. McGregor caught sight of him at the corner, but Peter did not
care. He slipped underneath the gate, and was safe at last in the wood
outside the garden.

 

Mr. McGregor hung up the little jacket and the shoes for a scare-crow
to frighten the blackbirds.

Peter never stopped running or looked behind him till he got home to
the big fir-tree.

He was so tired that he flopped down upon the nice soft sand on the
floor of the rabbit-hole and shut his eyes. His mother was busy
cooking; she wondered what he had done with his clothes. It was the
second little jacket and pair of shoes that Peter had lost in a
fortnight!

I am sorry to say that Peter was not very well during the evening.

His mother put him to bed, and made some camomile tea; and she gave a
dose of it to Peter!

‘One table-spoonful to be taken at bed-time.’

 

But Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail had bread and milk and
blackberries for supper.

THE END

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