Kanye Omari West born June 8, 1977 is an American rapper, record producer, author, and singer. He released his debut album The College Dropout in 2004, his second album Late Registration in 2005, his third album Graduation in 2007, and his fourth album 808s & Heartbreak in 2008. His first three albums (and his fourth to a lesser extent) have received numerous awards and critical acclaim. All have been very commercially successful, with 808s & Heartbreak becoming his third consecutive #1 album in the U.S. upon release. West also runs his own record label GOOD Music. West's mascot and trademark is "Dropout Bear," a teddy bear costume which has appeared on the covers of three of his four albums as well as various single covers and music videos.
West gained fame by producing for Roc-A-Fella Records, where he eventually achieved recognition for his work on Jay-Z's album, The Blueprint as well as hit singles for musical artists including Alicia Keys, Ludacris, and Janet Jackson. His style of production originally utilized pitched-up vocal samples from soul songs incorporated with his own drums and instruments. However, subsequent albums saw him broadening his musical palette and expressing influences ranging from '70s R&B, to synth-pop, and classical music.
Kanye West was born in Atlanta, Georgia, where he lived with both of his parents. When he was three years old, his parents divorced, and he and his mother moved to Chicago, Illinois. His father was Ray West, a former Black Panther who was one of the first black photojournalists at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and is now a Christian counselor. West's mother, Dr. Donda West, was a Professor of English at Clark Atlanta University, and the Chair of the English Department at Chicago State University before retiring to serve as West's manager. He was raised in a middle-class background, attending Polaris High School in suburban Oak Lawn, Illinois after living in Chicago.
West took some art classes at the American Academy of Art, a Chicago art school, and also enrolled at Chicago State University, but dropped out due to poor grades and a primary interest in working on his music career. While attending school, West produced for local artists. He later gained fame by producing hit singles for major hip hop/R&B artists, including Jay-Z, Talib Kweli, Cam'ron, Paul Wall, Common, Mobb Deep, Jermaine Dupri, Scarface, The Game, Alicia Keys, Janet Jackson, John Legend among others. He also "ghost-produced" for his mentor Deric Angelettie, according to his song "Last Call" and the credits of Nas' "Poppa Was a Playa".
West’s sound is featured heavily on Jay-Z's critically acclaimed album The Blueprint, released on September 11, 2001. His work was featured on the lead single "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)" and a diss track against Nas and Mobb Deep named "Takeover"; West has worked with Mobb Deep and Nas since the track's release. West soon became a major name in hip hop production following the release of the album, but struggled to find a way to get a record deal. Jay-Z admitted that Roc-A-Fella was initially reluctant to support West as a rapper, claiming that he saw him as a producer first and foremost. Multiple record companies pushed him aside because he was not the stereotypical hip hop artist. Companies felt he was not as marketable as rappers who portray the "street image" prominent in hip hop culture.
On October 23, 2002, West was involved in a near fatal car crash while driving home from the recording studio. The crash provided inspiration for West's first single, "Through the Wire". West's faith is apparent in many of his songs, such as "Jesus Walks", which became a staple at his benefit performances, such as the Live 8 concert. These songs were featured on West's debut album, The College Dropout, which was released on Roc-A-Fella Records in February 2004, and went on to receive critical acclaim. The album also defined the style for which West would become known, including wordplay and sampling. The album was eventually certified triple platinum. Guest appearances included Jay-Z, Ludacris, GLC, Consequence, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Common, and Syleena Johnson. The album also featured the singles, "All Falls Down" and "The New Workout Plan", as well as Twista's number one single, "Slow Jamz". During 2003 West also co-produced songs for British singer Javine Hylton, even appearing in the music video to Real Things playing the love interest of Javine.
West was involved in a financial dispute over Royce Da 5'9"'s song "Heartbeat", produced by West and released on Build & Destroy: The Lost Sessions. West maintains that Royce never paid for the beat, but recorded to it and released it; hearing him on the beat, the original customers decided not to buy it from West. After the disagreement, West vowed to never work with Royce again. Other Kanye West-produced hit singles during the period The College Dropout was released included "I Changed My Mind" by Keyshia Cole, "Overnight Celebrity" by Twista and "Talk About Our Love" by Brandy.