Kanye Omari West (/ˈkɑːnjeɪ/; born June 8, 1977) is an American rapper, record producer, fashion designer, head of the record label GOOD Music, and founder of creative content company DONDA. West is among the most successful and acclaimed musicians of the 21st century, continuing to attract both praise and controversy for his outspoken persona.
Raised in Chicago, where he became involved in the city’s hip hop scene, West dropped out of art school in the 1990s to pursue music. He first became known as a producer for Roc-A-Fella Records, producing hit singles for musical artists including Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, Ludacris, and Janet Jackson with a distinctive style of production that utilized high-pitched vocal samples from soul songs. Intent on pursuing his own career as a rapper, he released his debut album The College Dropout in 2004 to commercial and critical acclaim. His middle-class background and style deviated from the then-dominant “gangsta” persona in hip hop, and he would later embrace a variety of different styles and musical genres as other artists adopted his alternative aesthetic. He followed his debut with the baroque-inspired Late Registration in 2005, and the electronic-tinged Graduation in 2007. West abandoned rapping for singing on his emotive 2008 effort 808s & Heartbreak, and embraced maximalism on 2010s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Following several collaborations, he released his abrasive sixth album, Yeezus, in 2013.
West has collaborated with a range of figures in music, fashion, and the visual arts. His work as a fashion designer includes multiple collaborations with brands such Nike, Louis Vuitton, A.P.C., and Adidas. He has often been a source of controversy as a result of his outspoken appearances in public, including his pronouncement that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” during a live benefit broadcast for Hurricane Katrina relief, and his interruption of singer Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. He is married to American television personality Kim Kardashian.
West is one of the best-selling artists of all time, having sold more than 21 million albums and 100 million digital downloads. He has won a total of 21 Grammy Awards, making him one of the most awarded artists of all time and the most Grammy-awarded artist of his age. Time named West one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2005, 2011 and 2015. He has also been included in a number of Forbes annual lists. Three of his albums rank on Rolling Stone’s 2012 “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list; two of his albums feature at #1 and #8 in Pitchfork Media’s The 100 Best Albums of 2010–2014.
Kanye Omari West was born on June 8, 1977 in Atlanta, Georgia. His parents divorced when he was three and he and his mother moved to Chicago, Illinois. His father, Ray West, is a former Black Panther and was one of the first black photojournalists at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Ray West was later a Christian counselor, and in 2006, opened the Good Water Store and Café in Lexington Park, Maryland with startup capital from his son.
Kanye West’s mother, Dr. Donda C. (Williams) West, was a professor of English at Clark Atlanta University, and the Chair of the English Department at Chicago State University before retiring to serve as his manager. West was raised in a middle-class background, attending Polaris High School in suburban Oak Lawn, Illinois after living in Chicago. At the age of 10, West moved with his mother to Nanjing, China, where she was teaching at Nanjing University as part of an exchange program. According to his mother, West was the only foreigner in his class, but settled in well and quickly picked up the language, although he has since forgotten most of it. When asked about his grades in high school, West replied, “I got A’s and B’s. And I’m not even frontin’.”
West demonstrated an affinity for the arts at an early age; he began writing poetry when he was five years old. His mother recalled that she first took notice of West’s passion for drawing and music when he was in the third grade. Growing up in the city, West became deeply involved in its hip hop scene. He started rapping in the third grade and began making musical compositions in the seventh grade, eventually selling them to other artists. At age thirteen, West wrote a rap song called “Green Eggs and Ham” and began to persuade his mother to pay $25 an hour for time in a recording studio. It was a small, crude basement studio where a microphone hung from the ceiling by a wire clothes hanger. Although this wasn’t what West’s mother wanted, she nonetheless supported him. West crossed paths with producer/DJ No I.D., with whom he quickly formed a close friendship. No I.D. soon became West’s mentor, and it was from him that West learned how to sample and program beats after he received his first sampler at age 15.
After graduating from high school, West received a scholarship to attend Chicago’s American Academy of Art in 1997 and began taking painting classes, but shortly after transferred to Chicago State University to study English. He soon realized that his busy class schedule was detrimental to his musical work, and at 20 he dropped out of college to pursue his musical dreams. This action greatly displeased his mother, who was also a professor at the university. She later commented, “It was drummed into my head that college is the ticket to a good life… but some career goals don’t require college. For Kanye to make an album called College Dropout it was more about having the guts to embrace who you are, rather than following the path society has carved out for you.”
1996–2002: Career beginnings
Kanye West began his early production career in the mid-1990s, making beats primarily for burgeoning local artists, eventually developing a style that involved speeding up vocal samples from classic soul records. His first official production credits came at the age of nineteen when he produced eight tracks on Down to Earth, the 1996 debut album of a Chicago rapper named Grav. For a time, West acted as a ghost producer for Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie. Because of his association with D-Dot, West wasn’t able to release a solo album, so he formed and became a member and producer of the Go-Getters, a late-1990s Chicago rap group composed of him, GLC, Timmy G, Really Doe, and Arrowstar. His group was managed by John “Monopoly” Johnson, Don Crowley, and Happy Lewis under the management firm Hustle Period. After attending a series of promotional photo shoots and making some radio appearances, The Go-Getters released their first and only studio album World Record Holders in 1999. The album featured other Chicago-based rappers such as Rhymefest, Mikkey Halsted, Miss Criss, and Shayla G. Meanwhile, the production was handled by West, Arrowstar, Boogz, and Brian “All Day” Miller.
West spent much of the late-1990s producing records for a number of well-known artists and music groups. The third song on Foxy Brown’s second studio album Chyna Doll was produced by West. Her second effort subsequently became the very first hip-hop album by a female rapper to debut at the top of the U.S. Billboard 200 chart in its first week of release. West produced three of the tracks on Harlem World’s first and only album The Movement alongside Jermaine Dupri and the production duo Trackmasters. His songs featured rappers Nas, Drag-On, and R&B singer Carl Thomas. The ninth track from World Party, the last Goodie Mob album to feature the rap group’s four founding members prior to their break-up, was co-produced by West with his manager Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie. At the close of the millennium, West ended up producing six songs for Tell ‘Em Why U Madd, an album that was released by D-Dot under the alias of The Madd Rapper; a fictional character he created for a skit on The Notorious B.I.G.’s second and final studio album Life After Death. West’s songs featured guest appearances from rappers such as Ma$e, Raekwon, and Eminem
After the success of his song “Jesus Walks” from the album The College Dropout, West was questioned on his beliefs and said “I will say that I’m spiritual. I have accepted Jesus as my Savior. And I will say that I fall short every day.” More recently, in September 2014, West referred to himself as a Christian during one of his concerts
- The College Dropout (2004)
- Late Registration (2005)
- Graduation (2007)
- 808s & Heartbreak (2008)
- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
- Yeezus (2013)
- Swish (TBA)
- Watch the Throne (with Jay Z) (2011)
- Cruel Summer (as part of GOOD Music) (2012)
- The College Dropout Video Anthology (2004)
- Late Orchestration (2005)
- VH1 Storytellers (2010)
|2004||Fade to Black||Himself|
|2005||Dave Chappelle’s Block Party||Himself||Guest performance|
|2005||State Property 2||Himself||Cameo appearance|
|2008||The Love Guru||Himself||Cameo appearance|
|2009||We Were Once a Fairytale||Himself||Short film, directed by Spike Jonze|
|2010||Runaway||Griffin||Short film, also director and writer|
|2012||Cruel Summer||Ibrahim||Short film, also director, producer and writer|
|2013||Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues||J.J. Jackson of MTV News|
|2007||Entourage||Himself||Season 4, Episode 11|
|2010–2012||The Cleveland Show||Kenny West (voice)||5 episodes|
|2012–present||Keeping Up with the Kardashians||Himself|
|2015||I Am Cait||Himself||Episode: “Meeting Cait”|
- Raising Kanye: Life Lessons from the Mother of a Hip-Hop Superstar (2007)
- Thank You and You’re Welcome (2009)
- Through the Wire: Lyrics & Illuminations (2009)
- Glow in the Dark (2009)
- Kanye in Oxford: The #YeezOx highlights. Retrieved April 27, 2015