American rapper Kanye West was born on June 8 1977 in Atlanta, Georgia. He grew up in Chicago, Illinois after his parents got divorced and his mother moved there. Aged 10, he and his mother moved to Nanjing, China, while she was teaching as part of an exchange program.
West began writing poetry when he was five and started rapping aged nine. He then began making music when he was 13, selling his productions to other artists. After writing a song called ‘Green Eggs and Ham’, West begged his mother for $25 for an hour’s time in a recording studio.
In 1997, West received a scholarship to study painting at the American Academy of Art but soon transferred to Chicago State University to study English. He later dropped out to focus on his music. Three years later, West began producing for artists on Roc-A-Fella Records’ roster, including work on Jay-Z’s ‘The Blueprint’ album. Keen to avoid West leaving the label to seek a record deal for his rapping elsewhere, then Roc-A-Fella boss Damon Dash offered him a contract.
In 2002, the rapper was involved in a near-fatal car crash after falling asleep at the wheel. His jaw had to be wired shut as part of his reconstructive surgery, something which inspired him to write his breakthrough track ‘Through The Wire’. He included the track on his ‘Get Well Soon’ mixtape, released in December 2002.
West’s debut album, ‘The College Dropout’, was relelased in February 2004, after he’d recorded most of it in fifteen minute segments in Los Angeles. It entered the Billboard 200 at Number Two, and featured the single ‘Slow Jamz’, which would be West’s first Number One single.
‘Late Registration’ followed a year later on August 30 2005 and featured collaborations with Jay-Z, Jamie Foxx, Nas and more. On the record, West made use of instruments and styles not commonly associated with hip-hop, like string arrangements. It won Best Rap Album at the Grammy Awards in 2006, while the track ‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone’ won Best Rap Song. Rolling Stone went on to list the album at Number 118 in its 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.
The rapper, now linked with controversy, caused his first scandal when he declared that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” while talking on a special NBC show, A Concert for Hurricane Relief, in aid of survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
After touring the world with U2 on their Vertigo, West was inspired to write rap songs that would be at home in arenas. He looked to electronic music from the ’80s for inspiration, while listening to Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash to help his lyrics. The resulting album, ‘Graduation’, was released on September 11 2007 – the same day as 50 Cent’s ‘Curtis’. West ended up outselling 50 Cent and went to Number One on the Billboard 200.
In 2007, West’s mother Donda died after suffering complications during cosmetic surgery. He split up with his then-fiancee Alexis Phifer shortly after. Unable to put his emotions into rapping, he began to use Auto-Tune while singing – a feature that became heavily used on his fourth album, ‘808 And Heartbreak’. He announced the record at the 2008 MTV VMAs, where he performed the single ‘Love Lockdown’.
The record was released on November 24 2008 and was recorded in three weeks in Honolulu. It charted at Number One in the Billboard 200 but its commercial performance didn’t match up in the rest of the world.
In 2009, West caused another controversy when he interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for Best Female Video at the MTV VMAs, claiming his friend Beyonce had the best video. A planned tour with Lady Gaga was cancelled in the aftermath of the incident, while it was also blamed for ‘808s and Heartbreak”s lack of nominations at that year’s Grammy Awards.
West took a break from music, focusing on fashion (he’d already launched his own line Pastelle Clothing some years earlier) instead but soon began work on his next album, working in Hawaii again. Artists like Jay-Z, Kid Cudi and Pusha T were invited to collaborate on the record, as well as Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ was the resulting album, and was released on November 22 2010. Again, it charted at Number One in the Billboard 200, and was later listed as the 21st Greatest Album Of All Time by NME in 2013.
Following his headline appearance at Coachella in 2011, West released the collaborative ‘Watch The Throne’ album, which he’d made with Jay-Z. The accompanying North American tour became the highest-ever grossing tour by a hip-hop act.
West began work on his sixth album, ‘Yeezus’, in a Paris hotel in early 2013. He aimed to include elements of Chicago drill, industrial and acid house in the record, and hired Rick Rubin 15 days before the record’s release date to make things more minimalist. The album was released on June 18 2013 and became his sixth consecutive US Number One. Shortly after its release, West confirmed he’d only begun work on his seventh record, slated for release in 2014 and said to be produced by Rick Rubin and Q-Tip.
West married reality TV star Kim Kardashian in a ceremony at Fort di Belvedere in Florence on May 24 2014. Their first child, North, was born in LA on June 15 2014. Their son, Saint West, was born in December 2015.
In January 2016 West released seventh album, ‘The Life of Pablo’, which he described as a “Living, breathing, creative expression” due to its evolving nature. In November 2016, West was hospitalised “for his own health and safety” and cancelled a string of tour dates. Authorities explained that he was experiencing “temporary psychosis due to sleep deprivation and dehydration”. West was discharged in December 2016. In January 2017 it was reported that his US and European would be rescheduled later in the year, and that he would also roll out “a few surprise projects”.
West caused controversy in early 2018 by praising Donald Trump, criticising Obama’s history of, meeting with controversial right-wing pundit Candace Owens and calling slavery a “choice”.
In June 2018, West released two seven-track records, his eighth solo album ‘ye’, followed a week later by Kid Cudi collaborative LP ‘Kids See Ghosts’. Of ‘ye’, NME‘s review noted how it lacked “the profundity of ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ and the audacity of ‘808s…’ or ‘Yeezus’” and that while “succinct and easy to swallow”, left listeners “wish[ing] there was a little more to it.” Meanwhile, NME‘s Jordan Bassett called ‘Kids See Ghosts’ “a brief glimpse into another world” and a “uniquely meditative, self-accepting album”.