Kanye West's two-decade career has given him numerous hits, over nine albums, 21 Grammys and more awards under his belt. His boundless creativity has spun off into fashion and philanthropy, while his private life has firmly embedded itself in pop culture. He is equal parts beloved and respected as well as reviled and despised.
Kanye did not have the "stereotypical" black hip hop artist upbringing of growing up in the "hood" or being part of a gang. He was born in 1977, in Atlanta, Georgia, to a middle-class family. His father was a former Black Panther and one of the first black photojournalists, while his mother was the Chair of the English Department at Chicago State University.
He was writing poetry and rapping at a young age, showing an affinity for the arts and doing quite well in school. He got college scholarships but decided to drop out because it was getting in the way of his budding musical career. He began as a producer, dropping beats for many famous rappers, including Jay-Z. His sound was unique, incorporating soul genre samples, marked by distinctive vocal loops and interesting orchestrations and arrangements. Despite being a successful producer, Kanye wanted to become a rapper as well. However, he kept getting rejected by the record companies.
He finally landed a recording contract in 2002 but was hurt quite badly in a near-fatal car crash. He needed jaw surgery and famously recorded and released his first single, "Through the Wire" - which he recorded singing through the wiring that kept his jaw shut. The song was so successful and began his meteoric rise within the music industry.
Over the next 20 years, Kanye has blazed a highly innovative musical trail, with such hits as Jesus Walks, Love Lockdown, Stronger, All of the Lights, Famous and more. Musically, he has continued sampling and tearing down musical genre barriers by embracing electronica, autotune, synthesizers, bubble gum pop, and even gospel music. His complex songs - with sometimes braggy and self-centered lyrics - are honest and passionate. He writes about mundane everyday life, the pain of loss - especially when his mom unexpectedly passed away in 2007, as well as prominent social issues and other deeply personal thoughts.
Kanye is a successful fashion designer, collaborating with Adidas (and soon Gap) for his Yeezy fashion line. He was also married to global media personality Kim Kardashian for seven years, and they share four children. Of course, one of the many aspects of his career is controversy. This is mainly due to his legendary ego, well-publicized mental health issues, and dealing with his bipolar condition. The pull of fame within him clashes with his Christian roots, and this internal struggle fuels his creativity.
Through it all, Kanye West is a true iconoclast. Breaking every mold, he continues to redefine the true meaning of celebrity while refusing to conform to public expectations. You could praise him, criticize him as well as hate him, but you won't be able to ignore him as he reshapes the musical landscape in general.
Directed by: Jonathan Aubrey