Kanye Omari West ( /ˈkɑːnjeɪ/; born June 8, 1977) is an American musician, film director and fashion designer. West first rose to fame as a producer for Roc-A-Fella Records, where he eventually achieved recognition for his work on Jay-Z's album The Blueprint, as well as hit singles for musical artists including Alicia Keys, Ludacris, and Janet Jackson. His style of production originally used pitched-up vocal samples from soul songs incorporated with his own drums and instruments. However, subsequent productions saw him broadening his musical palette and expressing influences encompassing '70s R&B, baroque pop, trip hop, arena rock, folk, alternative, electronica, synthpop, and classical music.
West released his debut album The College Dropout in 2004, his second album Late Registration in 2005, his third album Graduation in 2007, his fourth album 808s & Heartbreak in 2008, and his fifth album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in 2010. West released a collaborative album, Watch the Throne with Jay-Z in 2011, which is the duo's first collaborative album. His five solo albums, all of which have gone platinum, have received numerous awards and critical acclaim. As of 2012, West has won a total of eighteen Grammy Awards, making him one of the most awarded artists of all-time. All albums have been very commercially successful, with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy becoming his fourth consecutive No. 1 album in the U.S. upon release. West has had 5 songs exceed 3 million in digital sales as of July 2011, with "Gold Digger" selling 3,086,000, "Stronger" selling 4,402,000, "Heartless" selling 3,742,000, "E.T." selling over 4,000,000 and "Love Lockdown" selling over 3,000,000 placing him third in overall digital sales of the past decade. He has sold over 30 million digital songs in the United States making him one of the best-selling digital artists of all-time.
West also runs his own record label GOOD Music, home to artists such as John Legend, Common and Kid Cudi. West's mascot and trademark is "Dropout Bear," a teddy bear which has appeared on the covers of three of his five solo albums as well as various single covers and in his music videos. About.com ranked Kanye West No. 8 on their "Top 50 Hip-Hop Producers" list. On May 16, 2008, Kanye West was crowned by MTV as the year's No. 1 "Hottest MC in the Game." On December 17, 2010, Kanye West was voted as the MTV Man of the Year by MTV. Billboard ranked Kanye West No. 3 on their list of Top 10 Producers of the Decade. West has also been included in the Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world as well as being listed in a number of Forbes' annual lists.
1996–2003: Career beginnings
Kanye West's first career productions came on Chicago rapper Grav's 1996 debut album Down to Earth. West produced eight tracks on the album. While the album did not attract much attention and would be the only album released by Grav, West would soon be producing for higher profile artists. In 1998–1999 he produced for well-known artists such as Jermaine Dupri, Foxy Brown, Goodie Mob, and the group Harlem World.
West got his big break in the year 2000, when he began to produce for artists on Roc-a-Fella Records. He produced the well-received Jay-Z song "This Can't Be Life" off of the album The Dynasty: Roc La Familia. West would later state that to create the beat for "This Can't Be Life", he sped up the drum beat from Dr. Dre's song "Xxplosive".
After producing for Jay-Z earlier, West’s sound was featured heavily on Jay-Z's critically acclaimed album The Blueprint, released September 11, 2001. His work was featured on the lead single "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)", "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)" and a diss track against Nas and Mobb Deep named "Takeover"; West has worked with Mobb Deep and Nas since the track's release.
After meeting great commercial success and critical acclaim for his productions on The Blueprint, West became a sought after producer in the hip-hop industry, even before he became known as a rapper and solo artist. In the years 2002–2003 he would produce for artists such as Nas, Scarface, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, T.I., Ludacris, DMX, and Monica. He also continued producing for Roc-a-Fella Records artists and contribued four tracks to Jay-Z's follow up album to The Blueprint, The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse.
After great successes as a producer, West now looked to pursue a career as a rapper and solo artist, but struggled to get a record deal. Chris Anokute, then A&R at Def Jam, said that when West regularly dropped by the office to pick up his producer checks he would play demos of solo material to Anokute in his cubicle and bemoan the fact that no one was taking him seriously as a rapper. 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 felt he was not as marketable as rappers who portray the "street image" prominent in hip hop culture. Beginning his career as a rapper, Kanye West recorded the third verse on the song "The Bounce" off of Jay-Z's The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse, an album he produced for, from the same label he was signed to as a rapper.
2004–06: The College Dropout and Late Registration
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 debut 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 was eventually certified triple platinum. Guest appearances included Jay-Z, Ludacris, GLC, Consequence, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Common, and Syleena Johnson. The album also featured the singles, "All Falls Down" and "The New Workout Plan", as well as Twista's number one single, "Slow Jamz". During 2003 West also co-produced songs for British singer Javine Hylton, even appearing in the music video to Real Things playing the love interest of Javine.
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.
Taking a more eclectic route, West collaborated with American film score composer Jon Brion to construct his second album, Late Registration, which was released on August 30, 2005. Like its predecessor, the sophomore effort garnered universal acclaim from music critics. Late Registration topped countless critic polls and was revered as the best album of the year by numerous publications, including USA Today, Spin, and Time. Rolling Stone awarded the album the highest position on their end of the year record list and hailed it as a "sweepingly generous, absurdly virtuosic hip-hop classic." The record earned the number one spot on the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics' poll of 2005 for the second consecutive year. Late Registration was also a commercial success, selling over 860,000 copies in its first week alone and topping the Billboard 200. Grossing over 2.3 million units sold in the United States alone by year's end, Late Registration was considered by industry observers as the sole majorly successful album release of the fall of 2005, a season that was plagued by steadily declining CD sales. The second album earned eight Grammy Award nominations including Album of the Year and Record of the Year for the song "Gold Digger". The album is certified triple platinum.
On August 22, 2005, the MTV special All Eyes On Kanye West aired, in which West spoke out against homophobia in hip-hop. He claimed that hip-hop has always been about "speaking your mind and about breaking down barriers, but everyone in hip-hop discriminates against gay people." He then reflected on a personal experience. He said that he had a "turning point" when he realized one of his cousins was gay. He said regarding this experience: "This is my cousin. I love him and I've been discriminating against gays." He drew comparison between African Americans' struggle for civil rights and today's gay rights movement. The following year, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, West further expounded his experiences with and views on the relationship between the black and gay communities.
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." In that year, West produced the hit singles "Go" by Common and "Dreams" by The Game.
2007–09: Graduation and 808s & Heartbreak
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 also 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.". 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." 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 for, 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.
On March 25, 2007, he and his father Ray West supported World Water Day by having a "Walk for Water" rally. After a two-year break, West has returned to being a fashion columnist in lifestyle magazine Complex. On July 7, 2007, West performed with The Police and John Mayer at the American leg of Live Earth. West hosted the August 17 edition of British comedy- variety show The Friday Night Project.
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, and 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.
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. On September 9, 2007, West performed at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards, losing in every category he was nominated for; he gave an angry speech immediately afterward. (see "Controversies" section)
Following the MTV stint, West was nominated in eight Grammy Award categories for the 50th annual Grammy Awards. He won four of them, including Best Rap Album for Graduation and Best Rap Solo Performance for "Stronger" from Graduation. During the four-hour televised Grammy Awards ceremony, West also performed two songs: "Stronger" (with Daft Punk) and "Hey Mama" (in honor of his recently deceased mother).
West kicked off the Glow in the Dark Tour in Seattle at the Key Arena on April 16. The tour was originally scheduled to end in June in Cincinnati but was extended into August. Over the course of the tour West was joined by a varying group of opening acts, including Lupe Fiasco, Rihanna, N.E.R.D., DJ Craze, and Gnarls Barkley. On June 15, West was scheduled to perform a late night set at the Bonnaroo Music Festival. His performance started almost two hours late and ran for half of its alloted time, angering many fans in the audience. West later wrote an outraged entry on his blog, blaming the festival organizers as well as Pearl Jam's preceding set, which ran longer than expected.
On September 7, West debuted a new song "Love Lockdown" at the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards. "Love Lockdown" features no rapping and only singing using an auto-tune device. This song appears on West's fourth studio album, 808s & Heartbreak. The new album was expected to be released on December 16, but West announced on his blog on September 24, 2008, that he had finished the album and would be releasing it sometime in November, earlier than previously scheduled. In early October, West made a surprise appearance at a T.I. concert in Los Angeles, where he stated that 808s & Heartbreak was scheduled to be released on November 25, though it was actually released on the 24th, and that the second single is "Heartless". The album was another number one album for West, even though the first week numbers fell well short of Graduation with 450,145 sold.
In 2008, West and director Hype Williams paid tribute to the film American Pop in the music video for West's single "Heartless", which featured use of rotoscoped animation and references to scenes and backgrounds from the film.
West performed at the American Music Awards ceremony on November 23. That same night he won two AMA awards, including Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album for Graduation and Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Male Artist. West performed at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August 2008, along with Wyclef Jean and N.E.R.D. in support of Barack Obama. On January 20, 2009, Kanye West performed at the Youth Inaugural Ball hosted by MTV for Obama's inauguration.
On February 17, 2009, West was named one of Top 10 Most Stylish Men in America by GQ. The next day, February 18, 2009, West won International Male Solo Artist at The Brit Awards 2009. West was not in attendance but accepted his award with a video speech, saying "Barack is the 'Best Interracial Male' but I'm proud to be the Best International Male in the world.
In April 2009, Kanye West recorded a song called "Hurricane" with 30 Seconds to Mars to appear on their album This Is War, but was not released due to legal issues with both record companies. The song was eventually released on the deluxe version of This Is War, titled "Hurricane 2.0".
2010–present: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Watch the Throne and Cruel Summer
In May 2010, West made an animated television guest appearance on Fox's animated television series The Cleveland Show (a spin-off of Family Guy) as the voice behind "Kenny West", a rival of Cleveland Brown's son. In his first episode he performed in a rap battle with Cleveland's son. The producers stated working with West was a very good experience and a reason they chose him was because they knew he was a fan of Family Guy. Kenny West re-appeared in the season 2 premiere of The Cleveland Show.
West spent the first half of 2010 in Honolulu, Hawaii, working on his new album with the working title "Good Ass Job", later named My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, released on November 22, 2010. West has cited Maya Angelou, Gil Scott-Heron and Nina Simone as his musical inspirations for this album. Outside production is said to come from RZA, Q-Tip, Pete Rock, and DJ Premier. West also had Justin Vernon flown into his studio on Oahu after seemingly expressing interest in sampling one of Bon Iver's songs; Vernon proceeded to feature on a number of new tracks, including "Lost In The World," which features Vernon's vocal line from Woods.
On May 28, the Dwele-assisted first single from the album, entitled "Power", leaked to the Internet. On June 30, the track was officially released via iTunes. The upcoming music video was quoted as being "apocalyptic, in a very personal way" by the director Marco Brambilla.
On September 12, 2010, West performed a new song, "Runaway" featuring Pusha T, at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards. Shortly after the performance, Kanye revealed he was working on a 35 minute short film based around the song. The movie is said to be influenced by film noir and concerns a fallen phoenix whom Kanye falls in love with. On October 15, 2010, Kanye West was ranked 3rd in BET's "Top Ten Rappers of the 21st Century" list.
Watch the Throne, a collaborative studio album by West and Jay-Z, was released by Def Jam Recordings on August 8, 2011. It has been under production since August 2010 as part of West's GOOD Friday initiative of releasing new songs every Friday between August 20 and Christmas 2010. West said through a recent interview with MTV that the album is "going to be very dark and sexy, like couture hip hop." He appeared at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, performing the track "Lost in the World" from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. On January 6, 2011, Kanye announced via Twitter that the first official single from Watch the Throne would be a song called "H•A•M" produced by Lex Luger. The song was released on January 11, 2011.
On April 17, 2011, West closed the Coachella Festival with a headlining set that received glowing praise from fans and critics alike. On July 20, a track titled "Otis" from the album was released in the iTunes Store. It samples "Try a Little Tenderness" by Otis Redding.
On October 19, 2011, via his Twitter account, West announced plans for a Spring 2012 GOOD Music album release. On April 3, 2012, "Mercy", the lead single from the GOOD Music compilation album, Cruel Summer, was released. The song, produced by newly signed in-house producer Lifted, features West along with Big Sean, Pusha T and southern rapper 2 Chainz. This was followed by stand-alone single "Cold" (originally called "Theraflu") featuring DJ Khaled, released on April 17, and then the second single from Cruel Summer, "New God Flow" on July 2.
- Thank You and You're Welcome (2009)
- Through the Wire: Lyrics & Illuminations (2009)
- Glow in the Dark (2009)