About Kanye West?
As Kanye West would doubtless tell you himself, he is a 21st-century phenomenon — a producer turned rap superstar who has reinvented hip hop several times over in the course of a stellar career; but whose creative genius is sometimes eclipsed by his talent for putting his entire foot in his own mouth. He has made headlines for his bizarre tweets and his grand pronouncements, his award-show stage invasions, his outré fashion sense and his flashbulb-popping marriage to Kim Kardashian. But when West channels his hubristic impulses into his music, the results have rarely been less than thrilling: hence eight solo albums debuting at No. 1 and 21 Grammy awards — no rapper has won more; two inclusions in Time magazine’s 100 most influential people list; and plaudits from Lou Reed, Prince, Elon Musk — and, most frequently of all, from West himself. “I am a god,” he rapped in 2013, following up with a line that perhaps only he could deliver with a straight face: “Hurry up with my damn croissants.”
Kanye West Early Life
Kanye Omari West was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 8, 1977. His father, Ray, was a photojournalist for the Atlanta Journal newspaper and was also politically active in the Black Panthers; he later became a Christian counselor. West’s mother, Donda, was a teacher who became a professor of English at Chicago State University, and eventually, her son’s manager before she died at the age of 58 from heart disease after cosmetic surgery in 2007. Her passing would profoundly affect West musically as well as personally.
Ray and Donda divorced amicably when West was three. After that he was raised on Chicago’s middle-class South Shore neighborhood by his mother, and spent summers with his father. At the age of 10, West moved for a year with Donda to China, where she taught as part of a university-exchange program; he was the only foreigner in his class. After returning to Chicago, West was drawn to the South Side’s hip-hop scene, and he befriended the DJ and producer No I.D., who became his mentor. West graduated from Polaris High School and won a scholarship to study at Chicago’s American Academy of Art — but dropped out of college altogether to pursue music, an act that would inform the title of his first solo album years later.
Kanye West Talented Music Producer
After spending time producing for local artists, West developed a signature style, dubbed “chipmunk soul,” characterized by sped-up soul samples. He then moved to New York in 2001. Here he got his big break handling the production for the Jay-Z track “This Can’t Be Life,” which appeared on the 2000 album Dynasty: Roc La Familia. The following year he cemented his burgeoning reputation by producing four songs on Jay Z’s The Blueprint, widely regarded as one of the greatest rap albums of all time. From there, West went on to produce for other stellar talents, including the rappers Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Ludacris, and the singers Alicia Keys and Beyoncé.
But West was not content to be a backroom player. He wanted to be the headline act but initially struggled to be taken seriously as a rapper. He pleaded with Roc-A-Fella records to let him rap, but as co-founder Jay-Z later told Time magazine, “We all grew up street guys who had to do whatever we had to do to get by. Then there’s Kanye, who to my knowledge has never hustled a day in his life. I didn’t see how it could work.” West got a similar response from other labels. “I’d leave meetings crying all the time,” he recalled.
With reluctance, Damon Dash signed West to Roc-A-Fella in 2002, but he did so mostly to retain him as a producer. That October, as West was driving home from a recording session in a California studio, he was involved in a head-on car collision that left him with a shattered jaw. He wrote and recorded a song about the experience, “Through the Wire,” with his jaw still wired shut following reconstructive surgery. He then wrote much of the rest of his debut album while recuperating in L.A. But once the album was complete, it was leaked online. In response, West decided to make it better: he revised and rewrote songs and refined the production, adding stronger drums, gospel choirs and strings (he paid for orchestras out of his own pocket).
Kanya west ‘The College Dropout’
The album was finally released in February 2004 — it sold 2.6 million copies and made West a star. Titled The College Dropout, it broke the gangsta-rap mold, with themes including consumerism (he was critical of it back then), racism, higher education and his religious beliefs. On the single “Jesus Walks” he rapped, “They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus/That means guns, sex, lies, videotapes/But if I talk about God, my record won’t get played.” The College Dropout peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 200 chart, and West received 10 Grammy nominations, winning three awards including Best Rap Song for “Jesus Walks” and Best Rap Album. Shortly after the album was released, West founded his record label, GOOD music — an acronym for Getting Out Our Dreams — in conjunction with Sony BMG. He would put out music by John Legend, Big Sean, Common, Pusha-T and more.
Kanya west ‘Late Registration’
West spent a year and $2 million on his sophomore album, hiring an orchestra and working with the composer Jon Brion, who had never worked with a rapper before. West, the restless bourgeois-creative, wanted to “see how far he could expand” hip hop, he told the New York Times. The results were spectacular, yielding another three Grammy wins — Best Rap Album again, plus Best Rap Song for “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” and Best Rap Solo Performance for “Gold Digger.” Late Registration debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 200 — a feat West would repeat with every subsequent solo album release.
“On Late Registration, the Louis Vuitton Don doesn’t just set out to create pop music — he wants to be pop music,” wrote Rob Sheffield in Rolling Stone’s five-star review of the album. “So he steps up his lyrical game, shows off his epic production skills, reaches higher, pushes harder, and claims the whole world of music as hip hop turf.”
In September 2005, a month after Late Registration‘s release, West appeared on an NBC broadcast to raise funds for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. He caused a national media storm — his first, but by no means his last — when he opined live on air that “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people,” articulating widespread criticism of the president for not visiting the devastated city of New Orleans right away. Bush was deeply stung by West’s comment, later calling it a “disgusting moment.”
Kanye west ‘Graduation’
After touring with U2 in 2005-2006, West was inspired to make hip hop more anthemic, to be performed in stadiums and arenas. He began to draw influence from both rock ‘n’ roll (the Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Killers) and house music (which originated in his hometown of Chicago). This led to his third album, Graduation, on September 11, 2007. It dropped the same day as 50 Cent’s album Curtis, in what was hyped as a battle for hip-hop’s soul — the erudite showman versus the bullet-scarred street thug. But with Graduation‘s groundbreaking (for hip-hop) palette of layered electronic synthesizers, and sloganeering wordplay — “I’m like the fly Malcolm X/Buy any jeans necessary,” he smirked on “Good Morning” — there could only be one winner. West’s album sold 957,000 copies in its first six days, going straight to No. 1.
With the music industry beginning to wring its hands about the effect of the internet on its profit margins, West simply embraced the change with his video for the single “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” for which he hired the comedian Zach Galifianakis to lip-sync along to the lyrics on an alternate version, creating a viral sensation on YouTube.
Kanye west Mother’s Death
West was on top of the world, hailed as the artist who had killed gangsta rap. And then, in November 2007, tragedy struck. His beloved mother, Donda, died from a heart attack following cosmetic surgery. During his first concert following the funeral, he dedicated a performance of “Hey Mama” to her. Months later, West broke up with his fiancée, Alexis Phifer. His next album, 808s & Heartbreak, released 12 months after his mom died, was shot through with grief, pain and alienation. West even abandoned rapping altogether, preferring to sing through an Auto-Tune vocal processor, which lent his voice a robotic tone — a technique now ubiquitous in hip hop. He classified the new album as “pop art” (not to be confused with the visual art movement) and announced: “Hip hop is over for me.” (It wasn’t — he won two Grammys for guest raps he made that year, on Estelle’s “American Boy” and TI’s “Swagga Like Us.”)
kanye west Fashion
After the Swift debacle, West took a break from music to focus on fashion. He had already been collaborating with labels including A Bathing Ape and Nike on limited-edition sneakers since 2006. He even reportedly interned at Gap in 2009, and later Fendi, to gain experience. He launched his first collection in Paris in 2011 — but it was widely panned. “You can’t just dump some fox fur on a runway and call it luxury,” sniffed Long Nguyen, style director of Flaunt magazine. West gave a wounded-sounding speech at the show’s after-party. “Please be easy,” he said. “Please give me a chance to grow.” After his second collection a year later received a lukewarm reception, West announced he would no longer be showing in Paris.