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MOTOACTV successor: TomTom announces Spark GPS sports watch lineup, two with music support

tomtom-spark.jpg (Image: TomTom) While some runners prefer the sounds of nature while running, rock and roll motivates me to go faster while keeping my mind off the miles going by under my feet.

TomTom announced its new Spark GPS series. These four new devices all provide GPS tracking, 24 hour activity tracking, automatic sleep tracking, Bluetooth for connecting to your smartphone, and 5 ATM water resistance. Two models provide an integrated heart rate monitor and two models provide 3GB of storage for offline music playback.

Back in 2012, I was banging out the miles with the MOTACTV GPS running watch with integrated music player. I still have it, but the battery only lasts a couple hours and it’s not easy to get your GPS data from the old MOTOACTV system into RunKeeper or other modern tracking service.

Few others have tried to provide this same GPS capability with offline music support since the MOTOACTV set the bar. Adidas has one, but it has horrid review ratings and is not a device I would consider. I thought my Sony SmartWatch 3 might replace the MOTOACTV, but I found the GPS a bit limited and there is still no compelling running application for Android Wear.

Lately, I’ve been running with my Apple Watch on one wrist and the Polar V800 on the other. The Apple Watch has no integrated GPS so I’m just using it to provide music while the V800 provides extremely accurate GPS tracking. I’ve also been known to run with my smartphone, but as they continue to grow in size this becomes more of a hassle and running with a single wrist-mounted device is the most convenient. As you can see, I have yet to find a true MOTOACTV replacement, but that may soon change.

Corinne Vigreux, Managing Director, TomTom, stated:

We know that music plays an important role when it comes to motivating and improving sports performance, but relying on a smartphone is all too often an uncomfortable experience. The unique combination of an integrated music player, built-in heart rate monitor, 24/7 activity tracking, multi-sport functionality and GPS in TomTom Spark makes it easier than ever for people to get more from their workout, and improve their overall fitness level.

I’m still hoping to see Garmin, Suunto, or Polar release a GPS sport watch with integrated music, but at least we finally have TomTom stepping up first to offer this support.

The four new models from TomTom include the following:

TomTom Spark: Base model GPS watch that provides GPS, daily activity, and sleep tracking.TomTom Spark Cardio: Adds an integrated heart rate monitor to the base model.TomTom Spark Music: In addition to the features of the base model, 3GB of storage is available for offline music. TomTom Spark Music + Cardio: Top-of-the line model that includes 3GB of storage for music and a heart rate monitor.

The TomTom Spark Cardio + Music, the one that might finally replace my MOTOACTV, is priced at a reasonable $249 and will be available for pre-order on 1 October. Pricing for the other models has not yet been announced, but they should be available to order in mid-October. In the past, there was a difference of $100 between the models with and without a heart rate monitor.

TomTom will also offer up two retail packages of the Spark Music models that includes a set of headphones. An update scheduled prior to the end of 2015 will add smartphone notifications to all four and continuous heart rating monitoring to the two watches with an integrated monitor.

TomTom previously used a heart rate monitor with proven Mio technology so it remains to be seen how accurate this new monitor will be. I personally don’t mind running with a chest strap if it provides more accurate data so if that saves some money I may choose that option.

I enjoyed using the previous TomTom Multi-Sport Runner, but desktop software stopped working for me so I gave up on it. Fortunately, TomTom makes it easy to export data to various services, including RunKeeper, and I am hoping that its new desktop software is improved.

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A good ‘Summer,’ but not the best

By HARDEEP PHULL

MUSIC REVIEWS

Albums of the Week

KANYE WEST’S G.O.O.D. MUSIC

ARTISTS

Summer”

★★

Not everything Kanye West touches turns to gold, and this long-awaited compilation of tracks fashioned by artists on his G.O.O.D. Music label proves it.

There are moments that fly close to the world-beating heights Yeezy has regularly scaled in recent times — the cinematic single “Clique,” for example, finds him in dominant lyrical form and gets a boost from equally slick verses courtesy of Big Sean and Jay-Z.

But tracks like these are haphazardly thrown in with filler such as the sleepy slow-jam “Higher” (which features G.O.O.D. second-stringer Pusha T, among others) and Kid Cudi’s tuneless drone “Creepers.” It may only be a hobby project for West, but that unfamiliar feeling of disappointment is hard to shake.

THE KILLERS

“Battle Born”

★★ 1/2

THE Killers have always made it known that they want to be big, but “Battle Born” reveals the true scale of the Las Vegas group’s ambition. Their fourth album is awash with stadium-size sounds, but in Brandon Flowers, the band boasts a songwriter who can make all their musical contrivances sound surprisingly profound.

The spiced-up soft-rock of “The Way It Was” and “Here With Me” would be unbearable in the hands of lesser frontmen, but Flowers brings these narratives to life, with a yearning howl that convincingly puts across his characters’ nostalgic longings.

Let the music snobs sneer, because the Killers aren’t interested in creating ripples of cultish appreciation. They want to make huge waves, and “Battle Born” should do exactly that.

The “Cruel Summer” compilation album from artists on Kanye West’s record label feels cobbled together, with hits from Big Sean (left) and dull slow jams from Kid Cudi (right).

The “Cruel Summer” compilation album from artists on Kanye West’s record label feels cobbled together, with hits from Big Sean (left) and dull slow jams from Kid Cudi (right).

Downloads of the Week

MICHAEL JACKSON

“Song Groove” (a k a “Abortion Papers”)

★★ 1/2

JACKO’S private demos have been raided for the 25th anniversary of his 1987 album, “Bad” — the most notable being this provocative tale of a girl wrestling with the prospect of an abortion. Paradoxically, it’s set to a particularly funky groove and an almost inappropriately catchy chorus. Had it been fully realized, it could have been one of Jackson’s finest — and most controversial — tracks.

The “True Love” on Pink’s new album is a stormy breed of love and hate, with an assist from Brit singer Lily Allen.

The “True Love” on Pink’s new album is a stormy breed of love and hate, with an assist from Brit singer Lily Allen.

JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION

“Boot Cut”

★★★

THIS downtown institution has returned after an eight-year silence, and this kick-ass, three-chord rock ’n’ roll number goes a long way toward explaining why their new record is called “Meat and Bone.” Welcome back fellas, we’ve missed you.

GRIZZLY BEAR

“Yet Again”

★★★

IT’D be a stretch to describe Grizzly Bear’s new record, “Shields,” as a collection of out-and-out pop songs, but the lush, harmonic quality of this track certainly typifies a new directness for the Brooklyn band. It sounds as big as Coldplay but burns out with a chilling noise section worthy of Radiohead, and will undoubtedly be a highlight of their show at Radio City on Monday.

BAND OF HORSES

“Heartbreak on the 101”

★★ 1/2

THE earthier, roots-rock direction that Band of Horses has taken in recent years has yielded some humdrum results. But this countrified cut (which closes the new album “Mirage Rock”) is a sublime reminder of the starry-eyed melodies that used to make hipsters swoon.

CARLY RAE JEPSEN

“Beautiful” (feat. Justin Bieber)

★ 1/2

AMID the mind-destroying onslaught of sugary synth-pop that makes up Jepsen’s new album, “Kiss” is this slightly more considered acoustic ballad sung with the Biebs. It’s hardly tinged with greatness, but at least it provides a welcome respite from the Canadian’s irritatingly homogeneous sound.

PINK

“True Love” (feat. Lily Allen)

★★

IF you’ve ever wanted to be a fly on the wall for Pink’s stormy marriage to Carey Hart, here’s your chance. This slice of pop-soul from her new album “The Truth About Love” hints heavily at domestic disorder: “You’re an a – – hole, but I love you” sings Pink repeatedly. Divorce lawyers of the world, take note.

SEAN PAUL

“How Deep Is Your Love” (feat. Kelly Rowland)

★ 1/2

WITH such cringe-worthy couplets as “You are the magnet/I am the steel,” it’s not hard to see why Sean Paul doesn’t show his sensitive side too often. Weak lyrics aren’t the only thing wrong on this cut from new album “Tomahawk Technique.” It’s a generic-sounding production all around — and Kelly Rowland sounds like she recorded her part while half-asleep.

NELLY FURTADO

“Parking Lot”

LIKE an embarrassing and tipsy aunt at a family party, Nelly Furtado sounds desperate to prove her hipness on the current single from her largely awful comeback album “Spirit Indestructible” — which finds her doing a second-rate M.I.A. impression over third-rate grime beats. Quick, let’s ditch her while she’s trying to do the bump!

A good ‘Summer,’ but not the best

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Shazam App to Expand TV Identification

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Shazam App to Expand TV Identification

Shazam, the makers of the popular smartphone app of the same name that allows users to identify a song from a short sample, today announced that it now has 250 million users worldwide.

Shazam also announced an expansion of its “Shazam for TV” feature, which allows users to identify TV shows the same way the app allows music identification. The expanded feature now supports any U.S. TV channel, 24 hours a day. Identifying a show will allow users to see cast details, photos, music from the show, trivia, tweets, and additional links. Users can also, of course, share the show to Facebook or Twitter.

“With more than a quarter of a billion people who have used Shazam worldwide, no other app has our scale when it comes to offering the opportunity to engage with the media that interests them the most, whether it’s music or television,” said Andrew Fisher, Shazam CEO. “And now, that experience is even better than before, enabling people in the US to engage with any show at any time,”

Different TV shows may have different results from Shazam. For example, a sporting event will include stats, scores and schedules.

“Over the last year, Shazam has been testing and learning what works by building dozens of custom interactive second-screen experiences for select television shows and events like the Olympics on NBC, American Idol, the Grammys, and the Super Bowl, as well as other live and scripted programming across sports, reality, dramas, comedy and awards shows,” said Doug Garland, chief revenue officer at Shazam. “We’ve applied what we’ve learned to our newly expanded service, and will continue to work closely with our network partners and show producers to build special, unique second-screen experiences for their tent-pole television events and many of the most popular shows on TV.”

Greater social media integration is now a part of Shazam as well. Users who use the “Shazam Friends” feature will be able to see their Facebook friends’ tags and tag their own content to their own Facebook Timeline. Sharing via Twitter and Google+ is also available.

Shazam App to Expand TV Identification

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DRAKE: ‘I DEEM MYSELF THE FIRST PERSON TO SUCCESSFULLY RAP AND SING’

by: Amy Sciarretto

Drake

Humility, thy name is not Drake. The Canadian rapper, who is also Jewish on his mother’s side, is a big believer in his own talent, and he should be, since his albums debut at No. 1 and he has millions of fans, spread across both male and female fanbases.

His nasal delivery is unique and unlike anything else in his genre. But he made a pretty massive, full-of-hubris claim to The Jewish Chronicle, one that might infuriate his hip-hop brethren and peers.

While Drake did give props to his predecessors, saying, “There were people who incorporated melody before me,” he finished his statement by uttering the following words: “But I would deem myself the first person to successfully rap and sing.”

Deeming yourself the first, huh?

Those superlatives are usually the accolades bestowed on an artist by critics, not by the artists themselves. There are also plenty artists in the history of the genre, many of which have come well before Drake, that have been able to successfully rap and sing, so Drake is most certainly not the first.

Drake also made another controversial claim in the feature, addressing the fact that he is young and doesn’t need to be committed or to be oh-so-serious at this point in his life. It’s a cavalier attitude for sure.

“I’m 25 and single,” the reported former flame of Rihanna said. “I’m not supposed to care about deeper things right now, I’m supposed to be wild. But there are nights when you sit back and wonder, ‘Damn, is this right?’”

It’s good to have fun, Drake, but it’s good to take stock of your life and put what’s important first. It’s always good to care about deep things, whether you are 25 or 85!

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Verge Favorites: Laura June

By Laura June

The Verge staffers aren’t just people who love technology. They’re people who love stuff. We spend as much time talking and thinking about our favorite books, music, and movies as we do debating the best smartphone to buy or what point-and-shoot has the tightest macro. We thought it would make sense to share our latest obsessions with Vergereaders, and we hope you’re encouraged to share your favorites with us. Thus a long, healthy debate will ensue where we all end up with new things to read, listen to, or try on.

RICHARD FORD — CANADA

Laura_book

This book, which was just published in the end of May, highlights all of the reasons I love Ford’s writing: methodical, almost painful tension, but an absolute joy to read. Just beautifully written with a gripping and heartbreaking story to go along with it. If you’ve never read anything by Richard Ford, this would be a fantastic place to start. Every book of his that I’ve read is excellent, but this one, unlike the others, is a lot more fast-paced. I hate book spoilers so I don’t want to say anything else — read it!

CAT SEWING

Josh_album

Words can’t actually express the depth of my affection for this GIF, which is even more meaningless than most. That only intensifies the joy I take in seeing it. I like to keep it in an open tab most of the time, and just browse on over to it when anything gets me down. A minute or two of watching its hypnotizing motion, and I’m all fixed up. Try it for yourself.

WRITEROOM

Josh_album

I’m a long-time user of TextEdit, mostly because my writing needs are simple and I don’t like any junk text — I need to be able to copy and paste clean text into the CMS (it’s called Chorus, you can read about it here) when I’m ready to go. I also have used it for years simply because it’s there, on my desktop, and I was too lazy to search around for alternatives. Recently, however, I read this post about text editing apps, and it got me thinking that yes, sometimes when I write, I’m a bit distracted by other things like email and Twitter, and maybe my writing suffers or takes longer because I’m not fully concentrating on the task at hand. So, I shelled out $9.99 in the Mac App Store, and started using WriteRoom. It’s stark and clean, and while I could be somewhat delusional, I feel like my writing time is more focused over the past few weeks. In fact, I’m writing this in WriteRoom right now. Isn’t this writing great?

LAPHAM’S QUARTERLY

Josh_album

Even if you’re not a reader of the excellent Lapham’s Quarterly(I am), the podcast is a bit of a different beast altogether, and features a wide array of guests which keep me listening every month. The most recent episode features Jon Gertner, the author of The Idea Factory, which is about the birth of Bell Labs and the technological wonders that came out of it.

BARONESS — YELLOW & GREEN

Josh_album

This album came out just a few days ago, but after two full listens, I can safely say it is exactly what I want to listen to roughly half of each day (the first half). The older I get the less I like describing or justifying my musical habits, but just about every song on this very long, double album is worth the effort of paying attention for 75 whole minutes. “Heavy” rock continues to be one of the few areas of music where extended, epic moods are created and, when successful, there’s nothing more exciting to listen to. Baroness really pulls it off.

Verge Favorites: Laura June
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Rolling Stones celebrate 50 years on stage

By JILL LAWLESS

In this image made available by Rankin, and dated July 11, 2012, showing the rock band the Rolling Stones, with left to right, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts, issued Thursday July 12, 2012, as issued to mark the 50th anniversary of their first ever live performance on 12 July 1962 at the Marquee club in London.  The group played their first show at the club on July 12, 1962, under the name The Rollin' Stones, hastily chosen as the band's name from a song by their blues hero Muddy Waters. Photo: AP / AP

In this image made available by Rankin, and dated July 11, 2012, showing the rock band the Rolling Stones, with left to right, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts, issued Thursday July 12, 2012, as issued to mark the 50th anniversary of their first ever live performance on 12 July 1962 at the Marquee club in London. The group played their first show at the club on July 12, 1962, under the name The Rollin’ Stones, hastily chosen as the band’s name from a song by their blues hero Muddy Waters.

Mick Jagger may rethink the words he sang more than 45 years ago — “What a drag it is getting old.”

Thursday marks 50 years since Jagger played his first gig with a band called the Rolling Stones, and the group is marking its half-century with no letup in its productivity or rock ‘n ‘ roll style. Jagger himself is still the cool, rich frontman of the world’s most successful rock band.

Now in their late 60s and early 70s, the band members are celebrating the anniversary by attending a retrospective photo exhibition at London’s Somerset House — and looking to the future by rehearsing for new gigs.

Jagger, Keith RichardsRonnie Wood and Charlie Watts are getting together 50 years to the day after the young R&B band played London’s Marquee Club. Taking a name from a song by bluesman Muddy Waters, they were billed as “The Rollin’ Stones” —the ‘g’ came later.

The lineup for the gig was vocalist Jagger, guitarists Richards and Brian Jones, bassist Dick Taylor, pianist Ian Stewart and Mick Avory on drums. Taylor, Stewart and Avory soon left the lineup; drummer Watts joined in 1963 and guitarist Wood in 1975.

The band had its first hit, a cover of Chuck Berry‘s “Come On,” in 1963, and soon became one of the world’s biggest and most influential rock acts, rivaled only by The Beatles.

The Beatles split up in 1970, but the Stones are still going strong — something Jagger says he could never have imagined at the time.

“Groups in those days and singers didn’t really last very long,” Jagger, 68, told the BBC. “They weren’t supposed to last. It was supposed to be ephemeral. It was only really Elvis and The Beatles that were the biggest things that ever happened in pop music that I can remember. But even (Elvis) had lasted perhaps less than 10 years, so how could anyone really last?”

Richards told the BBC that his biggest regret in the last 50 years was the drowning death in 1969 of Brian Jones, but that on the whole the band’s career has been “an incredible adventure.”

Music critic John Aizlewood said the Stones’ contribution to rock ‘n’ roll is “immeasurable.”

“They are a founding father of rock music as we know it,” he said. “Other bands have tried and not pulled off that amount of sexiness, allied to a kind of street-fighting menace.”

Aizlewood said the Rolling Stones have endured where other bands have split because “they are smart enough to put the band ahead of the individuals, despite their collective egos.”

He said they are also canny businessmen, and realized early on that “once you get to a certain level, if you maintain your live performance, you can play stadiums forever.”

The Stones have sold more than 200 million records, with hits including “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” ”Street Fighting Man” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

But in recent years much of their income has come from touring. Their last global tour, “A Bigger Bang,” earned more than half a billion dollars between 2005 and 2007. And as they enter their sixth decade, more live shows are on the way.

Richards said the band had begun rehearsing, but dates haven’t been fixed.

“There’s things in the works,” he said. “It’s definitely happening, but when I can’t say yet.”

Rolling Stones celebrate 50 years on stage

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KANYE WEST SAYS HIS MUSIC IS ‘PERFECT,’ IS THE BEETHOVEN OF OUR LIFETIME

by: Trent Fitzgerald

Kanye West

Kanye West had another one of his infamous outbursts at a concert event recently. While the rap superstar was performing ‘Flashing Lights’ at his show in Atlantic City, N.J., he spazzed out about how the tabloids write false stories about him.

“If you have something to give the world, a lot of times the press is trying to take everything negative,” he told the crowd. “Just look at MediaTakeOut, they so f—in’ full of s—! Show your motherf—in’ face, so I can smack the s— out of you!”

“I am flawed as a human being. I am flawed as a person. As a man, I am flawed. But my music is perfect!” Kanye continued. “This is the best you gonna get ladies and gentlemen in this lifetime, I’m sorry. You could go back to Beethoven and s—, but as far as this lifetime, though, this is all you got.”

As we previously reported, West performed a two-night concert stint at the Revel Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J. During his show, he performed ‘Cold’ and ‘New God Flow’ (with Pusha T). He also professed his love for his boo Kim Kardashian and dedicated his song ‘Hey Mama’ to his late mother, Dr. Donda West.

This isn’t the first time West had a moment of absurdity onstage. Last month, he scolded a fan for throwing a coin onto the stage while he was rocking the mic. “Don’t throw no hard s— up here while we’re performing, seriously,” he yelled at the violator. “You f—ed up for everybody. I was having a perfect show, flawless victory.”

Oh, Kanye.

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Modern life halted as Netflix, Pinterest, Instagram down

An outage in Amazon’s cloud means that some of the world’s greatest and most frivolous entertainments are suddenly not available. Immediately, customers whine.

by 

Some clouds can simply eliminate others.

At 11.21pm EST last night, as the deep and the desperate began to settle down for a weekend of streaming movies and retro photography, thunder and lightning decided to bring a natural end to their plans.

Forbes reported that such bastions of modern entertainment as Netflix, Pinterest and Instagram were eliminated from the firmament.

The cause was reportedly an outage at Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud in North Virginia, brought on by a thunder and lightning show. Yes, Amazon’s clouds are actually Earth-based.

Naturally, as panic ensued across so many smoke-filled living rooms, companies tried to placate the enraged.

Netflix sent out a tweet of apology, as did Instagram.

Pinterest, for its part, was very clear about the cause. In its apologetic tweet, it offered the phrase “server outages,” not the vague “technical difficulties” offered by Instagram.

Some may remember that Amazon’s EC2 server experienced something of an outage 2 weeks ago, which suggests that not all is perfect with the cloud’s celestial dream.

Currently, at 4.08am PST, all the sites seem to be back up. However, Pinterest declared on a further tweet that it might not be operating at its pinning fullest for a little while yet.

What some find fascinating, though, is the response of customers to this late night lapse.

Within minutes, Netflix, Pinterest and Instagram were anointed with the tweets of the annoyed.

“Hey,” wrote one Charl Lee-Pearce, “where did my left column go? I can’t see what people are pinning or following or new followers. =(”

What it is to suddenly be left bereft of one’s left column.

I am sure a lady called Rene spoke for a vast swathe of humanity when she tweeted to Instagram: “I’m bored hurry uppppp !!! ?#whine? @InstagramHelp.”

Another Instagramer, Quantreus Hayes, offered: “@InstagramHelp we can see that, y’all need to tweet wen y’all fix the problem, I knew y’all messed up wen Instagram 4 androids happened.”

As for Netflix, which has tried to rise from something of its own storms of late, criticism also bathed over it on Twitter.

A distressed Amar Chugg wrote: “@netflix I was watching my favorite show & you guys screwed up on a cliffhanger. Disappointed.”

At least these companies — only one of which actually takes money from its faithful — can blame Amazon and whoever it is who creates weather.

Whom, though, can the people claiming not to be able to live without picture-posting and product-pinning blame?

Modern life halted as Netflix, Pinterest, Instagram down

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‘People’ crowns Beyonce as ‘World’s Most Beautiful Woman’

by 

Music superstar and new mom Beyoncé was named World’s Most Beautiful Woman by People. The 30-year-old singer and actress, who’s been married to Jay-Z for four years, tells the magazine their baby daughter, Blue Ivy, has made all the difference. “I feel more beautiful than I’ve ever felt because I’ve given birth,” she told the magazine. “I have never felt so connected, never felt like I had such a purpose on this earth.”

That’s not to say Beyoncé has given up her day job: she’s currently preparing for her first post-baby concerts, scheduled for Memorial Day weekend at the Revel Atlantic City. Recall that she first shared her good news with the world from the stage of last year’s MTV VMAs. Might Baby Blue make a quick cameo in Atlantic City?

Did People hit this one out of the park? In my humble opinion, Beyoncé is an all-timer.

30 Greatest Music Artists Right Now Gallery
Beyonce unveils new Tumblr page
Jay-Z burns through SXSW set, requires police escort to get there — see his performance
Beyonce books first post-birth concerts in Atlantic City

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American Mozart

Intense, emotional, and frequently out of control, the hip-hop superstar Kanye West allowed his antics to turn him into a national joke and to earn him the criticism of two American presidents. Would a massive concert tour with his friend and rival Jay-Z offer the troubled rapper a taste of redemption—or disaster?

By DAVID SAMUELS

SO HERE IS the president of the United States, enjoying canapés and small talk at Daniel, chef Daniel Boulud’s gourmet restaurant just off Park Avenue, with the right touch of upscale-whorehouse decor and enough Alice Waters in the kitchen to make it the place where every Wall Street guy takes his wife on bonus night. The drill for tonight is two fund-raisers at Daniel, to be followed by an even more intimate sit-down dinner at Spike Lee’s house, before the motorcade heads uptown to the Apollo, in Harlem, where Barack Obama once lived in a ratty student apartment, less than 50 blocks but light-years away from the perfumed dining room where he is answering questions and posing for pictures and name-checking Ralph Ellison and Saul Bellow. I get my chance to ask him the question of the moment, the question that everyone who has bought the album or spent $150 on a concert ticket wants answered. “I have a question I want to ask you, Mr. President,” I venture, once I catch his attention.

“Sure,” the president says.

“Kanye or Jay-Z?”

The president smiles. “Jay-Z,” he says, as if the answer should be obvious. When it comes to the most meaningful pop-cultural divide of the moment, the question of whether you prefer Kanye West or Jay-Z—the top two hip-hop artists in the world, who recently joined forces for a national mega-tour called Watch the Throne—Barack Obama is clearly a Jay-Z guy. Jay-Z is about control. Jay-Z is about success. He’s a natural-born leader. He is married to Beyoncé Knowles, the gorgeous, sugar-spun R&B star who recently joined with Michelle Obama in a public campaign against the epidemic of childhood obesity. Together, Jay and Beyoncé are worth something close to $1 billion. Jay-Z fills arenas and enunciates clearly—unlike Kanye West, who jumps onstage and interrupts during award ceremonies, cries on talk shows, and jets off to Rome to apprentice with the House of Fendi. Besides, the president’s smile says, we are at a fund-raiser in New York, which is Jay-Z’s hometown.

“Although I like Kanye,” Obama continues, with an easy smile. “He’s a Chicago guy. Smart. He’s very talented.” He is displaying his larger awareness of the question, looking relaxed, cerebral but friendly, alive to the moment, waiting for me to get to the heart of the matter.

“Even though you called him a jackass?,” I ask.

“He is a jackass,” Obama says, in his likable and perfectly balanced modern-professorial voice. “But he’s talented.” The president gives a wink, poses for a few more pictures, and then glides away to meet with the rich Manhattan lawyers in the other room, leaving behind a verdict that he intended to be funny, and also entirely deliberate: even before an audience of one, the leader of the free world is still not letting Kanye West off the hook.

Whatever you think of the many controversies he has ignited, you must admit that Kanye West is at least some kind of musical genius, ranking among the top five producers and the top five rappers of the past decade. (His singing, by contrast, is kind of a joke.) Every one of his five solo albums has gone platinum, and he has sold 30 million digital downloads of his songs, to become one of the most downloaded musical artists of all time. He has won 18 Grammys—the most of any artist in the past 10 years—while serving as a backpack-wearing icon of black nerd chic. Kanye’s power resides in his wild creativity and expressiveness, his mastery of form, and his deep and uncompromising attachment to a self-made aesthetic that he expresses through means that are entirely of the moment: rap music, digital downloads, fashion, Twitter, blogs, live streaming video. He is the first true genius of the iPhone era, the Mozart of contemporary American music, intent on using his creative and emotional gifts to express the heartbreaks and fantasies of his audience.

In addition, though, Kanye West is, according to the president of the United States—the first blackpresident of the United States—a “jackass,” a narcissistic monster who tore a massive hole of self-regard in the American cultural quilt.

Worse even than the president’s epithet, which he first offered on September 14, 2009, is the near-universality of his verdict, which has been echoed for years on talk shows and gossip sites across America. Most painful of all, perhaps, was the classic “Fish Sticks” episode of South Park, which portrayed Kanye as a designer shades–wearing egomaniac who is so humorless and devoid of self-awareness that he can’t comprehend a simple joke about fish sticks. Being represented as the most humor-impaired man in America by the South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker may have actually hurt more than what the president said.

What did Kanye West do to deserve all this?

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