Kanye West's outspoken criticism of President Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina has become one of the most controversial statements by a popular musician since Sinead O'Connor tore up a picture of the pope on "Saturday Night Live" in 1992.

Like that incident, in which the Irish singer actually was making a complicated critique of the Catholic Church based on the teachings of the Rastafarian religion, the Chicago-born rapper's unscripted comments on live TV were no ill-considered outburst -- and they can't be understood divorced from the context of West's work.

A week after being hailed as "the smartest man in pop music" on the cover of Time magazine, and four days after the release of his second album "Late Registration," which is expected to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart tomorrow with sales of nearly a million copies, West appeared beside comedian Mike Myers as one of several entertainers who urged Americans to donate to relief efforts during a telethon broadcast live on NBC and its affiliated networks Friday night.

A flood of words

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