West, Kanye

West, Kanye
▪ 2008

born June 8, 1977, Atlanta, Ga.

 At a time when hip-hop music sales were in decline, rapper and producer Kanye West continued to thrive in the upper echelons of the pop music industry in 2007. His newest album, Graduation, sold almost one million copies in the first week after its release in September. As a performer, West distinguished himself by fusing commercially appealing “gangsta” rap with politically aware themes and lyrics. As a producer, he developed his own distinctive style, borrowing a technique learned from rappers of an earlier era: he sampled classic hit songs and inventively incorporated them into rap songs.

      For most of his childhood, West lived with his mother in the Chicago area. He spent some summers with his father in Maryland and a year, at age 10, in Nanjing, China, while his mother was teaching English there. When he was in high school, he befriended producer No I.D., and by age 15 he was spending substantial amounts of time making music in his bedroom on a sampling keyboard. After high school he attended the American Academy of Art in Chicago and then transferred briefly to Chicago State University to study English; music was his real interest, however, and he soon left college for good.

      West first made his mark in the music industry as a producer, working with artists such as Mase and Jermaine Dupri. His reputation skyrocketed when he wrote five songs for rapper Jay-Z's 2001 album The Blueprint. That success led to more work producing for artists on Jay-Z's label, Roc-A-Fella. That same year, West began working on his own album, but Roc-A-Fella was not interested in recording it because West did not have the tough “street” image that most hip-hop artists cultivated. His fortunes changed, however, in October 2002 after a near-fatal car crash in Los Angeles left West hospitalized. While recuperating, he composed and recorded the song “Through the Wire,” which sampled Chaka Khan's “Through the Fire” and incorporated vocals mumbled through his still-wired-shut jaw. The song anchored his first album, The College Dropout, which was released on the Roc-A-Fella label in 2004 and was a critical and commercial success, winning three Grammy Awards. His next album, Late Registration (2005), surpassed the previous album in sales and acclaim and garnered three more Grammy Awards. Other production credits included work with artists such as Foxy Brown, Ludacris, and Alicia Keys.

Anthony G. Craine

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▪ American producer and rapper
born June 8, 1977, Atlanta, Ga., U.S.

      American producer and rapper who parlayed his production success in the late 1990s and early 2000s into a career as a popular, critically acclaimed solo artist.

      West, the child of a photographer and former Black Panther (Black Panther Party) father and a college professor mother, grew up in Chicago and attended Chicago State University for one year before dropping out to pursue a career in music. Early on he demonstrated his considerable abilities as a producer, contributing to Jermaine Dupri's album Life in 1472 (1998) before relocating to the New York City area, where he made his name with his production work for Roc-a-Fella Records, especially on rapper Jay-Z's album Blueprint (2001). West's skillful use of accelerated sample-based beats soon made him much in demand as a producer, but he struggled to be allowed to make his own recordings (partly because of the perception that his middle-class background denied him credibility as a rapper). When he finally released his debut solo album, The College Dropout (2004), it was massively successful: sales soared, and critics gushed over its sonic sophistication and clever wordplay, which blended humour, faith, insight, and political awareness on songs such as "Through the Wire" and the gospel-choir-backed "Jesus Walks," which won a Grammy Award for best rap song—to go along with the awards for best rap album and best rhythm-and-blues song for "You Don't Know My Name."

      Abetted by his flamboyant personality, West quickly rose to stardom. His second album, Late Registration (2005), repeated the commercial success of his first, with a number of hit singles (including “Diamonds in Sierra Leone” and “Gold Digger”), and earned West three more Grammy Awards. He also gained notoriety for his widely quoted assertion that the federal government's slow response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans in 2005 demonstrated that U.S. Pres. George Bush “doesn't care about black people.”

      Throughout his career, West continued to produce for high-profile artists such as Ludacris, Alicia Keys (Keys, Alicia), and Janet Jackson (Jackson, Janet). He also founded GOOD Music, a record label under the auspices of Sony BMG. His third release, Graduation (2007), produced the hit singles “Good Life” and “Stronger” and garnered him four more Grammy Awards. In 2008 West released 808s and Heartbreak, an album that dwelled on feelings of personal loss and regret. Its sound differed radically from his previous releases, as West chose to sing (with the assistance of a vocal production tool called an Auto-Tuner) rather than rap his lyrics.

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Universalium. 2010.

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