December 23, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

Kanye West made our 2005 Entertainers of the Year list

Why should Kanye West stop talking smack? Refusing to rest after his brilliant, kinetic debut, 2004’s The College Dropout, the producer-turned-rapper who wears his hearty ego on his pressed designer sleeve went back into the studio and came out with Late Registration, which ended the year as the sixth-best-selling album released in 2005. Bored by hip-hop’s typical boasts of sex and violence, West, 28, instead effortlessly, and with great humor, tackles a corrupt diamond trade, tips his hat to artists like Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni, and gives a joyful shout-out to the prenuptial agreement. While ”Gold Digger” was becoming something of a national anthem and ”Jesus Walks” thumped through the thrilling Jarhead trailer, West courted controversy, first chastising black men for what he says is a long-standing tradition of homophobia, then, during a Hurricane Katrina telethon, accusing President Bush of ignoring the black community. ”I’m not a politician and I’m not here to be politically correct,” says West. ”I’m going to give you what my opinion is.”

When West starts slipping, folks can gloat over his hubris. But until then, just relax and enjoy the show. ”When I sit down and say, ‘Yo, I want to make an album better than [Stevie Wonder’s] Songs in the Key of Life,’ people say, ‘What the f—? That’s blasphemous,”’ says West. ”But I’ll end up having an album that’s better than everything else of its time by default. It’s like playing in the NBA and trying to compete against Michael Jordan, and then going and playing in high school the next day. Obviously, you’re going to crush everybody!” See, he can’t help himself. But in an era when celebrities’ calculated images come by way of focus groups, West is a man without a filter of false modesty. ”The thing I’m most proud of is not wavering from the original energy that got me here,” he says. ”Striving for perfection, striving to be No. 1. People should be happy that I’ve set these goals and that I talk so much s— and that I do everything I can to back it up. Even if you don’t like me,” he reasons, a showman to the end, ”it’s entertaining.”

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