This is How Kanye Got to the TopKanye West is the lord of the mics whose arrogance is surpassed only by his ability. We unpick his Runway rise from throne watcher to firmly ensconced status as Yeezus
A star is born. Raised by his English professor mother, Donda, Yeezus was rapping by the age of eight. Music eventually beat books and he became a College Dropout. “Some career goals don’t require college,” said Donda. “It was more about having the guts to embrace who you are.”
West catches the ear of Jay-Z, who taps him up to produce five tracks on his seminal album The Blueprint. The record’s success brings Ludacris and Beyoncé calling, but Yeezy wants to be behind the mic, not the mixing desk. “Kanye… has never hustled,” says Jay-Z. “I didn’t see how it could work.”
Kanye crashes driving home from the studio and wakes up in hospital, his jaw wired shut, but charged with inspiration. He channels the pain into Through The Wire, recorded two weeks later. “[It] was my medicine,” says Kanye. The track features on his debut album The College Dropout, which tops charts and end-of-year lists
Irritated by copycats, follow-up Late Registration, with $2 million invested from his own pocket, was a reinvention. “I’m always going left until everyone is going left, then I’ll go right again,” he says. Rolling Stone hails ’Ye’s sonic swerve as an undeniable triumph.
Called out by 50 Cent, the rappers face off. The hackneyed sound of gangsta rap loses to Graduation, an album that marks another evolution as Kanye picks magpie-like from house and electronica. “I have to be creative at all times. I have to learn,” he says. The pink polo shirt nails the coffin closed on rap’s obsession with guns and drugs.
Kanye’s arrogance peaks when he shuts down Taylor Swift at the VMAs. He returns with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a rumination on celebrity excess that marks his most boundary-breaking output, and displays a previously unseen willingness for ego-free collaboration.
Kanye and mentor Jay-Z pair up for Watch The Throne, a collaborative album and tour. It’s validation for an artist who once struggled to stand out. “ I was always the weakest rapper,” says Kanye. “But every night I was working.” Their Coachella set receives rave reviews.
Just 15 days before release, Kanye overhauls sixth album Yeezus, with producer
Rick Rubin, in pursuit of perfection. “The risk for me would be in not taking one,” he says. The dice roll comes up double six, as the album hits number one and collects myriad awards.
Yeezy headlines Glastonbury, despite a 136,000 signature-strong petition against his appearance. The riotous set sees him prowl the stage. “You are now watching the greatest living rock star on the planet,” he declares. A roaring crowd didn’t disagree.