Over the course of his career as a producer and rapper that spans nearly two decades, Kanye West has defined himself as one of the most brazen, ambitious, outspoken, and iconoclastic artists in the history of hip-hop and music at large. Watch the video below for an overview of his career.
Before Kanye was outwardly any of these things, he was a young producer from Chicago, hustling beats and pushing to be noticed by rap royalty like his one day boss, collaborator, and “big brother,” Jay-Z. While Kanye worked on the beats that would plant his flag in the commercial landscape—the laundry list of hits and classics is too long to reprint, an undeniable embarrassment of riches, from Jay-Z’s “H to the Izzo” to Talib Kweli’s “Get By” to Alicia Keys’ “You Don’t Know My Name” and beyond—he also honed his craft as a rapper. Bars often overflowed with ideas, punchlines, unusual images, and boasts, occasionally clumsy but suggesting the clever, emotional emcee that would begin to blossom on College Dropout. Songs like “Wow” and “Peace” suggest the bravado and aspirational materialism that have long-marked Kanye’s discography, while songs like “Out Of Your Mind” showcased his ability to explore personal issues with a measure of humor, if perhaps sometimes unintentional.
“The College Dropout” Era
This era was during the time Kanye West first gained mainstream success. After years as a successful producer, Kanye sought to begin a new career as a rapper. He was eventually signed to Roc-A-Fella Records. In 2002, Kanye was involved in a near fatal car crash which left him a shattered jaw and resulted in him having it wired shut. The experience from the accident lead to him recording his first single, “Through the Wire”. The Rolling Stone named The College Dropout “Album of the Year” in 2004.
“Mayonnaise colored Benz, I push Miracle Whips.”
“Late Registration” Era
After rave reviews from his first album, Kanye managed to top himself with his sophomore album titled Late Registration. The album featured five singles, all of which charted on the Billboard top 100. His biggest hit, Gold Digger (featuring Jamie Foxx) hit number one on the list during that summer. The Rolling Stone, USA Today, Spin, and Time named it Album of the Year in 2005. The album also earned 5 grammy nominations (including Album of the Year), where it took home three.
“Won’t sell ‘em no dream, but the inspiration is free.”
The Graduation era marked a distinctive evolution in Kanye’s music style and approach to production. He experimented with synthesizer, electonric music, and found himself sampling from an eclectic variety of musical genres. Most notably was his sampling and collaboration with electronic music duo Daft Punk in his hit single ‘Stronger’.The album took home three Grammy’s the following year.
“Look at the valedictorian, scared of the future while I hop in the Delorean.”
“808’s & Heartbreak” Era
After the release of Graduation, the following year featured a number of events that profoundly affected Kanye. His mother Donda died following complications from undergoing cosmetic surgery. Months later, Kanye and his fiancée Alexis Phifer ended their long-term engagement and relationship. The events shaped the 808’s era as a dark and lonely era which was translated to the album’s mood and sound.
“Fur pillows are hard to actually sleep on.”