First Night: Kanye West, Corn Exchange, Edinburgh

There's no sign of the Messiah, but the saviour of rap turns up
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The Independent Culture

The ego has landed. This year's hottest, gem-encrusted tickets of T on the Fringe, the Edinburgh festival's vast pop event that has been selling out venues all over town.

But securing Kanye West for the Edinburgh Corn Exchange - a tiny cupboard venue for the stadium rapper compared to his recent forays in Wembley - was a coup. The multi-platinum rapper makes the kind of money only P Diddy could understand and is set for global domination with a new album, Graduation.

So he is roughing it here, but to see him in the relative intimacy of this venue is a treat. He races on stage to the strains of Shirley Bassey's vocals on "Diamonds are Forever", which transforms in to his anti-gem industry tune "Diamonds From Sierra Leone".

He bounces on his toes as if at the ringside in Madison Square Garden but is almost dwarfed by the full-sized harp and his bevy of tall violinists in golden ball gowns. The baseball cap has long gone and West is every inch the multi-platinum star; he doesn't wear golf sweaters anymore, he owns the club.

Now the Freddy Mercury of hip-hop he reaches out as if to embrace the crowd, the former producer having transformed himself in to a consummate showman, calling out, cajoling and conducting the audience, his arms up and swaying, the wave spreading through the hall. He is in fact the polar opposite of the drop-trousered slouch of other rappers. He makes contact from the word go.

The predominantly white enthusiastic audience are a sure indicator of West's widening of hip-hop culture to embrace melodic pop alongside hard rapping social comment. And he is received like a returning Messiah.

A light effortless beat groove on a pared down "Drive Slow" is a wonderful moment in his cautionary rap to the homeboys. Riding on a massive baseline, "Stronger", from the new album samples Daft Punk suggesting he has lost none of his invention.

West is known as a mediocre rapper, his light breathy voice his Achilles heel but tonight his rhymes were sharp and clear. But it is the multi-layered mixes that make his music. "Gone" begins with a sample of Otis Redding's vocal and bleeds in to tinkling piano and a trim funk beat, the strings creeping in with staccato bursts.

His Ray Charles-sampling "Gold Digger" brings the set to a close but then he's back with the old gospel song "I'll Fly Away" and a crunching soaring finale with "Jesus Walks".

The fascinating thing about West is his contradictions between religious belief and overt materialism which he airs on the new "Can't Tell Me Nothing". Torn between Christ and Christian Dior he may be but on tonight's showing he may not be the Messiah but he really is the saviour of rap.

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