Love him or hate him, but you can't ignore Kanye West. He won't allow it. With five albums, fourteen Grammys, and three consecutive #1 billboard hits, and #5 on the Top 10 Dumb Asses list (even surpassing "Mr. Adultery", Tiger Woods), Kanye makes himself a very visible and unforgettable part of the contemporary music scene.
Despite his tough talk and tougher lyrics, Kanye actually had a normal, middle class upbringing, with good grades and a close relationship with his mother. Kanye West attended Chicago State University before dropping out at nineteen to focus on his music career. His early years were spent behind the scenes, producing tracks for local artists. He caught his big break in 2000, when his work attracted the notice of the up-and-coming Jay Z and got him significant airplay on Jay Z's sixth album. This opened a lot of doors, industry wise, but Kanye wasn't satisfied - the work was all behind the scenes and Kanye had visions of becoming a famous and world-recognized rapper. Studios told him he lacked the proper "street look" for the part.
In 2004, Kanye decided only he knew what was best for Kanye. And it turned out he was right. He released his first album, College Dropout, to critical and commercial success. It spawned five hit singles and put him on the map as a rapper, producer, and business mogul. He was universally lauded for both his musical creativity and his marketing sense, a trend that would continue with his future successes. Over the years he would release four more albums, make $70 million dollars, and wrack up over 100 awards nominations.
Not bad for a middle class B student who loved his mama.
Of course, anyone with fame attracts controversy, and Kanye's had more than his share. In 2005 he made headlines in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when he criticized the government's slow response to the poor, economically struggling area. He told the audience, "George Bush doesn't care about black people." This comment sparked a media debate about race, government policy, and Kanye himself. George Bush would go on to say that Kanye's comments were one of the most disgusting moments of his presidency.
He made headlines again in 2009, this time at the MTV Video Music Awards. During Taylor Swift's acceptance speech for Best Female Video, Kanye West appeared on stage and stole the microphone, telling her "he would let [her] finish" but that Beyonce's video was "the best of all time." His remarks were poorly received, with celebrities everywhere deriding his actions and speaking out in favor of Taylor. There was a publicity backlash and his behavior was mocked everywhere from Twitter to Saturday Night Live. Even President Barack Obama was overheard calling Kanye "a jackass." Kanye has since apologized, but the incident remains in public memory and the jokes march on.
Some say that with big talent comes big attitude, but others scoff that his outbursts are no surprise when you consider his personality. It's true - and Kanye will admit it himself - that he considers himself a visionary and has no problem demanding due credit for what he believes he's brought to the music industry. Taylor Swift wasn't the first celebrity forced to share the spotlight with Kanye - he was escorted off stage during the MTV Europe Music Awards for interrupting an ongoing presentation and arguing that he deserved the Best Video Award. He's also appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone as the picture of Jesus, wearing a bloody crown of thorns. Kanye West decorated his $4 million home with professional ceiling art depicting himself as an angel.
Kanye has always taken himself very seriously, even when others don't.
Despite the controversies, however, Kanye carries on. He still sells records. He still enjoys critical success even when he's being lambasted in the media for his ego. His love-hate relationship with the world at large only seems to fuel his driving need to come out on top, and even as people criticizing, they only feed him more money and fame. Don't think he hasn't noticed the discrepancy:
"In America, they want you to accomplish these great feats, to pull off these David Copperfield-type stunts. You want me to be great, but you don't ever want me to say I'm great?"
One thing's for sure - if we don't say it, he will.