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Kanye West
When Kanye West gets set to bring you a new release you can be sure that he will be pulling out all the stops. As we get ready for what will undoubtedly be a high-octane show, we profile the multi-award winning 29-year-old rapper/producer and trace his journey into the spotlight where he has secured a permanent place for himself.

‘Unexpected’ would probably be the most accurate word to describe everything that has to do with Kanye West. Perhaps the seeds for this were sown right from the start, in his blueprint as it were. A rapper’s history has tended to involve the streets, some hustling and some jail time, all apparently helpful in adding more marketability in the music business. Kanye, on the other hand, was born into a respectable middle class household, the son of an award-winning photographer turned marriage counsellor and a college professor. Academics were important in the West household and Kanye was on his way to getting his degree when he dropped out and began working on his musical career.

His musical aspirations began in his mid-teens when he got his hands on a sampling keyboard. He was immediately fascinated and began to spend hours in his room making beats and practicing raps. When he informed his parents of his decision to choose music over academics, they were unsure about the wisdom of the choice but he had decided to give himself one year to prove himself so they allowed it. With a day job as a telemarketer, Kanye spent hours at night producing beats for other rappers. His first break came when his beats were bought by a Chicago rapper called Gravity. It was the first step towards his big musical dream and Kanye was more than ready to jump in. Word got around about his abilities and he soon began making beats for other artists like Mase and Jermaine Dupri. He soon moved out of Chicago and in 2001 got his really big break when he composed five songs for superstar Jay-Z’s album The Blueprint. The album went on to become very successful and Kanye’s reputation as a talented producer was established. His production style was also becoming somewhat of a trademark and a successful one at that ~ it consisted of songs that featured samples of older classic songs that were sped up till they sounded like they had chipmunks on vocals. Soon Kanye was producing other hip-hop artists on Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella label. It was a successful formula and Kanye was truly in demand. Only problem was, he had a bigger, more personal dream that looked like it would remain unfulfilled ~ the dream of putting out his own solo album as a rapper.

While Kanye was enjoying success and earning himself a stellar reputation as a behind-the-scenes music maker, his ambitions of being a rapper were met with firm resistance. In the eyes of the executives in control, successful rappers came from a particular mould ~ they were hard-edged, street savvy, wore jerseys and baggy pants, had hustled at some point in their lives and the more dangerous their past, the better. Kanye was raised middle-class, dressed decidedly preppy and had never hustled a day in his life. They just would not take his desire to rap seriously.

The event that changed things around was drastic and unpredictable. One night, in October 2002, Kanye was driving back home after a long day at the studio. He was so exhausted that he fell asleep at the wheel. The car accident that resulted from this nearly killed him. He woke up in a hospital, his jaw wired shut because it had broken in three places. Most people would have been too traumatised to think straight, but three weeks after the crash Kanye made an odd request from his hospital bed ~ he called Roc-A-Fella’s CEO and asked for a drum machine! Next, he sped up a sample from Chaka Khan’s Through The Fire and built his own song around it. He called it Through The Wire and recorded vocals with his jaw still wired shut. The heads at Roc-A-Fella were amazed at his spirit and decided to let him record an album. Through The Wire would be the first single from his debut solo release.

2007 sees the third release from Kanye West. In his usual quirky fashion, he has refused to divulge too many details about the project, likening it to giving away the entire plot of a highly anticipated movie that hasn’t yet been released. That would spoil the excitement according to him and he wanted people to experience the album without any preconceived notions.

The few details that we have gathered indicate that there are collaborations with T-Pain, Mos Def, Pharrell, Coldplay’s Chris Martin and John Mayer. Possible singles include tracks called Can’t Tell Me Nothing and Stronger, and the album, titled Graduation, will be released on September 11th ~ the same date as 50 Cent’s new release. If the past two releases are anything to go by, this album can be expected to break some more records. We’ll get you more details as they come in. In the meantime, go back and check out the catalogue of releases from Kanye West, an artist you absolutely cannot ignore.

You can read the rest of our feature on Kanye West in the September 2007 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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