Photo: David Shankbone / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)
Full name: Kanye Omari West
Born: June 8, 1977
Age: 42 years
Born Place: Atlanta, Georgia, United States
- Record producer
- Fashion designer
Spouse: Kim Kardashian (m. 2014)
Kanye Omari West (born June 8, 1977) is an American rapper, producer, and fashion designer. His music draws from a range of genres, including hip hop, soul, baroque pop, electro, indie rock, synth-pop, industrial, and gospel.
Born in Atlanta and raised in Chicago, West was first known as a producer for Roc-A-Fella Records in the early 2000s, producing singles for several mainstream artists. Intent on pursuing a solo career as a rapper, West released his debut album The College Dropout in 2004 to critical and commercial success, and founded the record label GOOD Music. He experimented with a variety of musical genres on subsequent acclaimed studio albums, including Late Registration (2005), Graduation (2007), and 808s & Heartbreak (2008). Drawing inspiration from maximalism and minimalism, respectively, West’s fifth album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) and sixth album Yeezus (2013) were also critical successes. He went on to release The Life of Pablo (2016), Ye (2018), and Jesus Is King (2019). West’s discography also includes the full-length collaborations Watch the Throne (2011) and Kids See Ghosts (2018) with Jay-Z and Kid Cudi, respectively.
West’s outspoken views and life outside of music have received significant media attention. He has been a frequent source of controversy for his conduct at award shows, on social media, and in other public settings, as well as for his comments on the music and fashion industries, U.S. politics, and race. His Christian faith, as well as his marriage to television personality Kim Kardashian, have also been a source of media attention. As a fashion designer, he has collaborated with Nike, Louis Vuitton, and A.P.C. on both clothing and footwear, and have most prominently resulted in the Yeezy collaboration with Adidas beginning in 2013. He is the founder and head of the creative content company DONDA.
West is one of the world’s best-selling music artists, with over 140 million records sold worldwide. He has won a total of 21 Grammy Awards, making him one of the most awarded artists of all time. Among his other awards include the Billboard Artist Achievement Award, a joint-record three Brit Awards for Best International Male Solo Artist and the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. Three of his albums have been included on Rolling Stone’s 2012 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list; the same publication named him one of the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time. West is the tied holder for the most albums (four) topping the annual Pazz & Jop critic poll. Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2005 and 2015.
Most biographies and reference works note that West was born on June 8, 1977, in Atlanta, Georgia, although some sources give his birthplace as Douglasville, a small city west of Atlanta. After his parents divorced when he was three years old, he moved with his mother to Chicago, Illinois. His father, Ray West, is a former Black Panther and was one of the first black photojournalists at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Ray West was later a Christian counselor, and in 2006, opened the Good Water Store and Café in Lexington Park, Maryland with startup capital from his son. West’s mother, Dr. Donda C. (Williams) West, was a professor of English at Clark Atlanta University, and the Chair of the English Department at Chicago State University, before retiring to serve as his manager. West was raised in a middle-class background, attending Polaris High School in suburban Oak Lawn, Illinois, after living in Chicago. At the age of 10, West moved with his mother to Nanjing, China, where she was teaching at Nanjing University as part of an exchange program. According to his mother, West was the only foreigner in his class, but settled in well and quickly picked up the language, although he has since forgotten most of it. When asked about his grades in high school, West replied, “I got A’s and B’s. And I’m not even frontin’.”
West demonstrated an affinity for the arts at an early age; he began writing poetry when he was five years old. His mother recalled that she first took notice of West’s passion for drawing and music when he was in the third grade. West started rapping in the third grade and began making musical compositions in the seventh grade, eventually selling them to other artists. At age thirteen, West wrote a rap song called “Green Eggs and Ham” (the title of a best-selling children’s book by Dr. Seuss) and persuaded his mother to pay for time in a recording studio. Accompanying him to the studio and despite discovering it being “a little basement studio” where a microphone hung from the ceiling by a wire clothes hanger, West’s mother nonetheless supported and encouraged him. West crossed paths with producer/DJ No I.D., with whom he quickly formed a close friendship. No I.D. soon became West’s mentor, and it was from him that West learned how to sample and program beats after he received his first sampler at age 15. After graduating from high school, West received a scholarship to attend Chicago’s American Academy of Art in 1997 and began taking painting classes; shortly after, he transferred to Chicago State University to study English. He soon realized that his busy class schedule was detrimental to his musical work, and at 20 he dropped out of college to pursue his musical dreams. This greatly displeased his mother, who was also a professor at the university. She later commented, “It was drummed into my head that college is the ticket to a good life… but some career goals don’t require college. For Kanye to make an album called College Dropout it was more about having the guts to embrace who you are, rather than following the path society has carved out for you.”
Relationships and family
West began an on-and-off relationship with designer Alexis Phifer in 2002, and they became engaged in August 2006. The pair ended their 18-month engagement in 2008. West subsequently dated model Amber Rose from 2008 until the summer of 2010. In April 2012, West began dating reality star and longtime friend Kim Kardashian. West and Kardashian became engaged in October 2013 and married on May 24, 2014, at Fort di Belvedere in Florence, Italy. Their private ceremony was subject to widespread mainstream coverage, with West taking issue with the couple’s portrayal in the media. They have four children: North “Nori” West (born June 2013), Saint West (born December 2015), Chicago West (born January 2018 of a surrogate pregnancy), and Psalm West (born May 2019 of a surrogate pregnancy). In April 2015, West and Kardashian traveled to Jerusalem to have North baptized in the Armenian Apostolic Church at the Cathedral of St. James. Kim, Saint, Chicago, and Psalm were all baptized four years later on October 7, 2019, at Holy Etchmiadzin, the mother church of the Armenian Church.
The couple’s high-profile status and respective careers have resulted in their relationship becoming subject to heavy media coverage; The New York Times referred to their marriage as “a historic blizzard of celebrity.”
In September 2018, West announced that he would be permanently moving to Chicago and would establish his Yeezy company headquarters in the city.
On November 10, 2007, West’s mother Donda West died at age 58. In January 2008 the Los Angeles County coroner’s office said that West had died of coronary artery disease and multiple post-operative factors from, or as a consequence of, liposuction and mammoplasty”.
West played his first concert following the funeral at The O2 in London on November 22. He dedicated a performance of “Hey Mama”, as well as a cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'”, to his mother, and did so on all other dates of his Glow in the Dark tour.
California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger subsequently signed the “Donda West Law”, legislation which makes it mandatory for patients to receive medical clearance through a physical examination before undergoing elective cosmetic surgery.
In December 2006, Robert “Evel” Knievel sued West for trademark infringement in West’s video for “Touch the Sky”. Knievel took issue with a “sexually charged video” in which West takes on the persona of “Evel Kanyevel” and attempts flying a rocket over a canyon. The suit claimed infringement on Knievel’s trademarked name and likeness. Knievel also claimed that the “vulgar and offensive” images depicted in the video damaged his reputation. The suit sought monetary damages and an injunction to stop distribution of the video. West’s attorneys argued that the music video amounted to satire and therefore was covered under the First Amendment. Just days before his death in November 2007, Knievel amicably settled the suit after being paid a visit from West, saying, “I thought he was a wonderful guy and quite a gentleman.”
In 2014, after an altercation with a paparazzo at Los Angeles Airport, West was sentenced to serve two years’ probation for a misdemeanor battery conviction, and was required to attend 24 anger management sessions, perform 250 hours of community service, and pay restitution to the photographer.
After the success of his song “Jesus Walks” from the album The College Dropout, West was questioned on his beliefs and said, “I will say that I’m spiritual. I have accepted Jesus as my Savior. And I will say that I fall short every day.” In a 2008 interview with The Fader, West stated that “I’m like a vessel, and God has chosen me to be the voice and the connector.”
In a 2009 interview with online magazine Bossip, West stated that he believed in God, but at the time felt that he “would never go into a religion.”
In 2014, West referred to himself as a Christian during one of his concerts.
In January 2019, West re-affirmed his Christian faith on Twitter. His wife Kim Kardashian described West’s Christian new birth experience in September 2019: “Kanye started this to really heal himself and it was a really personal thing, and it was just friends and family… He has had an amazing evolution of being born again and being saved by Christ.”[ In October 2019, West said with respect to his past, “When I was trying to serve multiple gods it drove me crazy” in reference to the “god of ego, god of money, god of pride, the god of fame”, and that “I didn’t even know what it meant to be saved” and that now “I love Jesus Christ. I love Christianity.” During a surprise appearance at Jimmy Kimmel Live! to discuss his album Jesus Is King, West was asked by Kimmel if he would consider himself to be a Christian music artist now that he had committed himself fully to Christianity, and he replied, “I’m just a Christian everything”.
In his song “FML” and his featured verse on Vic Mensa’s song “U Mad”, he refers to using the antidepressant medication Lexapro, and in his song “I Feel Like That”, which has not been officially released, he mentions feeling many common symptoms of depression and anxiety. These songs had all been recorded during West’s recording sessions for The Life of Pablo.
On November 20, 2016, soon before abruptly ending a concert prematurely, he said, “Jay-Z—call me, bruh. You still ain’t called me … Jay-Z, I know you got killers. Please don’t send them at my head. Just call me. Talk to me like a man.” The following day, he was committed to the UCLA Medical Center with hallucinations and paranoia. Contrary to early reports, however, West was not actually taken to the hospital involuntarily; he was persuaded to do so by authorities. While the episode was first described as one of “temporary psychosis” caused by dehydration and sleep deprivation, West’s mental state was abnormal enough for his 21 cancelled concerts to be covered by his insurance policy; he was reportedly paranoid and depressed throughout the hospitalization, but remains formally undiagnosed. Some have speculated that the Paris robbery of his wife may have triggered the paranoia. On November 30, West was released from the hospital.
In an interview in 2018, West declared that he became addicted to opioids when they were prescribed to him after he got liposuction. The addiction may have contributed to his nervous breakdown in 2016.
West said he often has suicidal ideation. In a 2019 interview with David Letterman, West stated he has bipolar disorder.
West has won a variety of awards. These include: a Webby Award for Artist of the Year, an Accessories Council Excellence Award for being a stylemaker, International Man of the Year at the GQ Awards, a Clio Award for The Life of Pablo Album Experience, and an honour by The Recording Academy. West is one of eight acts to have won the Billboard Artist Achievement Award. He has won the Brit Award for Best International Male Solo Artist a joint-record three times, in addition to being one of three artists to have won the award in consecutive years. In 2011, he became the first artist to win Best Male Hip-Hop Artist at the BET Awards three times, he is the male artist with the most wins for Video of the Year at the ceremony, and the only person to have been awarded the Visionary Award at The BET Honors. West has received the most nominations for Best Hip-Hop Video at the MTV Video Music Awards (nine), along with the second-most nominations for Best Male Video (seven). In 2015, he became the third rap act to win the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. West has won 21 Grammys, he has the second most wins (21) and nominations (68) for a rapper (both behind Jay-Z). He has been the most nominated act at five ceremonies, and won the most Grammys by a male artist, and fourth most overall in the 2000s decade. In 2008, West became the first solo artist to have his first three albums receive nominations for Album of the Year. Only Eminem (six times) has won Best Rap Album more times than West (four times); additionally, West and Eminem are the only acts to have won the award in multiple successive years. West has the most wins and nominations for Best Rap Song.
West is one of the best-selling digital artists of all time. He is the 7th highest certified artist in the US by digital singles (69 million). He had the most RIAA digital song certifications by a male artist in the 2000s (19), and was the fourth best-selling digital songs artist of the 2000s in the US. In Spotify’s first ten years from 2008 – 2018, West was the sixth most streamed artist, and the fourth fastest artist to reach one billion streams. West has the joint-most consecutive studio album to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 (9). Between August 2005 – June 2008, West had the two highest first week album sales in the US, and was the only act to sell more than 800,000 in an opening week. Graduation and Watch the Throne, both broke US first week digital and iTunes albums sales. West has the joint-fifth most number-one singles in New Zealand (six), and the third most number one singles on the Hot Rap Songs chart (nine). He has the third-most top-ten singles in the UK by a rapper (20), and the joint-second most platinum singles in the UK by a rapper (eight). West is one of seven acts to have 100+ Billboard Hot 100 entries.
West’s albums have received numerous accolades. Entertainment Weekly named The College Dropout the best album of the 2000s decade, Late Registration (118) was the highest charting 21st century album on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (2012), Complex named Graduation as the best album released between 2002-2012, 808s & Heartbreak was named by Rolling Stone as one of the 40 most groundbreaking albums of all time, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was named by The A.V. Club as the best album of the 2010s decade, Yeezus was the most critically-acclaimed album of 2013, and The Life of Pablo was the first album to top the Billboard 200, go platinum in the US, and go gold in the UK, via streaming alone.
West’s singles have also obtained adulation and prestige. “Heartless” was amongst the top-ten best-selling singles worldwide in 2009, “Stronger” is one of the most downloaded songs of all time on iTunes, and “Gold Digger” was the ninth biggest Hot 100 song of the 2000s.
West is regarded as one of the greatest hip-hop producers of all time. He made the most appearance on Complex’s “Best Producers of every year since 1979” list (five). On Billboard’s 2000s decade-end charts, West was third on the list of top producers. West has made more appearances (four) than any other act on The Guardian’s “The Best Albums of the 21st Century” list, having topped the annual Pazz & Jop critic poll the joint-most times (four albums). In 2009, he became the first non-athlete to have a shoe deal with Nike. In 2014, NME named him the third most influential artist in music. In 2015, West became the second-ever rapper to headline Glastonbury Festival.
- The College Dropout (2004)
- Late Registration (2005)
- Graduation (2007)
- 808s & Heartbreak (2008)
- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
- Watch the Throne (with Jay-Z) (2011)
- Yeezus (2013)
- The Life of Pablo (2016)
- Ye (2018)
- Jesus Is King (2019)
- Donda (2020)
- The College Dropout Video Anthology (2004)
- Late Orchestration (2006)
- VH1 Storytellers (2010)
- Runaway (2010)
- Jesus Is King (2019)