Without Kanye West’s enormous talent, the controversial rapper may have disappeared from the music business. Massive critical acclaim and multiple hits diminished the impact of tabloid headlines and immature antics. Kanye West is one of the 21st century’s most intriguing artists.

Growing up in suburban Chicago, Kanye West may not have endured the same hardships as stereotypical rappers. Raised by a single mother (Dr. Donda West) from the age of 3, Kanye’s influences were his mother’s middle class lifestyle, a father who was a former Black Panther turned Christian counselor and aggressive rap pioneers Tupac Shakur and Dr. Dre. The unique combination resulted in a complex, talented young man at home in many worlds.

Rumors swirled that Kanye “ghost-produced” tracks for Nas and rap collective Harlem World, and his reputation was growing when Jay-Z first tapped him for a single track and then a bigger role on 2001’s The Blueprint.  Collaborating with Jay-Z on a multi-platinum hit opened the door for West to work with Janet Jackson, Alicia Keys and other successful artists.

Roc-A-Fella won a frenzied battle to sign Kanye as a hit-making producer, but their plans were delayed after Kanye’s jaw was broken in a car accident. The College Dropout, was released to almost universal praise. Debuting at #2 on the Billboard charts, The College Dropout sold more than 3 million copies, won The Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop poll for Album of the Year and won the first three of Kanye West’s many Grammy Awards.

Kanye touched on various topics generally foreign to 21st century commercial hip-hop, including the importance of family (Family Business), resilience (Through the Wire) and spirituality (Jesus Walks & Never Let Me Down).

Lacking lyrical dexterity, West became one of hip-hop’s hottest artists with fans and critics. After spending the remainder of 2004 on the Confessions tour with Usher, West began work on his sophomore album. Late Registration was released in August and became an immediate success, thanks to the hit single Gold Digger. The album went on to win another three Grammys, although Kanye’s constant complaining, including an outburst after losing Album of the Year honors at the Grammy Awards and a swipe at country singer Gretchen Wilson at the American Music Awards.

Kanye’s most famous outburst was during a live national telethon for Hurricane Katrina victims when he declared, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people“. Escaping the criticism that derailed The Dixie Chicks for similarly criticizing then-President Bush, Kanye’s Late Registration sold three million units and scored three more Grammys.

Kanye Reinvents Common, Mentors John Legend

Kanye West continues his work as a producer and formed his own music label, G.O.O.D. (Getting Out our Dreams) Music, on which he resuscitated the career of fellow Chicago rapper Common and introduced singer/pianist John Legend to the world. He returned to making records in 2007 with Graduation.

After a much ballyhooed release-date showdown with fellow rap icon 50 Cent, West was the popular favorite, selling nearly a million copies in only the first week. Boasting a more streamlined, electro-influenced sound, Graduation was an artistic departure, but fans continued buying Kanye releases. Graduation sold more than 2 million (and counting!) copies, and won Kanye yet another three Grammy Awards, although he lost his third straight Album of the Year prize, this time to jazz keyboardist Herbie Hancock.

Kanye also suffered a personal setback when Donda passed away following surgical complications. After mid-2008’s successful Glow in the Dark tour, Kanye returned to the studio to record his fourth album. 808s & Heartbreaks. Love Lockdown, the first single, premiered on the MTV Video Music Awards only a year after a petulant West refused to ever appear or perform on the show again. Only days after appearing on MTV he found himself in the news again mere days after his performance after attacking a paparazzo in an airport. Despite immature public outbursts, Kanye West remains a singular and unique figure in hip-hop, as well as one of music’s most creative artists.

Kanye West Best Sellers

Kanye West Reviews on Pop Rock Nation

808s and Heartbreakthis is essentially a black indie-rock album
GraduationKanye establishes himself as the premiere hip-hop artist of his time
Late Registration Gold Digger, great cameos on 2004’s best album

–M. Heyliger