Kanye West – Then & Now

In case you were wondering, yes this is a pop culture article. If you haven’t noticed at the top – there is indeed a pop culture tab. You might ask yourself – why name yourself Exquisite Sports Talk if you cover pop culture too? Well, I’ll answer yourself – because it’s Rhett and I’s damn blog! Enjoy a non-sports related treat!

Mega celebrity Kanye West has been in the news for the all the wrong reasons lately. Most recently, Kanye has been named a felony suspect for “attempted robbery” after assaulting a paparazzi at Los Angeles International Airport. This news, and much of his latest press, made me reflect on how much Kanye has changed from the beginning. It inspired me to take you on journey of Kanye before he was Kanye West to now – let’s take a trip down memory lane and enjoy Kanye West, the good and the bad.

kanye

Kanye as a kid.

I’m not going to waste time or words on where he was born, his parents’s background information or any of that nonsense, but a little information is needed to tell a proper story of Kanye in the beginning to Kanye now.

Then

West was always artistically gifted, he worked as a producer for local artists while he attended college until he eventually made the decision to drop out. After dropping out, West found his first break when began producing for artists at Roc-A-Fella records. His greatest notoriety came from his work on Jay-Z’s album The Blueprint, which released in 2001.

Kanye became a relatively successful producer and was Grammy nominated, but had not yet been “accepted” to make the move into rapping because he was seen as a producer first and not an artist. After falling asleep at the wheel in his car on the way from the studio, Kanye crashed car in October of 2002. West shattered his jaw and had to have his mouth wired shut through reconstructive surgery. Two weeks later, Kanye delivered one of the most inspiring performances with the song “Through the Wire,” in which he rapped while his mouth was still wired shut:

For most, including myself, it was this music video that made us fall in love with Kanye. It was a comeback story you couldn’t help but love, especially with the emotion you could feel in that song.

Not Just a Producer Anymore

Kanye is ridiculously talented and it showed from the beginning with his first album, College Dropout. West delivered track after track with amazing beats, thoughtful lyrics and solid performances. West went from notable producer to one of the hottest artists in the hip-hop game with this one album. A person who was once doubted as an artist now was climbing the Billboard charts and making hits left and right.

You know the story, West went on to produce more and more albums: next came Late Registration, then came Graduationthen 808’s and Heartbreak, then My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, his collaboration with Jay-Z on Watch the Throne and most recently, Yeezus. 

Just because I’m on the topic of Kanye’s albums, I don’t think West ever produced albums that were as masterfully done as College DropoutGraduation and Late Registration. Those were the epitome of Kanye’s “sound.” Everything he made was so captivating – the sounds, the lyrics, and the stories he told. It was so different than everyone else in the hip-hop genre at that time, just like KiD CuDi’s music was when he first emerged on the scene. His music was inspiring, he had a fun personality and you could just tell how grateful he was for the life he had been given since his accident.

College Dropout wasn’t the equivalent of the other two of his first three albums, but it was still a great album. 808’s and Heartbreak was the beginning of a turn in Kanye’s style, sound and persona. I haven’t listened to Kanye album that I haven’t enjoyed at least half the tracks, but his first three albums will always be his best in my mind. It can be said that for many artists, there first few albums are always their best – especially in this age of music – but I wholeheartedly believe that the Kanye West style and sound that made me a fan existed in those first three albums. I still listen to Kanye today, but you can check my iTunes play count and you’ll for sure see no other solo album from Kanye (this is my way of excluding Watch the Throne) has more plays than his first three.

To be fair, Kanye saw a darker tune to his music with 808’s and Heartbreak due to reasons explained in the next section. His musical style stayed very consistent with his first three albums. Then, 808’s and Heartbreak, and then we saw a new style again with My Beautiful Dark Twisted FantasyYeezus is clearly illustrating Kanye experimentation with new sounds and signifying that he is beginning to evolve his music once more into another style after Watch the Throne‘s hard-hitting, in-your-face style.

(In conclusion, Kanye’s “sound” has gone through many phases thus far in his career.)

Here’s a list of my top Kanye albums because what would an article of a musical artist be without ranking their albums?

My top Kanye albums (best to worst):

1) Graduation

2) Late Registration

3) College Dropout

4) Watch the Throne (Him and Jay-Z Collab’ing is just too good)

5) My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

6) Yeezus

7) 808’s and Heartbreak

Personal Struggles

 I will always believe that Kanye’s greatest negative influence was the loss of his mother, Donda, back in 2007. She died after experiencing complications during cosmetic surgery due to issues with her heart. Kanye spoke often about how close his mother and him were, and from the perspective of a fellow momma’s boy: I couldn’t imagine the pain he went through and still goes through on a regular basis. Kanye’s became uncontrollable,  his music took a deep, deep dive into dark rhythms and lyrics, and Kanye began irrationally acting out.

His long time girlfriend, Alexis Phifer, and him ended their 18-month engagement in 2008, adding to what was sure to already be a difficult time for Kanye. Kanye moved on rather quickly as he began dating popular model and sex icon, Amber Rose (which eventually came to an end in 2010). That relationship is best described with this photo:

kanye and amber

Kanye and Amber going at it.

I really just wanted to post that picture too, but I’m sure it’s pretty simple to imagine what that relationship was based on. *Wink Wink* But, it was clear at this point that Kanye was beginning to go down the deep end. In the media, you could tell he was more outlandish. In his music, you could feel the depression, the negativity, and the pain – leading into my premise of how Kanye’s sound changed with 808’s and Heartbreak and is still recovering.

Larger than Life

At some point though, Kanye West lost sight of himself.

His personality became bigger than his music. 

Instead of making the news for his music, Kanye West became a paparazzi and media sensation and gained notoriety as a “fame whore” because of his personal life and his oft irrational outbursts. I’m not really sure where you can pinpoint the beginning of this trend, but there’s record of Kanye’s outbursts coming as far back as 2004.

Kanye West’s first huge instance of getting into the news for something other than music was back in 2005. At a Hurricane Katrina relief benefit concert on NBC, West said his infamous “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” line. I’m going to put the video here, because it’s internet gold. Kanye goes so far off-script and just starts rambling. You can tell how uncomfortable Mike Meyers is and how shocked Chris Tucker looks when the camera cuts to him…

(The line is at 1:33, but you really have to watch the whole video to appreciate the awkwardness)

West already had begun taking on a greedy, almost villain-like image in the media and in pop-culture. His image took it’s steepest downturn with the Taylor Swift interruption at the 2009 VMAs:

(SKIP to :44 to get to the actual interruption portion)

There isn’t a word I can say to defend Kanye for what he did in this instance. Taylor Swift looked so confused, embarrassed and distraught as Kanye is screaming about another artist being more deserving. The even sadder part is that what he said held almost no credibility since Beyonce is Jay-Z’s wife (Kanye’s boss) at Roc-A-Fella records – so he looked like even more of a “jackass” as president Barack Obama eloquently stated.

Obligatory Kanye West interruption meme:

kanyememe

The Internet is never a safe place if you don’t like death jokes.

People began to love Kanye West for all the wrong reasons, because they thought he was insane. Because he was irrational, cocky, and had become so unbelievably egotistical that he became the guy to hate – even if you loved his music.

Now

Kanye West is a media sensation, but now he is a media spectacle. Just when you thought Kanye West couldn’t place himself any further in the limelight, he begins dating Kim Kardashian – one of the biggest media sensations of this generation.

kanye and kim

Kanye and Kim at a Lakers game. See? This article is sports-related.

Incoming Kim Kardashian rant:

While Kanye made his name through the music industry, Kim made her name through… pornography, more specifically a home video with hip-hop artist Ray-J. Somehow, the world has still become obsessed with the Kardashian family. Obviously, much of it has to do with their extremely popular reality show, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” However, it still boggles my mind that three of some of the biggest celebrities America has to offer all owe their success to Kim Kardashian having a sex-tape with Ray-J. As Kanye put it in his song “Theraflu,” “my girl a superstar, all from a home movie.” Oh and Ray-J, of course a hip-hop artist whose career is no longer relevant attempted to cling to life by producing his latest song, “I Hit it First.”

Woo! Sorry about that. Let’s get back to the story at hand:

You know the story: Kim and Kanye get together, get Kim pregnant almost instantly, and then have a baby named “North West.” I thought when Kanye began dating Kim Kardashian, other than the fact it would make him even more of a media sensation, that he would find some peace in life after losing his mother. Instead, the increasingly aggressive media attention has only caused Kanye to turn violent against paparazzi. 

Kanye’s ego has grown further than most probably ever imagined. We know what fame does to a lot of people – it makes them cocky, it introduces them often times to a darker side of life, and it changes their perspective. I truly believe Kanye has gone off to the deep end in some respects. Kanye did well in the beginning, but hasn’t ever dealt with the fame the same since his mother’s passing in 2007. His most recent album, Yeezus, is a perfect example of where his ego has gone. I’m not one of the critics who believes Kanye was attempting to take a stab at religion – but there’s no way around noticing that he either is entitling himself as the savior of the rap game or that he believes he is untouchable.

It’s hard to believe that this is the same Kanye who began writing poetry at age 5. This is the same Kanye who attended Chicago State University majoring in Art and then English and then dropped out to pursue his career in music full-time. This is the same Kanye West that came from such normal, humble beginnings. This is the same Kanye West that fought through adversity and captured the hearts of hip-hop fans around the world while struggling with injuries.

Kanye’s mother was his rock – the one who kept him grounded and in touch with reality. You can’t help but wonder how Kanye would be different if his mother was still around. My hope is that Kanye finds himself once more, this time in fatherhood and I’m sure as a husband (because the Kardashian show has to at least capitalize on that even if Kanye intends on divorcing her 72 days later). KRIS HUMPHRIES PUN! OH! YEAH!

But in all seriousness, the tale of Kanye West is an interesting one -filled with ups and filled with downs. You can’t deny Kanye’s musical talent or that he has forever altered hip-hop. The question is now what legacy will he leave behind?

Will Kanye West be the legend of hip-hop that is remembered for his musical ability? Or will he be remembered as the “fame whore” most of the world and media makes him out to be? He has a long way ahead of him and only time can tell…

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