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The Life and Career of Kanye West

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Kanye West was born on June 8, 1977 in Atlanta, Georgia. He started off as a producer and then became a solo artist in his own right. Though he is well-known in the rap and hip hop worlds, he has experimented with several genres in his music. As such, his albums have won him multiple accolades in a fairly short time. West is also famous for publicly expressing his opinions with actions that are sometimes deemed controversial. In this video, takes a look at the life and career of Kanye West.

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Producer Beginnings

Kanye Omari West was born on June 8th, 1977 in Atlanta, Georgia, and moved to Chicago at the age of three. While producing for local Chicago artists, West dropped out of university to focus on his music career. By 1998, he was already producing for well-known artists such as Jermaine Dupri and Foxy Brown.

Jay-Z and "The Blueprint"

Opportunity came knocking when West started producing for Roc-A-Fella Records in 2000. West ended up handling the majority of production on Jay-Z’s acclaimed 2001 record, The Blueprint, an album that spawned one of Jay-Z’s most popular singles, “IZZO (H.O.V.A.).”

Debut Record

A year later, West made his rap debut on Jay-Z's next album, The Blueprint Two: The Gift & The Curse. Though he initially had trouble signing a record deal, West released his first effort, The College Dropout, on Roc-A-Fella Records. The successful 2004 album generated several singles, including “Through the Wire,” which was inspired by a 2002 car crash that had almost taken West’s life. It also featured his first number one hit, “Slow Jamz,” and the Grammy-winning, “Jesus Walks.”

Sophomore Record

In 2005, West released his sophomore effort, Late Registration. With the help of film score composer Jon Brion, West constructed another critically and commercially successful album. Late Registration was later nominated for several Grammys, with the songs “Gold Digger” and “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” picking up a few of the accolades. While making his first two albums, West also continued producing for artists like Janet Jackson, Brandy, and Twista.

Hurricane Katrina

While Kanye West is well known for his musical talent, he is just as well known for his sometimes-controversial actions. In 2005, while presenting during a Hurricane Katrina relief fundraiser, West accused then-President George W. Bush of racism concerning the slow relief-efforts after the disaster.

MTV Europe Awards

In 2006, West graced the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine wearing a crown of thorns, evoking the image of Jesus. That same year, West took to the stage at the MTV Europe Music Awards while Justice and Simian were being presented the Best Video Award, and claimed his video for “Touch the Sky” merited the prize instead.

Album Number Three

West’s third album, Graduation, was released on September 11th, 2007, to coincide with the release of 50 Cent’s third record, Curtis. The much-publicized sales competition that resulted helped to bring West’s Graduation to the top of the U.S. Billboard 200 chart. Singles from the more introspective album include the Grammy-winning “Stronger” and “Flashing Lights.”

MTV Video Music Awards and Mother's Death

West kept up his high profile in 2007 with a number of television appearances. He had a cameo on the series Entourage, and also performed at the MTV Video Music Awards. However, West’s multiple losses, and the fact that he was not selected to open the awards ceremony caused him to publicly voice his anger. It was also around this time that West’s mother died due to complications from cosmetic surgery. Her death deeply affected the rapper, and influenced his actions and career for years to come.

50th Grammy Awards

Things started to turn around in 2008 at the fiftieth annual Grammy Awards, when West took home four statues and performed his song “Stronger” with Daft Punk.

Glow in the Dark and Fourth Record

Later in the year, West took the Glow in the Dark Tour around the world with artists like Rihanna, N.E.R.D. and Nas. He debuted his track “Love Lockdown” on the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards, which would be the first single from his forthcoming album, 808s & Heartbreak. This record ended up being quite a departure for West, who decided to sing rather than rap on most tracks. With its use of Auto-Tune and a more electronically-influenced sound, 808s & Heartbreak hit number one.

Paparazzi Incidents

West also got into two incidents involving paparazzi in 2008. The most notorious event happened when he and his road manager/bodyguard were arrested at the Los Angeles International Airport after breaking a photographer’s camera.

MTV Video Music Awards and Taylor Swift

And the controversy didn’t stop there. In 2009, West infamously stole Taylor Swift’s thunder as she accepted the Best Female Video Award during the MTV Video Music Awards. Taking the microphone from Swift, West proclaimed that Beyonce’s video for “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” was one of the best videos of all time. After being highly criticized for this outburst in the media, West subsequently apologized to Swift on multiple occasions.

Album Number Five

2010 saw the release of West’s fifth album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, with guest appearances by Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Kid Cudi, and more. The record also produced the singles “Power” and “Runaway,” a track that was accompanied by a 35-minute short film that served as its music video.

Music, Fashion, Management and Production

Despite the controversies, Kanye West has made quite a mark in hip-hop in a very short time. While he has dabbled in fashion, has his own management and production company, and founded the Kanye West Foundation, it is his ambition and musical experimentation that have made him unique in the music business.

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