Kanye West

  • Rapper, singer, songwriter, producer born in Atlanta in 1977 and raised in Chicago.
  • West grew up in a middle-class environment – his mother was an English professor at two universities, and she encouraged Kanye to study while supporting his interest in music and the arts. He wrote poetry at the age of 5, started rapping in third grade, and began writing music in seventh grade, selling the songs to other artists. At 13, he was recording music, and he learned how to use a sampler at 15. After high school, he went to college, but he dropped out when he was 20 to pursue a music career.
  • He started producing beats for local Chicago artists in the mid-90s – his first production credits were in 1996 for rapper Grav. By 1999, he was producing records for several artists and groups, developing a style that took vocal samples from classic soul records and speeding them up. In 2000, he produced recordings for artists on Roc-A-Fella Records, a prominent record label for rappers. His success with Jay-Z’s album The Blueprint increased West’s exposure and demand. While he enjoyed producing music for others, he real desire was to perform – but record companies rejected him because he did not have a ‘gangsta’ image.
  • Reluctantly, Roc-A-Fella Records signed him, fearing to lose him to another label. In 2002, West was driving home from work and fell asleep at the wheel, causing a near fatal accident – his jaw was shattered and had to be wired shut. Soon afterwards, he wrote the song Through The Wire, and his therapy to recover was working on his own album. He made the song available on a mixtape released in early 2003, called Get Well Soon, and it was included on his debut album from 2004, The College Dropout. The album peaked at #2 on the Billboard 200 album chart, sold 8 million copies worldwide, and was certified 3x platinum. The biggest hits from the album were Jesus Walks and All Falls Down. Jesus Walks won a Grammy award for Best Rap Song in 2005, and the album won the Grammy for Best Rap Album. Rolling Stone ranks the album at #298 on its list of the Greatest Albums of All Time.
  • He continued to produce music for other artists, and he founded his own record label and management company in 2004. His production style was copied by many others, so he wanted to create a new sound for his second album. In 2005, he released Late Registration. The album used intricate sampling techniques, and string orchestration incorporated into the hip hop songs. It won another Grammy award for Best Rap Album, and Rolling Stone ranks it at #118 on the GOAT list. The single Gold Digger reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and it sold over 5 million copies in the U.S., winning West another Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance.
  • For his third studio album, West moved toward rap songs that would play well in large arenas, influenced by bands like U2 and The Rolling Stones. He incorporated synthesizers and electronic music, and he listened to folk and country songwriters like Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash to learn more about storytelling. Graduation was released in 2007, debuting at #1 on the album chart. The lead single, Stronger, sampled music from electronic artist Daft Punk – it became his best selling single of all time, topping the Hot 100 chart and reaching 7x platinum certification.
  • His next album, 2008’s 808 & Heartbreak, continued his run of success. Two more top 5 hits came from the album – Love Lockdown and Heartless. The album showed another style change for West – moving away from a conventional hip hop sound, more sparse and electronic, with West singing through a vocal processor. As before – the style was soon copied by others in the genre.
  • Four more studio albums were released between 2010 and 2016. All topped the Billboard 100 chart – West holds the record for the most consecutive albums to debut at #1, with 7 (College Dropout would have made it 8 for 8, but it debuted at #2). The album Watch The Throne was a collaboration album with Jay-Z. The album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is his third album on Rolling Stones GOAT list, at #353. No songs from these albums reached #1 on the Hot 100 chart, though 10 songs were in the top 10 of the R&B and/or Rap charts. The biggest hits were Niggas in Paris (with Jay-Z), All Of the Lights (featuring Rihanna) and Mercy.
  • Over his career, West has been the featured artist on many songs by other artists that have charted. Songs that were top 5 on the Hot 100 list were Slow Jamz (Twista featuring West – peaked at #1), Swagga Like Us (Jay-Z/T.I. featuring West), Knock You Down (Keri Hilson featuring West), Run This Town (Jay-Z featuring West), and E.T. (Katy Perry featuring West).
  • West has seen his share of controversy. Perhaps his most outrageous stunt was at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, when he stormed the stage while Taylor Swift was accepting her award, took the microphone from Swift, and proclaimed that Beyoncé’s video that year was better. His rants on politics and culture in general, along with his marriage to Kim Kardashian, will undoubtedly keep West in the public eye for years to come.
  • West has sold over 50 million singles in the U.S., making him the second highest male, and sixth highest selling artist of all time. He has won 21 Grammy awards – 11th most ever. Critics laud him as transforming, bringing hip hop into the mainstream. I’m not a big fan of rap/hip hop – but I do have an appreciation of brilliance, and if you listen to his music, you will hear that brilliance. So much music to choose from – I’ll give you the video that won Best Male Video at the 2005 MTV Music Video Awards – Jesus Walks. 

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