Through The Wire: A Timeline of The Meteoric Rise of Kanye West, Part One – By Cameron Heffernan

Getting back to Kanye West week here at HefferBrew, we run through the history of Kanye and how we’ve gotten to the point of Yeezus.


Freshman Year, 1977 – 2003:

Kanye West was born to Dr. Donda West and Ray West, in Atlanta Georgia on June 8, 1977. His father was a Black Panther and one of the first African-American photojournalists, with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His mother, a teacher at Clark Atlanta University, moved to China with Kanye in ’87, to teach at the Nanjing University, then to Chicago, where Kanye and his mother would settle down and thus began the road to the ‘College Dropout’ we know today.

In Chicago, Kanye would drop out of Chicago State University to focus on his music career and the rest is history.

West, started locally, working on the ’96 debut album of Chicago native, Grav. West would go on to produce for the Go-Getters, a group he helped form. They would release one album, which Kanye handled most of the producing. Around ’99, Kanye’s dream of music were kept local, mainly appealing to local legends like Rhymefest and Common. People like, Jermaine Dupri, and the Goodie Mob were waiting around the corner though for fresh soul-beats, from the up and coming artist. It wasn’t until 2000 that things began to pull together for West.

Signing with Roc-A-Fella Records, he produced a track for then, only semi-legend Jay-Z, for the Roc’s compilation album The Dynasty: Roc La Familia. He produced the track “This Can’t Be Life”.

Now, whether the god-complex was always there, or this is when it began, is debatable. But, It’s pretty damn possible, when he produced “Izzo (H.O.V.A)”, “Heart of The City (Ain’t No Love)” and “Takeover” for the Blueprint the seeds of megalomania may have been planted.

Kanye was kept as a producer, viewed by higher ups like Dame Dash and Jay-Z as a producer first and rapper maybe third or fourth. Kanye makes light of this on the final track of his debut solo album, The College Dropout – while on the track he explains how Chris Anokute, then A&R for Def Jam would let West play his demos when he’d come to pick up his checks. West’s tracks were received well, but he was perceived as not portraying the “hood image” that was affluent in rap at the time.

In 2002, West was in a near fatal car crash while leaving a recording studio. This served as the inspiration for the first single off Dropout, “Through The Wire”. West recorded the single while his jaw was still wired shut. West’s early roots as an “artist” were formed with this. He hoped to convey his pain through the track by recording with his jaw Wired. Thus the title, “Through The Wire”. In 2003, the single was released and Kanye the rapper, was released on the world.

Sophmore Year, 2004 – 2008: The Trilogy of Education:

With ’04 came ‘Dropout’ as well as triple-platinum status. “All Falls Down”, “Through The Wire”, “New Workout Plan”, and “Jesus Walks” all came off this album, as well as the insane dichotomy of having Freeway and Mos Def on one track with, “Two Words”. The beginnings of a musical genius were at hand. Although raw, ‘Dropout’ stands as a testament to what we have with hip-hop now, hell even rap. West changed the landscape of the A-typical G-Unit, Eminem, 50 Cent, and Jay-Z. No more was it just raps about chains, ho’s and cars. West was tapping into the ways of A Tribe Called Quest and KRS-ONE, more socially active music. He wanted to expose the seedy side of not only southside Chicago, but the United States.

In ’05, West released ‘Late Registration’ and subsequently turned the rap world on it’s head. This is when the white kids with the tight pants, obscure taste in music and general mundane for life, and rap, began to like hip-hop, rap and anything else that was once considered “black culture”. The “Blipster” (Black hipster) movement also began there, with the whole “backpack rapper” effect Kanye had on hip-hop culture. No more was it “a shirt with a team, and some ones that’s clean”, it was the odd styles you see at NBA press conferences these days. Produced by Jon Brion, ‘Registration’ was, to date one of the more ambitious feats in hip-hop/rap/music, ever.

West also, came out, in support of the gay community when he revealed in an interview with MTV, that he wasn’t homophobic and even had a revelation when he found out he had a gay cousin – cause it’s never a problem till it’s apart of your life, am I right? West began to become very outspoken on the subject, saying that “speaking your mind,” has been apart of hip-hop, and that hip-hop “is about breaking down barriers, but hip-hop still discriminates against gay people.”

A year later came the third and final installment of West’s college themed albums, Graduation. When Graduation was released, most thought it was Kanye’s peak of genre-obscurity. Graduation won four Grammy’s including, best rap album, and best solo rap performance. Kanye also challenged 50 Cent to a sales-off where one of the rappers would retire based on who sold more records. Obviously this never happened, but Kanye won. Like, first day won.

West’s mother passed away during this time, and he performed “Hey Mama” off of Late Registration in her honor at the 2007 MTV Music Awards. Donda’s passing hit Kanye hard of course, and he didn’t speak, publicly about it till 2008. West’s mother died due to disregard towards excessive cosmetic surgery. When doctors denied her the surgery she sought, for a first time, she went to a third doctor without a recommendation and died from cardiac arrest, due to complications from previous cosmetic surgeries.

Now, the passing of his mother could have been the excuse for his MTV Award outburst when swept in every category he was nominated for. But, he’d already done something like this in Europe. Here’s the video, it’s wonderful; this is also Kanye on the precipice of what we know him as today. No longer a producer turned rapper, but the megalomaniacal, narcissist-artist we know today:

Kanye took over America and it’s paparazzi pages with his outlandish behavior and honesty during the trilogy. He told us that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” he told us that MTV chose Brittney Spears as the MTV Awards opener because his “skin color wasn’t right,” and that Evel Knievel doesn’t like “sexually charged videos” that involve his trademarks. Whatever those may be.

Junior Year, 2009-2010 808’s and Heartbreaks:

Kanye got very sad, due to long time girlfriend Alexis Phifer leaving him and his mother passing away. 808’s took some time to grow on Kanye fans. It’s a depressing album, featuring “Love Lockdown”, “Heartless” and my personal favorite “Paranoid”. The entire album is recorded with auto-tune, and it’s the first time a hip-hop album was recorded with a lot of ambiance, bottles of wine and candles. Oh so many candles. It’s not an album you can party to and it certainly isn’t relaxing per say.

It’s a great album though if you’ve been broken up with, lost a loved one or just suffer from chronic depression.

After it’s critical dismissal and general public bashing, Kanye retreated to Hawaii and began work on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

This brings us to the end of part one in the annals of Kanye West’s life. Tomorrow we enter his Beatuiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and look into his accomplishments outside of just himself and his evolving relationship with Jay-Z. And the building of this generations’ freaking Paul McCartney and John Lennon of hip-hop.

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