Kanye West needs no introduction. He is a household name. But while he initially gained his fame through his music, lately, he is more likely to be known for his erratic behaviour, his infamous Twitter rants, and his vocal support of Donald Trump. Meanwhile, his recent music has disappointed long-time Kanye fans.
So let’s take a moment to look back at Kanye’s golden era.
Kanye West found local success in Chicago, producing beats with his signature sound, best described as “chipmunk soul” as it featured a lot of sped up and chopped soul samples.
West didn’t want to be behind the scenes, he wanted to be the headlining artist, but no one could take him seriously as a rapper. Hip-Hop in the early 2000s was still in its “gangsta” phase and was full of street hustlers or performers with gangster personas. As Jay-Z explained to Time Magazine, Kanye was different.
“We all grew up street guys who had to do whatever we had to do to get by,” Jay-Z said. “Then there’s Kanye, who to my knowledge has never hustled a day in his life. I didn’t see how it could work.”
Still, Jay-Z signed West in 2002 to Roc-A-Fella, primarily just to make sure he didn’t sell his beats somewhere else.
Roc-A-Fella finally approved Kanye to make a full-length album. On February 10th, 2004, The College Dropout, was released. Selling 2.6 million copies worldwide and winning Best Rap Album at the Grammys, West became an instant star. Breaking out of the gangster mode, West, was focused on racism, materialistic values, and religion. Shortly after the album, West, founded his own record label, “GOOD Music,” that today has artists such as Big Sean, and, Pusha T.
With his new fame and success, West knew he had to come harder the second time around. With $2 million of his own earnings, West hired an orchestra for his second project, Late Registration. He wanted to “see how far he could expand” hip hop, he told the New York Times. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 200. That release won three Grammys: Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song for “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” and Best Rap Solo Performance for “Gold Digger.”
Kanye’s third album, Graduation, was made to be anthemic. With heavy synths and vocal chants it was very evident that Kanye West was becoming not only a heavy influence in hip-hop, but modern music in general. Prior to the release of Graduation, Kanye had a friendly sales battle with 50 Cent, whose album Curtis, was released on the same date. Both sides promoted their albums heavily, and the sales battle brought in a lot of attention. Kanye ended up victorious, selling 957,000 copies in its first six days, going straight to No. 1.
West didn’t seem to have anything to worry about by the time 2007 came around. With three No.1 albums, and mass industry respect, West had it all.
In November of 2007, Kanye’s mother who he was very close with, passed away from a heart attack following cosmetic surgery. Only months later, West, ended his on and off 6-year relationship with his fiance, Alexis Phifer.
808s & Heartbreak, released nearly a year after the passing of his mother, is arguably his most influential piece of work to date. With robotic vocal effects, lots of autotune, and pain in his voice, he paves the way for artists like Drake, Kid Cudi, and many more. Never before was a rapper seen so vulnerable in his emotions. Performances at this time felt from the heart, and real.
Kanye West, has had some very powerful performances over the past two decades. He performed two songs at the 2008 Grammys, including “Hey Mama”, a tribute to his mother off his second album Late Registration. The song was already a deep song for West, but meant so much more since her passing in 2007. West, added a new hook for the performance: “Last night I saw you in my dreams / Now I can’t wait to go to sleep.” Tears could be seen in his eyes.
At the 2015 Brit Awards, West performed his single “All Day” alongside a massive crowd of black men, dressed in all black clothing. Two of them shot flamethrowers illuminating the crowd in orange. The energy in the room was outstripped anything else performed that day.
Kanye West is an artist that was once seen as a legend. Now, to some, he has fallen low. Regardless of his political beliefs, strange behaviour, or what he says on social media, West has undoubtedly changed not only the rap industry, but the music industry as a whole.
Present day Kanye may be seemingly doing everything he can to burn his legacy, but with nine No.1 albums, and a clothing brand worth over a billion dollars, he has a lot of legacy left to burn.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Angel Laws