Talking friendship and music with Jamie Foxx and a pre-Kim Kanye who wants to “make history”
Taken from the December 2005 issue of Dazed:
Between them, Jamie Foxx and Kanye West have won an Oscar, a BAFTA, three Grammys, one Golden Globe and sold tens of millions of records in little over a year. Jamie Foxx may be exhausted, jet-lagged and hungry, but he can still quote any line from Purple Rain with astounding recall. "You have to purify yourself in Lake Minnetonka," he says, doing a formidable imitation of Prince's breathy, sensual purr. He stops and grins with a true fan's enthusiasm. "Prince," Foxx says, shaking his head in awe. "I mean, he told stories, man. Just by listening to his lyrics he takes you someplace. You tell a good story and you've got your audience in the palm of your hand."
Foxx paces the room as he talks, emitting a manic energy despite having just come off a red-eye from the set of the new Miami Vice film and heading straight to a Hollywood photo studio. He's dressed in a blindingly bright orange suit, and his conversation is punctuated by occasional a cappella bursts of songs from his forthcoming album. "It's about a successful young man, who's enjoying life," he explains as his music plays in the background. "A young man for whom love is instant; just a moment in a bar or restaurant, a look, a glance, can be instant love or instant heartache."
He smiles coyly and it is obvious to anyone familiar with his career that his first album since 1994's Peep This is at least partially autobiographical. "The album tells a story," he says. "That's what I take from Prince, from all the greats. From beginning to end, this album has a context."
For the making of the record, Foxx enlisted a slew of formidable talent — Timbaland, Snoop Dogg ("I got Snoop on my record, he came over my house!" Foxx shouts), Pharrell, Lil' Jon and his old friend Kanye West. "Kanye doesn't have to guest on anyone's album. He's at the top of the heap. But he said to me, 'Let's make it like a family. I'll be on your record, you be on mine,' so that's what we did."
West and Foxx met at a party a few years ago, just before their fame took at win trajectory skyward. The two immediately clicked and before long were working together in the studio on Twista's massive hit "Slow Jamz". “I started talking to him and he was mad cool," remembers West. " I spoke to his manager and then went to his crib to record 'Slow Jamz'. We just killed it. It's like we blew up at the same time. His blow-up involved, of course, many more millions but now we're pretty much on a level. It's crazy what that means — for us to make a song together and for that song to be number one in the world, to have Oscars and Grammys, talk about our stars lining up!"
“Kanye doesn’t have to guest on anyone’s album. He’s at the top of the heap” – Jamie Foxx
Foxx, who began his career as a stand-up comic, has been riding a massive wave of success since his Oscar-winning performance as Ray Charles in last year's biopic Ray. He put in a poignant performance opposite Tom Cruise in Collateral, and he's about to appear in Sam Mendes's Jarhead, a Gulf War film based on Anthony Swofford's best-selling book.
Despite his formidable acting chops, music is Foxx's first love. Raised by his grandparents in Dallas, Texas, he grew up singing and playing piano for the church choir, escaping teen angst through music-making. "Music is my life," he says firmly. "Even if I wasn't making money, I'd still be doing it everyday. I have been for years, since I was a kid. It gives me an energy, you know what I'm saying? I grew up listening to church music, and there's nothing like it. No matter what you believe, there is nothing like southern black church music. It's American, with African soul. I've been to Africa and the music there is incredible. You hear those tones we took and made into our own thing. I hear that chord, those notes, and there's nothing else like it. Lots of artists come from a church background. Church and soul music come from the same place, but it's a tricky thing." Foxx sits down for the first time and begins reminiscing."It was tricky because there were times when I wanted to sing about love, sing about what I was feeling as a 15-year-old kid. I'd be sitting at the piano and would see this girl in the choir, and I just wanted to sing about her."
Another wicked grin shoots across his face and Foxx starts singing "Darling Nikki", at top volume. Talking with him is to bear witness to a near-constant performance – a kind of hyper-kinetic one-man show. "He's a crowd pleaser," says West," and he would even do it at his own risk. Whereas rap is like,' Yeah, I'm going to please the crowd, but I have to look cool.' In comedy, you can take a shot at yourself."
West is phoning from his limo, on his way to a shopping spree at Harrods. Foxx has his Oscar, and West has already shifted over three million copies of Late Registration, his follow-up to The College Dropout. Much of its success has been attributed to their infectious duet, “Gold Digger”, a song that Kanye originally built around a Ray Charles sample, only to have his friend come into the studio and re-vocalise it. With the amount of gold they’ve both picked up in the last year, it seemed like the natural choice of subject. “Jamie and me,” says West, laughing, “we’re doing pretty good right now. Everything’s all right, it really is.”
Foxx and West seem to have hit their prime simultaneously. It’s no real surprise that they quickly found common ground. To begin with, they are both born performers, experts at swagger, and of the delicate balance between ego and art. “We both have a good sense of humour and of music,” says West. “We have a lot in common. I’m fighting to be respected in the comedy world and he’s fighting to be respected musically. He’s a good singer and I’m pretty damn funny!”
The two also share a fondness for the emotional depth of old soul and R&B, as well as fierce respect for their predecessors. Foxx cites Prince, Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield as influences. When he’s working in the studio, West plays the same artists to inspire him. “We play the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, and attempt to compete with those records,” West says in his usual braggadocio manner. “I like what’s out right now. But we’re almost oblivious to it when we’re recording. I like it, I enjoy it, but when it’s time to go to work, I bust out the Stevie Wonder. Let’s go! You look at Prince, Stevie, Marvin and you realise that you need to use your voice to make some sort of change, not just go out there and do what everyone else is doing. You won’t be remembered if you don’t do something different.”
“We have a lot in common. I’m fighting to be respected in the comedy world and he’s fighting to be respected musically. He’s a good singer and I’m pretty damn funny!” – Kanye West
West has managed to defy all expectations with his music, perhaps most vividly on Late Registration, an album co-produced by the avant-garde film composer Jon Brion. As for Foxx, he has somehow managed to neatly sidestep Hollywood stereotypes, playing a diverse cast of characters without falling into any particular pigeonhole. By branching out into music, he’s now testing his versatility again.
"It's hard to look at the business going your way and to say, 'You know what, I'll take the side road and maybe I'll meet up with them later.' And if you do take that side road, what if you miss them?"
Foxx shakes his head. "Everything I do fuels everything else," he says. "What I bring to acting is my musical rhythm, that 'feel it in the gut' kind of rhythm. What I take from acting and put into my music is being able to take the words and create a vision. What I understand from acting is how to move people's emotions. And I put that into my music."
West's vision for his music is equally assured. "People's response to this new album so far has been amazing," he says. "They really like it, and the thing is, this is nowhere near what I can do. There's sparks, there's hints of where I can take it, but it's not there yet." He pauses. "I'm not just a rapper, I'm a teacher in this game. I was a student of hip hop for a long time, but now I have the opportunity to make music on a massive scale, so why not push the envelope some?"
Back in LA, Foxx, eyes bright, is echoing his friend's sentiments. "Yeah, are you going to make history or going to make fluff and fill?"
West laughs, "I want to make history."