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Rap Biographies: Kanye West

Kanye West
Chicago-bred, soul sampling, producer wunderkind, Kanye West's music is inarguably the most exciting thing going on in hip-hop right now. He is the man that helped make Jay-Z's The Blueprint the soul-drenched nostalgic masterpiece that it was. He has produced a consistent array of chart-topping inspirational beats for artists as diverse as Ludacris ("Stand Up"), Scarface ("In Cold Blood"), and Talib Kweli ("Get By"); and, did I mention that the man raps like there's no tomorrow? Given the fact that he has a resume this dazzling, and is seemingly overflowing with potential, when word came that he had decided to put out a solo record, The College Dropout, it evoked little surprise, and a whole lot of anticipation. It also served as an incredibly unorthodox, and taboo-stricken move for a "heralded" producer of his stature, that only seemed to highlight his incredible ambitions and fans' adoration. The only thing is, The College Dropout was supposed to come out months ago; first, in August, then October, then January, and now, the fine folks at Roc-A-Fella are saying February (let's keep our fingers crossed). So, as the collective patience of avid hip-hop aficionados across the globe grows thinner and thinner, anticipation for Kanye's alleged-masterpiece debut is reaching a fever pitch.

Ray West was working as an award-winning photojournalist when Kanye was born, and currently works as a pastoral marriage counselor. Dr. Donda West worked as the Chair of English Department at Chicago State University before retiring to serve as Kanye's manager. Kanye showed his appreciation for his mother in the song Hey Mamma, on his album Late Registration. After attending The International Academy of Art and Design and Technology, a local art school in Chicago, Kanye then attended Chicago State University. West dropped out of CSU and began working on his music career. He would bust in the the street doing hip hop, breakdancing and karate demos for tips. Even while attending school, West produced for local acts. He gained some fame by producing hit singles for major hip-hop/R&B artists, including Alicia Keys, Jay-Z, Janet Jackson, Brandy, Talib Kweli, Dilated Peoples, Ludacris and John Legend. West himself worked on his first solo album for a long period of time, having the release pushed back on multiple occasions.

West became a major name in hip-hop production following the release of Jay-Z's critically-acclaimed album The Blueprint, which featured four tracks produced by Kanye, most notably the lead single "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" and the Prodigy and Nas diss "Takeover." Due to his appearance and overall style, West struggled to find a way to get his own voice on record. Jay-Z has admitted that Roc-A-Fella was reluctant to support West as a rapper at first, claiming that he saw him as a producer first and foremost. Multiple record companies put him aside because he was not a former street hustler and did not wear the ordinary hip-hop apparel. He was therefore not marketable the way other rappers were.

Kanye was involved in a car crash October 23, 2002 when he fell asleep at the wheel while coming home from the studio. The crash left his jaw fractured in three places, and nearly killed him. The crash inspired his first single "Through the Wire." He recorded it two weeks after the crash while his mouth was still wired shut.

"Through the Wire", which sampled Chaka Khan's classic track "Through the Fire," would eventually become his lead single from The College Dropout, which was released on Roc-a-Fella Records in February 2004. A later single from the album, "Jesus Walks," would become a major success, and later a staple of his benefit performances, such as at the Live 8 concert. The College Dropout received a great deal of critical praise, in spite of some hip-hop fans' claims that Kanye was much more accomplished as a producer than as a rapper.

On August 30th, 2005, Kanye West released his second album Late Registration. Reviews ranged from glowing ("Late Registration is an undeniable triumph" -Rolling Stone) to mixed ("As ornate and bloated as West's ego". -Spin magazine Sep 2005, p.99). The first two singles were "Diamonds from Sierra Leone" (which contained samples from Shirley Bassey's "Diamonds Are Forever") and "Gold Digger" featuring Jamie Foxx. The album went on to sell over 904,000 copies in its first week, and spun off eight Grammy Award nominations including Album of the Year and Record of the Year for "Gold Digger." West announced that his third and fourth albums will be titled Graduation and A Good Ass Job, respectively.

West, holder of six Grammys, has collaborated with numerous artists, most notably with rapper Twista on songs such as "Overnight Celebrity" and "Slow Jamz" (also featuring Jamie Foxx) - the latter would reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart, becoming the first number one hit for all artists involved. West is also featured on Brandy's single, "Talk About Our Love." Others with whom West has collaborated include Jay-Z, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Ludacris, Dilated Peoples, Mariah Carey, Miri Ben-Ari (whose violin arrangements featured heavily on The College Dropout), and John Legend (who also features on West's first album, providing background vocals). Kanye West is also credited with revitalizing the careers of such rappers as Common and Twista, as well as more recently producing the critically acclaimed The Game track "Dreams."

In early 2005, West coined the term "white crunk" to describe the gritty drum sounds of Scottish alternative dance-rock group Franz Ferdinand, whom he claims is among his favorite bands. West and the band met at the 2005 MTV Europe Music Awards, where they sat down together to share praise and advice. West feels that the white crunk vibe has affected his new work, and is best exemplified on the track "Diamonds from Sierra Leone", from his 2005 album Late Registration. The band itself is also greatly influenced by Kanye and sought advice from him on how to improve production for their 2005 album You Could Have It So Much Better.

West's early production technique consisted of utilizing sped-up soul samples set to his own drum beat. He used this formula for "This Can't Be Life," a track from Jay-Z's The Dynasty: Roc La Familia that was his first beat for a Roc-A-Fella artist. West has admitted that Wu-Tang Clan producer RZA influenced him in his style; RZA has been known to include sped-up soul samples in his beats, albeit with much grimier production layers that are the group's trademark. West's technique played a large role in defining the soul sound of Jay-Z's critically-acclaimed The Blueprint, although tracks such as "Takeover," where West flips an instrumental by The Doors for the beat, showed more variety. The two tracks he produced on Jay-Z's critically-acclaimed The Black Album delved into jazz ("Encore") and reggae ("Lucifer.")

For his debut The College Dropout, West generally utilized the technique he had become known for; the album's lead single "Through the Wire," for example, featured sped-up samples of Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire." On his sophomore effort Late Registration, however, with the help of Jon Brion, he expanded his sound, utilizing non-altered samples along with string compositions crafted by Brion and other layered sounds. As a result, Late Registration has received notable critical praise for its innovative production.

"GOOD Music" (an acronym for Getting Out Our Dreams), the record label founded by Kanye West, has already released John Legend's platinum selling debut album Get Lifted, along with Common's platinum album - Be. Other artists on the GOOD Music label include GLC, Consequence, Really Doe, SA-RA Creative Partners, and Farnsworth Bentley.

In September 2005, West announced that he will release his Pastelle Clothing line in spring 2006. He said of the decision, "Now that I have a Grammy under my belt and Late Registration [West's second album] is finished, I am ready to launch my clothing line next spring."

Kanye West will be in the studio in 2006 working on new albums from the artists signed on his G.O.O.D. Music label. G.O.O.D. Music artists rumored to release an album in 2006 are SA-RA, Keyshia Cole, Consequence and GLC. West is also rumored to be producing tracks for Jay-Z, and may be working with a future record producer, poet, writer, film producer and fellow college dropout from Shreveport, Louisiana.

His work with pop icon Janet Jackson also earned him a Grammy nomination for her single "I Want You," produced by West, which was nominated for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. After losing the Best New Artist award to Gretchen Wilson at the 2004 American Music Awards, West went on a rant against the music industry, claiming "I was the best new artist this year," and "I got 10 Grammy nominations, and won three - even if I should have won all 10"

Kanye West was named 'Best International Male' at the 2006 Brit Awards in London. He also gave what was generally considered the standout performance of the ceremony, performing a medley of Diamonds from Sierra Leone, Gold Digger, and Touch The Sky. During Gold Digger, he danced with over seventy female dancers, who were painted gold and dressed in gold bikinis.

In 2005, Kanye West received ten Grammy Award nominations, making him the most nominated artist of 2005. At the 47th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony held on February 13, 2005, West won Best Rap Album for his album The College Dropout, Best Rap Song, along with long-time friend and rapper Rhymefest, for his single "Jesus Walks", and Best R&B Song for producing Alicia Keys' "You Don't Know My Name." West performed at the show alongside John Legend, Mavis Staples and the Blind Boys of Alabama.

On February 8, 2006, West won three Grammy Awards after being nominated for eight, alongside Mariah Carey and his own protégé, John Legend. At the ceremony, West performed "Gold Digger" with Jamie Foxx and members of the Florida A&M Marching 100 marching band. He also performed "Touch the Sky" after an appearance by long-time friend and comedian DeRay Davis, who revisited his character as the leader of the fictional fraternity "Broke Phi Broke" from Late Registration.
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