Kanye West is apologizing a lot for somebody who just garnered a leading 10 Grammy nominations, outranking eight-times-eligible rival Usher. West is still living down the public fuming he did after getting ''robbed'' of Best New Artist by Gretchen Wilson at last month's American Music Awards, which he declared he might boycott in the future. Now West is all about penitence, not pride. ''I came up to Gretchen [before the Grammy press conference] and apologized,'' he says. ''And I want to apologize to my black role models, like Jay-Z and Oprah Winfrey, for being overemotional. I was doing a disservice to everything my forefathers have done to allow black people to get to this place.'' West offers an explanation for why he was so darned eager to bum-rush the AMA podium: ''Ol' Dirty Bastard had just passed, and in memory of ODB's performance at the Grammys [in 1998], I just wanted to run out on stage and say, 'Kanye is for the kids!'''
He's still got a good shot at giving that acceptance speech come Feb. 13, if ''Jesus Walks'' and God's willing. His competition for Album of the Year includes Ray Charles (who beat Loretta Lynn and Brian Wilson for the category's token veteran slot), Alicia Keys (overtaking Norah Jones for the returning-Grammy-princess slot), and Green Day (acing out Los Lonely Boys for the obligatory rock slot). But it's probably all between West and U-know-who. With newfound humility that both Oprah and Gretchen could approve of, West declares that ''the amount of nominations doesn't matter, because Usher's gonna win in whatever category he's in.''