Real Name: Kanye Omari West
D.O.B.: June 8th, 1977 Atlanta, Georgia,
Label: Good Music/Roc-A-Fella Records
West was born in Atlanta, Georgia, where he lived with both of his parents. When he was three years old (as mentioned in “Hey Mama”) his parents divorced, and he and his mother moved to Chicago, Illinois. His father was Ray West, a former Black Panther who was one of the first black photojournalists at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and is now a Christian counsellor Kanye’s late mother, Dr. Donda West, worked as a Professor of English at Clark Atlanta University, and the Chair of the English Department at Chicago State University before retiring to serve as Kanye’s manager. He was later raised in an upper middle class background, attending Polaris High School in suburban Oak Lawn, Illinois after living in Chicago.
Kanye took some art classes at the American Academy of Art, a Chicago art school, and also enrolled at Chicago State University, but eventually dropped out due to poor grades and in order to continue working on his music career. While attending school, West produced for local artists. He later gained fame by producing hit singles for major hip hop/R&B artists, including Jay-Z, Talib Kweli, Cam’ron, Paul Wall, Common, Mobb Deep, Jermaine Dupri, Scarface, The Game, Alicia Keys, Janet Jackson and John Legend among others. He also “ghost-produced” for his once mentor Deric Angelettie according to his song “Last Call” and the credits of Nas’ “Poppa Was a Playa.”
West’s style of production often utilizes pitched-up vocal samples, usually from soul songs, with his own drums and instruments. The first major label song he produced was The Truth by Beanie Sigel, and his first major release featuring his trademark vocal sampling style was “This Can’t Be Life,” a track from Jay-Z’s The Dynasty: Roc La Familia. West said he sped up the drum beat of Dr. Dre’s “Xxplosive” to use as a replacement for his drums on “This Can’t Be Life.”
West has said that Wu-Tang Clan producer RZA influenced him in his style, and has said on numerous occasions that Wu-Tang rappers Ghostface Killah and Ol’ Dirty Bastard were some of his all-time favorites. Said by Kanye West: “Wu-Tang? Me and my friends talk about this all the time… We think Wu-Tang had one of the biggest impacts as far as a movement. From slang to style of dress, skits, the samples. Similar to the (production) style I use, RZA has been doing that.”
West’s sound was featured heavily on Jay-Z’s critically-acclaimed album The Blueprint, released on September 11, 2001. His work was featured on the lead single “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and a diss track against Nas and Mobb Deep named “Takeover”; West has worked with Mobb Deep and Nas since the track’s release. West soon became a major name in hip hop production following the release of the album, but struggled to find a way to get a record deal. Jay-Z admitted that Roc-A-Fella was initially reluctant to support West as a rapper, claiming that he saw him as a producer first and foremost. Multiple record companies pushed him aside because he was not the stereotypical hip hop artist. Companies felt he was not as marketable as rappers that portray the “street image” that is prominent in hip hop culture.
On October 23, 2002, West was involved in a near fatal car crash while driving home from the recording studio. The crash provided inspiration for West’s first single, “Through the Wire”. West’s faith is apparent in many of his songs, such as “Jesus Walks,” which became a staple at his benefit performances, such as the Live 8 concert. These songs were featured on West’s début album, The College Dropout, which was released on Roc-A-Fella Records in February 2004, and went on to receive critical acclaim. The album also defined the style for which West would become known, including wordplay and sampling. The album went certified triple platinum. Guest appearances included Jay-Z, Ludacris, GLC, Consequence, Talib Kweli, Common, and Syleena Johnson. The album also featured the singles, “All Falls Down” and “The New Workout Plan”, as well as Twista’s single, “Slow Jamz”.
West was involved in a financial dispute over Royce Da 5’9“‘s song “Heartbeat,” produced by West and released on Build & Destroy: The Lost Sessions. West maintains that Royce never paid for the beat, but recorded to it and released it; hearing him on the beat, the original customers decided not to buy it from West. After the disagreement, West vowed to never work with Royce again. Other Kanye West-produced hit singles during the period The College Dropout was released included “I Changed My Mind” by Keyshia Cole, “Overnight Celebrity” by Twista and “Talk About Our Love” by Brandy.
On August 30, 2005, West released his second album Late Registration. Reviews were mostly favorable: “Late Registration is an undeniable triumph” (Rolling Stone), “As ornate and bloated as West’s ego.” With the help of producer samples in different ways along with compositions of strings and other sounds. The record earned the number one spot on the Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop critics poll of 2005. The first two singles from Late Registration were “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” (which features vocals from Shirley Bassey’s “Diamonds Are Forever”) and “Gold Digger” featuring Jamie Foxx (which contains an interpolation of Ray Charles’s “I Got a Woman”) to sell over 860,000 copies in its first week, and earned him eight Grammy Award nominations including Album of the Year and Record of the Year for the song “Gold Digger.” The album also included “My Way Home,” a track that sampled Gil Scott-Heron’s mournful “Home Is Where The Hatred Is.” The album is certified triple platinum . Guest appearances include Jamie Foxx, Adam Levine, Paul Wall, GLC, Cam’ron, Common, Brandy, Jay-Z, Consequence, The Game & Really Doe.
In September 2005, West announced that he would release his Pastelle Clothing line in spring 2006: “Now that I have a Grammy under my belt and Late Registration is finished, I am ready to launch my clothing line next spring.” Even months after its speculated release, the current status of this project is unknown. In that year, West produced the hit singles “Go” by Common and “Dreams” by The Game.
In January 2006, West again sparked controversy when he appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in the image of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns. Later that month, he suggested in Playboy that if a Bible were written in the present day, he is famous and important enough to be included in it. “I throw up historical subjects in a way that makes kids want to learn about them”, West claimed, “(I’m) definitely in the history books already.”
After the 2006 Grammy nominations were released, West said he would “really have a problem” if he didn’t win the Album of the Year because of the comments, saying “I don’t care what I do, I don’t care how much I stunt — you can never take away from the amount of work I put into it. I don’t want to hear all of that politically correct stuff.” West won several Grammy awards, including Best Rap Album, but did not win the Album of the Year Award. The award instead went to U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Coincidentally, in November 2006, West was the opening act for U2 during the fifth leg of their Vertigo Tour in Australia and New Zealand.
On August 5, 2006, West headlined the second day of the Lollapalooza music festival in his hometown of Chicago. Later that month, People magazine reported that West became engaged to his girlfriend Alexis while spending two weeks overseas with her.
On November 2, 2006, when “Touch the Sky” failed to win Best Video at the MTV Europe Music Awards, West went onto the stage as the award was being presented to Justice and Simian for “We Are Your Friends” and argued that he should have won the award instead. Hundreds of news outlets worldwide criticized the outburst. On November 7, 2006, West apologized for this outburst publicly during his performance as support act for U2 for their Vertigo concert in Brisbane, Australia.
In December 2006, Robert “Evel” Knievel sued West for trademark infringement in West’s video for “Touch the Sky.” Knievel is taking issue with a “sexually-charged video” in which West takes on the persona of “Evel Kanyevel” and attempts flying a rocket over a canyon. The suit filed in federal court claims infringement on his trademarked name and likeness. Knievel also claims the “vulgar and offensive” images depicted in the video damage his reputation. The suit seeks damages and to stop distribution of the video.
This year he was also rumoured to be working on Michael Jackson’s next album, which was scheduled for late 2007, along with his cousin Devo Springsteen and John Legend.
In 2007, it was announced that West would be starring in a series directed by Larry Charles. He has been working on the pilot episode for the past two years with Larry Charles and Rick Rubin. He also had this to say on January 14: “I wouldn’t do something as cliché as a reality show. At least give me the credit for being more creative than that. It’s a situational half-hour comedy. It’s fictional, and loosely based on my life.” West recently collaborated with Japanese hip hop group Teriyaki Boyz to produce the single “I Still Love H.E.R.,” a reference to Common’s 1994 single “I Used to Love H.E.R..” It is rumoured that West’s introductory lines preceding his verse are a thinly-veiled jab at producer and rapper Danny!, who was mercilessly compared to West in the beginning of his career.
Further to this, during a radio appearance in early 2007, West, like many of his peers, recorded an impromptu freestyle to the popular song “Throw Some D’s.” West’s version became extremely popular because of the different stance he took. The song that to all other rappers was about automobile rims, was used by West to comically refer to D-cup breasts. Because of the unexpected success of the song, West went on to make a video for the freestyle, in which he is seen playing his ‘Old Ass Cousin.’
West was also featured in a new song called “Classic (Better Than I’ve Ever Been).” It was believed to be a single from his upcoming album, Graduation, because he is featured on the track, but Nike quickly explained that it was for the Nike Air Force 1’s anniversary. It was meant only to be an exclusive track for the company.
In July 2007, West changed the release date of Graduation, his third album, from September 18, 2007, to the same release date as 50 Cent’s album Curtis, September 11, 2007. 50 Cent later claimed that if Graduation were to sell more records than Curtis, he would stop releasing solo albums. However, 50 Cent would later dispel his comments. The album has been certified double platinum. Guest appearances included T-Pain, Mos Def, & Lil Wayne.
“When I heard that thing about the debate, I thought that was the stupidest thing. When my albums drops and 50’s album drops, you’re gonna get a lot of good music at the same time.”
Like its predecessors, West’s Graduation contained extensive sampling of music by eclectic and often obscure artists, including “Champion,” taking its hook from a snippet of Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne,” and “The Glory,” which uses as its foundation Laura Nyro’s “Save the Country.”
On August 26, 2007, West appeared as himself on the HBO television show Entourage which he used as a platform to premier his new single “Good Life” during the end credits. In September 2007, West suggested that his race had to do with his being overlooked for opening the MTV Video Music Awards in favour of Britney Spears; he claimed, “Maybe my skin’s not right.”
On September 9, 2007, West performed at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards. On that night, he lost all 5 awards that he was nominated for, including Best Male Artist and Video of the Year. After the show, he was visibly upset that he had lost at the VMA’s 2 years in a row, stating that he would not come back to MTV ever again. He also appeared on several radio stations saying that when he made the song “Stronger” that it was his dream to open the VMA’s with it. He has also stated that Britney Spears hasn’t had a hit in a long period of time and that MTV exploited her for ratings.
Kanye West was nominated in 8 Grammy Award categories for the 50th annual Grammy Awards held on February 10, 2008. He took home four Grammy awards:
- Best Rap Album for Graduation
- Best Rap Solo Performance for “Stronger” from Graduation
- Best Rap Song for “Good Life” from Graduation (with Aldrin Davis, Faheem Najm, James Ingram & Quincy Jones)
- Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for “Southside” (with Common)
During the four-hour televised Grammy Awards ceremony, West performed the songs “Stronger”, with Daft Punk, and “Hey Mama”, (in honour of his recently deceased mother). After the performance of “Hey Mama,” the broadcast cut to several shots of celebrities in the audience crying.
On Saturday, November 10, 2007, at 8:30 PM PST Kanye West’s mother, Donda West, was pronounced dead due to complications from cosmetic surgery involving a tummy tuck and breast reduction procedure. TMZ reported that West was advised not to go through with the surgery by Beverly Hills physician Andre Aboolian due to a health condition that could lead to a heart attack. West was later referred to an internist who was recommended by Aboolian. West never met with the recommended doctor and had the procedures performed by someone other than Aboolian. Access Hollywood reported that Oprah Winfrey was responsible for introducing West to the doctor who performed the surgery, Jan Adams, though Winfrey has denied this. Both had been guests on The Oprah Winfrey Show, though their appearances were two years apart, and Oprah denies having contact with either since their respective appearances.
Adams has sent condolences to her family but declined to publicly discuss the procedure that Donda West underwent before her death, “I want to first express my deepest condolences to the West family at a very difficult time. As a medical doctor practising in this field, I hold sacred the bond of confidentiality that exists between the patient and doctor. Out of respect of the West family, and the absence of verifiable information, any comment without having first discussing that information with the family would be unprofessional.” Adams, who had been under scrutiny by the medical board appeared on Larry King Live on November 20, 2007 but apparently changed his mind about being interviewed after sitting down with King, apologizing and removing his microphone before walking out of the studio. He appeared on the show again on January 22, 2008, this time accompanied by his attorney. He declined to discuss details about the specifics of West’s death, stating he was there to “defend himself” and that the recently released autopsy results “spoke for themselves”. He claimed the negative publicity surrounding the incident had almost destroyed his business.
The operation lasted eight hours, twice as long as expected. Adams insists he did nothing wrong. The Los Angeles County Coroner’s office said preliminary reports indicated that Donda West may have died from complications from cosmetic surgery, however, the autopsy results are inconclusive pending the results of toxicology tests.
After her death, many mainstream radio stations started to play Kanye’s tribute song to his mother, “Hey Mama” (from Late Registration), as a demonstration of respect for West and his mother.
The funeral and burial for Donda West was held in Oklahoma City on November 20, 2007. Kanye held his first concert following the funeral at The O2 in London on November 22. He dedicated a performance of “Hey Mama,” as well as a cover of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing, to his mother, and has done so on all other dates of his Glow in the Dark tour. Kanye also sang a performance of “Hey Mama” at the 50th Grammy Awards.
The coroner’s report, as of January 10, 2008 says West died of “coronary artery disease and multiple post-operative factors due to or as a consequence of liposuction and mammoplasty.”
- 2004 The College Dropout (Chart: 2) RIAA: 2x Platinum
- 2005 Late Registration (Chart: 1) RIAA: 3x Platinum
- 2007 Graduation (Chart: 1) RIAA: Platinum
- 2008 808s & Heartbreak (Chart: 1) RIAA: 2x Platinum
- 2010 My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Chart: 1) RIAA: Platinum
- 2011 Watch The Throne (w. Jay-Z) [TBA]