His longtime, loyal, most die-hard fans agree the cause of death was a Twitter rant on Tuesday, April 24, 2018 at 11:30 a.m. EST.
West was born on June 8, 1977 in Atlanta, Georgia. After his parents’ divorce when he was three years old, he moved to Chicago, Illinois with his mother, Donda West. His father, Ray West, was a former Black Panther-turned-pastoral counselor with two master’s degrees. Donda was a professor at Clark Atlanta University and the chair of the English Department at Chicago State University. She would later retire from her position to serve as his manager. Donda never remarried and raised him as a single mother. Her world seemingly revolved around her only child. West often spoke about how his mother instilled in him the notion that he could do anything.
“I've always worshipped the ground he walked on,” Donda told Rolling Stone of her relationship with her son. “People could say I spoiled Kanye. I don't think so. He was very much indulged.” In the third grade, he decided to pursue his musical inclinations and began rapping. In the seventh grade, he became obsessed with a sound program used to build video games, helping him learn how to produce songs. In high school, he sold beats for up to $200.
After a brief stint at Chicago State where his mother worked, West dropped out of college at 20 to pursue music full-time. He first produced songs for artists like Foxy Brown and Mase’s rap group Harlem World. In 2000, he produced music for Roc-A-Fella records, working on Jay Z’s iconic album, The Blueprint. He went on to work with Cam’ron, Beanie Sigel, Ludacris, Janet Jackson, and Alicia Keys. In 2002, after having a difficult time getting signed to a record label because he didn’t fit the mold of what a rapper typically looked like at the time, Roc-A-Feller co-founder Damon Dash finally gave West a chance.
It was a car accident, however, that would change the course of West’s life for good. In October 2002, he fell asleep while driving a rented Lexus and crashed the car. Though he had to receive facial reconstruction surgery, the accident inspired him to record his first single, “Through The Wire,” with his mouth wired shut. What would come next would revolutionize the world of hip-hop.
“In hip-hop, we been waiting for some music that's pure and honest and a person that people can relate to and connect with,” Common told Rolling Stone in 2004 of the Louis Vuitton Don. “He shows his human side.” He titled his debut album College Dropout and told MTV, the title “is saying make your own decisions. Don't let society tell you, 'This is what you have to do.'” West was able to make a career out of feeding fans his streams of social consciousness over catchy beats.
“My niche is that I'm the funny version of Dead Prez,” West told Rolling Stone in 2004. “I'm the rap version of Dave Chappelle. I'm not sayin' I'm nearly as talented as Chappelle when it comes to political and social commentary, but like him, I'm laughing to keep from crying.”
West rapped about not just his own insecurities and blinding love of aesthetics, but police brutality, homophobia, and all the ways the Black population has been exploited including blood diamonds, consumerism, and political agendas. In 2005, he called out George Bush for the way he handled Hurricane Katrina during a live telethon. President Bush would later say West’s critique was the worst moment of his time in office.
In 2007, West lost his mother to complications during a cosmetic surgery. He blamed himself for the loss. “If I had never moved to LA she’d be alive. I don’t want to go far into it because it will bring me to tears,” he told Q magazine. Fans of the rapper attribute this time period as the start of his untimely decay.
West began dating Kim Kardashian (who he’d been pining after since 2003) in 2011; the two married in 2014. As the two began their family, it seemed to weigh heavy on ’Ye how his legacy would affect his children. On the album Watch The Throne, West rapped on “New Day,” “And I’ll never let my son have an ego, He’ll be nice to everyone wherever we go, I mean I might even make him be Republican, so everybody know he love white people.”
The man who rapped about his grandfather getting arrested for taking West’s mother to eat at a “Whites Only” counter in a segregated restaurant called racism a dated concept. Though he still considers himself the same man who rapped about race on earlier albums. He told The New York Times in 2013, “No, it’s just being able to articulate yourself better. ‘All Falls Down’ is the same [stuff]. I mean, I am my father’s son. I’m my mother’s child. That’s how I was raised. I am in the lineage of Gil Scott-Heron, great activist-type artists. But I’m also in the lineage of a Miles Davis — you know, that liked nice things also.”
Increasingly, those “things” were painful relics of our country’s past like when West bragged about appropriating the Confederate flag for his Yeezus tour merch. He also only wanted to cast “multiracial women” in his Yeezy Season 4 runway show (also aligning himself with Vanessa Beecroft, an artist who at times appeared to be anti-Black people). The rapper’s condition took a turn for the worse in November 2016, when he admitted on a stop of his “Saint Pablo” tour that he would have voted for Trump. “Not only did I not vote, but there were a lot of things I actually liked about Trump’s campaign,” West said. “His approach was f---ing genius — because it worked.”
We knew West was expiring when he visited the newly-elected President at Trump Tower in New York City.
Things quickly spiraled out of control in April 2018. West — now a father of three — reactivated his Twitter, which had laid dormant for almost a year, and shared that he loved the way Candace Owens thinks. Owens is a Black woman who considers Donald Trump to be a “savior.” Then, after calling Trump “his brother,” West lashed out at hurt fans who were confused by this behavior, calling his support of a man who has done nothing but spew vitriol against women, Blacks, immigrants, and the news media his right to “independent thought.”
At his best, West was a man who passionately chased whatever was interesting to him: fashion, the arts, and design. He inspired his legions of fans to do the same in their own lives. But the man who laid the blueprint for what it is for millions to dream out loud; manifesting the careers, wardrobes, and spouses they’ve always envisioned for themselves has gone to rest. The communities that West, at one point in his career, made a point to uplift in his music and in his progressive thinking also mourn his loss. What we are left with is a question inspired by the song “I Wonder:” “You can still be who you wish you is, It ain't happen yet, And that's what intuition is.” Is this who he wanted to be all along?
West’s honors include 21 Grammys and 21 million albums sold worldwide. His last album is to be published posthumously June First.
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