Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Kanye West Holds School Crowd Rapt


Tuesday December 06, 2005

Kanye West Holds School Crowd Rapt
* The singer performs at Santa Monica High after the campus won a radio contest.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

Kanye is coming.

You could hear his name ringing through the boisterous lunchtime chatter at Santa Monica High School. You could read it on T-shirts all over the Santa Monica campus: Kanye West. He's coming!

"This is the best thing that's ever happened to us," said Laura Thatcher, 15, kicking back with friends outside the school. "We have 30-minute classes, and then we're seeing a concert."

Thatcher and her classmates more than earned a visit from one of music's hottest acts.

Back in November, DJ Big Boy of KPWR-FM (105.9) announced a contest called "Big Boy's Backstage With Kanye West." All Southern California high schools were eligible to participate, and the rules were simple: Whichever student body voted for their school most frequently on the contest website would win a concert with mega rap star West.

At Santa Monica High, voting fever spread quickly. Students passed notes, whispered in locker rooms and posted bulletins for their friends to read on the social networking website Myspace.com. The gist was: Vote now and vote often. And they did. In the end, Santa Monica High students submitted nearly 1 million votes out of the 5 million cast.

Students voted constantly to get Santa Monica's numbers up. In the end, the school received nearly twice as many votes as Antonio Villaraigosa and James K. Hahn combined in the Los Angeles mayoral election. And then it was Monday, and West was due any moment for a 2 p.m. concert in the school's outdoor amphitheater.

Even the principal, Ilene Straus, was giddy. "I'm so excited!" she said, sitting in the basketball gym where the media had set up camp. She was surrounded by camera crews and reporters scribbling on notepads. "High school education is very serious. The stakes are high. But this, today, is a time to enjoy high school kids, to enjoy the energy."

Energy is an understatement, teachers say. Once students caught wind of the contest, it was "hard to get them to concentrate," said Tania Fischer, an art teacher. "They were always asking me, 'Can I get on the computer?' Some would come in looking haggard and tell me that they stayed up all night, on the computer, voting."

Still, teachers and administrators seemed as excited as the students. "We are a school with huge diversity," said Straus of the campus, which last school year experienced a flare-up of racial tension. "Over 40 cultures are represented in our 3,500-person student body. This event has really brought us all together."

Straus said she hoped that West would encourage students to get a college education, and, indeed, West was using this appearance as a platform to announce a sweepstakes for $150,000 toward college tuition, co-sponsored by music retailer Musicland and the Kanye West Foundation. But there is mild irony here. West didn't finish college -- his first album is titled "The College Dropout" -- and he talks and raps frequently about the benefits of a real-world education.

"Me? I use real life, I learn from real people," West said when he arrived, sitting in a classroom, about to go onstage. "The great thing about school, and the bad thing about it, is that you can just sit there in the back of the room and not pay any attention. In real life, being shy is not going to get you anywhere. I get educated every day."

The concert lasted about an hour, and the crowd noise rivaled any stadium din. Some students grouped together and spelled K-A-N-Y-E W-E-S-T on their sweatshirts with masking tape.

Others wore T-shirts emblazoned with Kanye's controversial post-Hurricane Katrina statement: "Bush doesn't care about black people."

In the middle of a rousing six-song set, West paused to take questions from the crowd.

"What kind of grades did you get in high school?" asked one student.

"I didn't do a lot of homework," West answered, to laughter. "But I got a lot of A's and Bs."

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