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THE GENIUS OF KANYE WEST

"I feel like my album, the perspective that I’mma speak from, I feel like I’mma bridge the gap,” Ye told MTV’s You Heard It First concerning his debut album in a 2002 interview. “I’mma be one of the people that helps bridge the gap with hip-hop.”

Kanye’s intention with The College Dropout was to bridge the gaps in culture and class. Largely following the blueprint of The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill– which Kanye samples on “All Falls Down – Yeezy’s brand of conscious rap was both humorous and heartfelt. A middle-class background meant that Kanye didn’t particularly fit in with hip-hop’s giants at the time, many of which had used music as a financial escape from the socio-economic issues that continue to plague Black and Brown communities. However, Kanye’s proximity to the streets, along with his mother’s educational background and his father’s occupation as a Christian marriage counselor, gave him a bird’s eye view of societal woes. Ye’s perspective of the world, blended with self-awareness, made Kanye a relatable figure – one that spoke to a common struggle with keen observations on the effects that media and consumerism had on self-esteem.

This, perhaps, is the key to Kanye West’s artistry. His ambitious, creative leaps to break new grounds sonically by incorporating different instruments and genres were paralleled by his own vision of utopia, or at least, a social improvement.

The College Dropout was an introduction, while Late Registration painted a more comprehensive portrait of both Kanye’s artistry and personality. His pop sensibilities shined by drawing influences from eclectic artists outside of hip-hop. Whatever was left of his humility was minimized further with increasing acclaim – strengthening his own self-assurance as a pivotal figure. The production was redefined, expanding on what he had established on his debut album, both sonically and lyrically. He made rap more palatable to a wider audience without compromising the foundation of his craft. Drawing from orchestral instruments amplified his production, adding eloquence to the gritty boom-bap style that he mastered. Lyrically, he continued to prove that he could stand amongst the greats and hold his own. He elevated his storytelling with broader perspectives then what he touched on The College Dropout. However, the newfound fame offered a deeper sense of self-awareness, like on “Diamonds From Sierra Leone,” where he looked beyond the symbolism that diamonds have to analyze the harms of capitalism. Collaborations alongside fellow Roc members like Cam’ron and Hov, and other formidable MCs outside of the camp – Lupe Fiasco, The Game, Paul Wall – brought Ye beyond the confines of the East Coast or the Midwest musically.

For every label executive that turned down signing Kanye, The College Dropout and Late Registration proved that commercial success wasn’t limited to formulaic records with pop hooks. Graduation became the triumphant finale in Kanye’s three-peat in the post-secondary themed series. Neon aesthetics and stadium-sized electrified production became the centerpiece to Kanye’s thesis statement on Graduation – an album that singlehandedly marked the death of gangsta rap’s commercial peak after outselling 50 Cent’s Curtis. To anyone who doubted Kanye West, his vision, and his drive, he spat it back in their faces.

“I don’t know why people didn’t anticipate his style and how to gauge it,” Jim Jones tells HotNewHipHop. Jones was in the Roc-A-Fella buildings when Cam’ron signed to the label in 2002 – the same year as Kanye. However, he recalls Ye as simply being a producer with dope beats that everyone wanted a piece of. Still, it was the second “Through The Wire” dropped that he knew there was something special about Kanye’s trajectory.

“They didn’t think this would be something that is pushed to the forefront and he would be as big as he is or how big as he made himself,” he explained. “And that's a big part of the story: everybody was hating on him. Everybody was making fun of him—not hating on him because he's an extraordinary producer but more of making fun of his style. He had the weirdo thing going on—well, the thing that we thought was weird—now it's kind of one of the coolest things we ever known in Hip-Hop,” he continued. Kanye’s defiance against hypermasculinity in hip-hop, whether through fashion or even his 2005 interview denouncing homophobia in the culture, came out in the form of skinny jeans, leather pants, pink Polos and backpacks, and of course, the stunner shades that he introduced on “Stronger.”

Graduation was the nail in the coffin to rap’s hard-shell exterior but it also offered a closer glance at Ye’s interactions with celebrity culture. As much as he attempted to express his disdain for consumerism and the cycle of capitalism, he was immersed in it himself.

Ye is likely one of the few rappers in existence who can say they’ve opened up for The Rolling Stones – a crowd that probably isn’t too keen on hearing intricate wordplay. And the simplicity of his bars on Graduation reflected his presence in front of wider audiences outside of the realm of hip-hop or even pop music following the success of Late Registration. Graduation was less rooted in social commentary, opting for concentrated self-awareness surrounding the portrayal of his celebrity in the media. “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” offered a level of aggression that we had yet to see from Kanye. The defiance that captured his glorious rise from groundbreaking producer to elite MC to now, a bonafide pop star. “It was something that needed to be played on the block a million times,” Jim Jones explained. “It was very aggressive for Kanye. And I loved it.”

Roger Troutman’s impact on hip-hop goes back to the early 90s when his funk sound would pervade the production of G-Funk, and Dr. Dre’s solo debut, The Chronic. The voice box itself didn’t inform the art of rapping per se, but the way Dre and co. would weave the vocal samples into the production itself. “California Love,” for instance, can be regarded as a pinnacle in G-Funk, largely due to the infectious contributions of Troutman.

Roughly 15 years after The Chronic, Troutman’s influence would undeniably top the charts through T-Pain. The Tallahassee, FL rapper rejuvenated R&B through his use of the vocodor, adding electronically-tinged elements to revolutionize the genre. Unfortunately, the influence of Pain resulted in many attempting to recreate the same success to little avail, with the exception of Kanye West. 808s & Heartbreaks was a stark departure from the education-themed bars that captivated America between 2004-2007. A risk that boasted fruitful results and changed the face of hip-hop, once again.

However, 808s didn’t necessarily offer the pushback, or defiance, that he offered lyrically on his prior albums. Ye was at his most vulnerable, following the death of his mother in 2007 and the ending of his six-year relationship with then-fiancée, Alexis Phifer. His means of pushing back against being reduced to anything other than a genius was laid down with an undeniably groundbreaking body of work. While polarizing at first – and a confusing artistic endeavor for an individual who had spent the majority of the decade prior trying to be taken seriously as a rapper – 808s & Heartbreak became an integral body of work to pop music that was encouraged by the king of pop himself, Michael Jackson.

808s also introduced another culture disrupter to the equation – Kid Cudi. A prime example of the strength of Ye as both a producer and A&R, especially when identifying talent early. Together, Kanye West and Kid Cudi laid the groundwork for the rappers that followed through the decade to come. Drake and 40 frequently referenced the project – including remixing “Say You Will” – on So Far Gone. Juice WRLD’s vulnerability and honesty may have not been fully accepted without an 808s. And its significance to trap music, via Kanye's collaboration with Jeezy on “Put On,” arguably played a hand in artists like Future and Thug pivoting the niche Southern sound into a deeper experimental yet palatable state.

Ye’s genius is undeniable, regardless of his methods of conveying it. In the two years between 808s & Heartbreaks and what many consider to be his magnum opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West went from the trailblazing face that reinvented the sound of modern pop music to public enemy #1. The incident with Taylor Swift at the VMAs remains a point of contention among his detractors and the country artist herself. Some have argued that it helped propel her into the international limelight even further. But, as someone who has frequently been championed as the underdog, his actions ultimately passed that baton over to Taylor Swift in that very moment when the Hennessy in his system told him it was a good idea to storm the stage. Beyoncé cried. Obama declared him a jackass. And what could’ve been one of the greatest tours of all time – “Fame Kills” with co-headliner Lady Gaga – was called off.

The Taylor Swift situation is, perhaps, the origin story of Kanye West’s villainy. A moment that not only affected his status but his pockets, as well. Ye went into hiding as an intern at Fendi, which planted the seed for his own fashion empire a few years down the line. He was hardly heard, seen, or even mentioned beyond being a punchline for Saturday Night Live and other spoofs. The change of pace for Kanye’s public stature only benefited him.

In an attempt to remain under the radar, he set up shop in Hawaii. A place of seclusion where sessions for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy took place. Collaborators discretely flew in to compete in a musical Survivor quest to have their verse make the final album. Ye’s intricate details were akin to an orchestra conductor’s, weaving in his penchant for sampling with avant-garde influences that reflected the evolution of his sound to date. The electrifying guitars on songs like “Power” reflected the stadium-sized production on Graduation. The eloquent string sections on “All Of The Lights” and the intro was a deeper exploration of his approach to production on Late Registration. “Hell Of A Life” and Bon Iver’s use of auto-tune expanded the 808s sound even further while the inclusion of artists like Jay-Z, RZA, and Raekwon further emphasized the need for lyricism. Some might still argue against MBDTF as a bonafide masterpiece but its significance to pop culture alone has made the album a case study for the tight line between experimental and traditional. And similarly to how he helped introduce Kid Cudi to the masses on 808s, Nicki Minaj’s verse on “Monster” set the stage for her global reign as the queen of Young Money.

“He’s a legendary producer. Kanye could produce a hit, you know, like a no. 1 hit, but he oftentimes chose to make more avant-garde art pieces. So this, in the wake of the Taylor Swift thing, he’s like, ‘Man, I’m gonna show everyone that I can hit it from the three-point line all day long, so that’s what I’m gonna do,’” said Anthony Kilhoffer, one of the main engineers on the MBDTF, during our 2020 interview with him. “That’s why I think he was gonna, just like, ‘I made 808s and everybody was like, ‘oh, this is weird, but cool,’ but at the same time, it wasn’t just certifiable, undeniable smashes, which kind of was what he was shooting for in Dark Twisted Fantasy,” he continued. “His attention to detail for Dark Twisted Fantasy was way more specific, you know what I mean? There was way more to prove.”

What followed was a relentless streak of wins. The Cruel Summer compilation cemented Pusha T’s longevity as one of the greats and provided a more in-depth introduction to artists like 2 Chainz, Big Sean, and Teyana Taylor as the G.O.O.D Music unit. “Mercy” still rings off and the influence of drill music was further cemented with a gentrified remix of Chief Keef’s “Don’t Like” – an official co-sign to the budding regional sound that has now, 10 years later, become the most sought after sound in hip-hop.

In many ways, Kanye’s co-signs to the younger generation, whether artists like Nicki Minaj or Chief Keef, proved to be an important factor in pushing the culture forward. It’s not like they necessarily needed the stamp of approval but the acknowledgment was a tide shifter. Ye embraced the new generation of talent, similarly to how artists like Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Jay-Z embraced him.

The epic run that included MBDTF and Cruel Summer and positioned G.O.O.D Music’s dominance in the early 2010s was capped off with a dream that no rapper will ever manifest – a collaborative album with Jay-Z, Watch The Throne. A full-circle moment after a 10-year-plus rapport built off Kanye’s production on The Blueprint to later executive producing The Blueprint III. Five years before WTT, Kanye professed his love for his “Big Brother” Jay and then, the two stood as equals, side-by-side, as they reflected on status, wealth, and success. All of the predictions of greatness Kanye made when he was traveling back and forth to New York City with hopes to break into the music industry was validated by his idol not only championing his protegé’s success but embracing his creativity with equivalent merit. Lil Wayne may have declared himself a rockstar with the release of Rebirth but Watch The Throne cemented hip-hop artists as the new rockstars of the generation.

It must’ve been a moment of vindication for Kanye West. As the story goes, it was Biggs and Dame Dash that truly vouched for Kanye when others didn’t. Even in the Jeen-Yuhs documentary, Jay-Z appeared reluctant to hand over the Roc-A-Fella chain to Kanye West, resulting in Dash taking the necklace off of his own neck to introduce the latest member of the label.

After making an undeniable masterpiece, going from his mentor’s protegé to peer, and shifting hip-hop yet again, Kanye’s focus moved towards his personal life and its impact on his professional career. Ye developed a wider outlook on life and society following his relationship with Kim Kardashian and the pending birth of their first child, North. As much as the internal observations for a better future bled through his back catalog, there was evidently a bigger mission statement at hand when 2013 struck – breaking the glass ceiling. Fighting against the powers that be, at least within haute couture. Despite being a pivotal force in bringing the Givenchy dog to the forefront with Watch The Throne’s stage designs and album artworks – among many, many, many other fashion trends – Kanye went on an iconic press run where he declared himself as the Walt Disney of hip-hop on Zane Lowe’s show, insisted Sway never had the answers, and finally, had a face-to-face moment with Charlamagne Tha God, who frequently condemned Kanye’s egotistical public rants.

Yeezus remains Kanye’s most polarizing album in his catalog, and perhaps, the most production-focused album since 808s. Kanye spent the entirety of the decade prior proving himself as a formidable MC who could not only stand alongside the greats but out-rap them at any given opportunity. However, Yeezus was a return to form for Kanye, in a sense. Rather than put emphasis on his bars, he reminded everyone that his ear for production and ability to adapt to the current climate of the game was unlike any other. At a time when Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Drake were ascending into conversations about the “new greats,” Kanye went left, embracing the sounds of his hometown – drill and Chicago deep house – even further, along with the rising sounds of EDM and trap into mainstream consciousness. Yeezus might not be the most commercially viable album in Kanye’s catalog but it remains integral to his ethos. It was the album that charged through the “glass door” of the fashion industry.

Over the years, Kanye embraced being the bad guy. And with Yeezus , the villain of the tale embraced a God complex that only created more divisiveness among his fans. It’s a common outcome for any artist that’s fueled by public discourse, good or bad. Yet, along with his newfound relationship with the Kardashians and his proven ability to defeat the odds of cancel culture, Kanye’s commentary largely became centered around more surface-level observations. His celebrity grew to a point where he could be considered royalty but that also meant that he was no longer the average Joe that related to us all on The College Dropout. He began relating to the elitists, but even still, he managed to find common grounds between worlds that ran parallel to each other. “Blood On The Leaves” tied together Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit,” a sacred song that captured the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement, and C-Murder and Snoop Dogg’s iconic No Limit anthem, “Down For My N’s.” The interpretation of the song largely centered around Kanye’s own celebrity status, the paranoia that comes with it, and betrayal and divorce which, similar to “All Of The Lights,” predicts his current marital disputes playing out on the public stage.

For as left-field as the album was at the time, Kanye brought it all together with the release of “Bound 2.” A sense of nostalgia popped out through the warm soul samples and Charlie Wilson’s contributions while Ye’s more humorous side came through when referencing Martin or his butchered take of Jamaican Patois. The brief flashbacks of Kanye’s roots on the Yeezus outro foreshadowed Kanye’s next moves on The Life Of Pablo.

Every project from Kanye West has shifted the culture, introduced new sounds, and broke new barriers. After six groundbreaking studio albums, Ye didn’t necessarily need to draw influences from outside of his universe. The Life Of Pablo was a celebratory body of work acknowledging Ye’s own influence over the years, including the many artists who he opened the doors for – Drake, Young Thug, Kendrick Lamar, Chance The Rapper, etc. It didn’t have the bite of Yeezus, the cohesiveness of Dark Fantasy, or the Avante-garde approach of 808s. However, the elements of these projects, along with his first three albums, allowed Kanye to produce a body of work that, for the first time, could be an accurate, well-rounded representation of all aspects of his artistry.

Kanye accomplished more in 12 years of his career than most can even fathom in a lifetime. Being a devoted father and husband became an integral part of his being, as he and Kim welcomed Saint West just months before TLOP dropped. His motives shifted knowing that the future he was fighting for wasn’t solely for a generation of kids that looked up to him, but his own seeds that would have to grow up in his and Kim’s shadows. Between his role as a cultural leader, musician, designer, father, husband, and CEO, the responsibilities evidently weighed on him, and his outlet came in the form of impulsive tweets. A generation who looked up to Ye as a superhero witnessed his vulnerability during unhinged “streams of consciousness” (i.e rants) during the Pablo tour, where he’d call out TIDAL, Apple, Jay-Z, DJ Khaled, and anyone else who were apparently dodging conversations with him. And while his mental health was a large conversation topic in the wake of the tour, the breaking point came during the Meadows Festival in Queens, NY when he learned of Kim Kardashian’s robbery in Paris.

The past five years of Kanye West have felt like witnessing his rehabilitation in real-time. His bipolar diagnosis turned him into a self-proclaimed mental health advocate. His attempts to destigmatize mental health issues also came with ill-advised claims against the use of medications. And much of what occurred post-The Life Of Pablo has felt like Ye trying to find his voice again. The fights and bold statements that once resonated with fans across the world transformed him into a pillar of “free thought” among right-wing pundits who’ve since attempted to weaponize him against the same community that he once was the voice of.

From Ye to Donda, the lack of focus, cohesion, and ambition has led to lackluster results (by Kanye’s standards, at least). His co-sign didn’t necessarily propel Lil Pump or Tekashi 6ix9ine into another stratosphere the way it did years prior when he uplifted an artist like Chance The Rapper on “Ultralight Beam.” However, the same defiance that he delivered on “Jesus Walks” when he stated he could “rap about anything except for Jesus” turned his faith in God into his biggest creative outlet. The community he built around his artistic ventures helped make Sunday Service a cultural phenomenon that was able to draw massive celebrity crowds. Even those who might not share a similar faith in God found an appreciation for Kanye’s venture.

While fans have called for the return of the “Old Kanye” as far back as Yeezus, it’s an obsolete concept at its core. Kanye’s evolved over time, as people do, only, his evolution has played out in front of the world to see. What’s remained the same over the years is Ye’s ability to take control of his destiny, and turn the ideas he spouts into the world into a reality.

“The old Kanye is the new Kanye. He never changed,” said Coodie, one-half of the directorial duo Creative Control, alongside Chike, who are behind Netflix’s Jeen-Yuhs documentary. “When I first put the camera on him on 95th, the drive and everything about him, I saw when I put the camera on him in 2018/19 in China.”

At one point in Jeen-Yuhs, Kanye tells a writer at Rolling Stone that his new word is “fruition.” He discusses practicing his Grammy speech in the mirror, years before he even had an album to submit to the committee. He stated his goal to be the best-dressed rapper alive before Louis Vuitton and Nike opened the doors for him. He even expressed his desire to simplify his name to Ye. As we approach the release of Donda 2, the 21x Grammy Award winner is preparing to release his first album under his new legal name and launch the first collection under the YEEZY GAP x Balenciaga collaboration.

“Those things are important for people to see because you have to understand that if you have a dream and you believe, then you will get to where you need to go. You will achieve,” Coodie added. “You can manifest anything you want but you have to have a belief in a higher power, which I call Jesus Christ. And he’s going to guide you where you need to go no matter what obstacles come right in front of you. You know, you have to take a detour and let God lead you on the way and the beautiful things he will show you on your way to your destination.”

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THE GENIUS OF KANYE WEST

"I feel like my album, the perspective that I’mma speak from, I feel like I’mma bridge the gap,” Ye told MTV’s You Heard It First concerning his debut album in a 2002 interview. “I’mma be one of the people that helps bridge the gap with hip-hop.”

Kanye’s intention with The College Dropout was to bridge the gaps in culture and class. Largely following the blueprint of The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill– which Kanye samples on “All Falls Down – Yeezy’s brand of conscious rap was both humorous and heartfelt. A middle-class background meant that Kanye didn’t particularly fit in with hip-hop’s giants at the time, many of which had used music as a financial escape from the socio-economic issues that continue to plague Black and Brown communities. However, Kanye’s proximity to the streets, along with his mother’s educational background and his father’s occupation as a Christian marriage counselor, gave him a bird’s eye view of societal woes. Ye’s perspective of the world, blended with self-awareness, made Kanye a relatable figure – one that spoke to a common struggle with keen observations on the effects that media and consumerism had on self-esteem.

This, perhaps, is the key to Kanye West’s artistry. His ambitious, creative leaps to break new grounds sonically by incorporating different instruments and genres were paralleled by his own vision of utopia, or at least, a social improvement.

The College Dropout was an introduction, while Late Registration painted a more comprehensive portrait of both Kanye’s artistry and personality. His pop sensibilities shined by drawing influences from eclectic artists outside of hip-hop. Whatever was left of his humility was minimized further with increasing acclaim – strengthening his own self-assurance as a pivotal figure. The production was redefined, expanding on what he had established on his debut album, both sonically and lyrically. He made rap more palatable to a wider audience without compromising the foundation of his craft. Drawing from orchestral instruments amplified his production, adding eloquence to the gritty boom-bap style that he mastered. Lyrically, he continued to prove that he could stand amongst the greats and hold his own. He elevated his storytelling with broader perspectives then what he touched on The College Dropout. However, the newfound fame offered a deeper sense of self-awareness, like on “Diamonds From Sierra Leone,” where he looked beyond the symbolism that diamonds have to analyze the harms of capitalism. Collaborations alongside fellow Roc members like Cam’ron and Hov, and other formidable MCs outside of the camp – Lupe Fiasco, The Game, Paul Wall – brought Ye beyond the confines of the East Coast or the Midwest musically.

For every label executive that turned down signing Kanye, The College Dropout and Late Registration proved that commercial success wasn’t limited to formulaic records with pop hooks. Graduation became the triumphant finale in Kanye’s three-peat in the post-secondary themed series. Neon aesthetics and stadium-sized electrified production became the centerpiece to Kanye’s thesis statement on Graduation – an album that singlehandedly marked the death of gangsta rap’s commercial peak after outselling 50 Cent’s Curtis. To anyone who doubted Kanye West, his vision, and his drive, he spat it back in their faces.

“I don’t know why people didn’t anticipate his style and how to gauge it,” Jim Jones tells HotNewHipHop. Jones was in the Roc-A-Fella buildings when Cam’ron signed to the label in 2002 – the same year as Kanye. However, he recalls Ye as simply being a producer with dope beats that everyone wanted a piece of. Still, it was the second “Through The Wire” dropped that he knew there was something special about Kanye’s trajectory.

“They didn’t think this would be something that is pushed to the forefront and he would be as big as he is or how big as he made himself,” he explained. “And that's a big part of the story: everybody was hating on him. Everybody was making fun of him—not hating on him because he's an extraordinary producer but more of making fun of his style. He had the weirdo thing going on—well, the thing that we thought was weird—now it's kind of one of the coolest things we ever known in Hip-Hop,” he continued. Kanye’s defiance against hypermasculinity in hip-hop, whether through fashion or even his 2005 interview denouncing homophobia in the culture, came out in the form of skinny jeans, leather pants, pink Polos and backpacks, and of course, the stunner shades that he introduced on “Stronger.”

Graduation was the nail in the coffin to rap’s hard-shell exterior but it also offered a closer glance at Ye’s interactions with celebrity culture. As much as he attempted to express his disdain for consumerism and the cycle of capitalism, he was immersed in it himself.

Ye is likely one of the few rappers in existence who can say they’ve opened up for The Rolling Stones – a crowd that probably isn’t too keen on hearing intricate wordplay. And the simplicity of his bars on Graduation reflected his presence in front of wider audiences outside of the realm of hip-hop or even pop music following the success of Late Registration. Graduation was less rooted in social commentary, opting for concentrated self-awareness surrounding the portrayal of his celebrity in the media. “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” offered a level of aggression that we had yet to see from Kanye. The defiance that captured his glorious rise from groundbreaking producer to elite MC to now, a bonafide pop star. “It was something that needed to be played on the block a million times,” Jim Jones explained. “It was very aggressive for Kanye. And I loved it.”

Roger Troutman’s impact on hip-hop goes back to the early 90s when his funk sound would pervade the production of G-Funk, and Dr. Dre’s solo debut, The Chronic. The voice box itself didn’t inform the art of rapping per se, but the way Dre and co. would weave the vocal samples into the production itself. “California Love,” for instance, can be regarded as a pinnacle in G-Funk, largely due to the infectious contributions of Troutman.

Roughly 15 years after The Chronic, Troutman’s influence would undeniably top the charts through T-Pain. The Tallahassee, FL rapper rejuvenated R&B through his use of the vocodor, adding electronically-tinged elements to revolutionize the genre. Unfortunately, the influence of Pain resulted in many attempting to recreate the same success to little avail, with the exception of Kanye West. 808s & Heartbreaks was a stark departure from the education-themed bars that captivated America between 2004-2007. A risk that boasted fruitful results and changed the face of hip-hop, once again.

However, 808s didn’t necessarily offer the pushback, or defiance, that he offered lyrically on his prior albums. Ye was at his most vulnerable, following the death of his mother in 2007 and the ending of his six-year relationship with then-fiancée, Alexis Phifer. His means of pushing back against being reduced to anything other than a genius was laid down with an undeniably groundbreaking body of work. While polarizing at first – and a confusing artistic endeavor for an individual who had spent the majority of the decade prior trying to be taken seriously as a rapper – 808s & Heartbreak became an integral body of work to pop music that was encouraged by the king of pop himself, Michael Jackson.

808s also introduced another culture disrupter to the equation – Kid Cudi. A prime example of the strength of Ye as both a producer and A&R, especially when identifying talent early. Together, Kanye West and Kid Cudi laid the groundwork for the rappers that followed through the decade to come. Drake and 40 frequently referenced the project – including remixing “Say You Will” – on So Far Gone. Juice WRLD’s vulnerability and honesty may have not been fully accepted without an 808s. And its significance to trap music, via Kanye's collaboration with Jeezy on “Put On,” arguably played a hand in artists like Future and Thug pivoting the niche Southern sound into a deeper experimental yet palatable state.

Ye’s genius is undeniable, regardless of his methods of conveying it. In the two years between 808s & Heartbreaks and what many consider to be his magnum opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West went from the trailblazing face that reinvented the sound of modern pop music to public enemy #1. The incident with Taylor Swift at the VMAs remains a point of contention among his detractors and the country artist herself. Some have argued that it helped propel her into the international limelight even further. But, as someone who has frequently been championed as the underdog, his actions ultimately passed that baton over to Taylor Swift in that very moment when the Hennessy in his system told him it was a good idea to storm the stage. Beyoncé cried. Obama declared him a jackass. And what could’ve been one of the greatest tours of all time – “Fame Kills” with co-headliner Lady Gaga – was called off.

The Taylor Swift situation is, perhaps, the origin story of Kanye West’s villainy. A moment that not only affected his status but his pockets, as well. Ye went into hiding as an intern at Fendi, which planted the seed for his own fashion empire a few years down the line. He was hardly heard, seen, or even mentioned beyond being a punchline for Saturday Night Live and other spoofs. The change of pace for Kanye’s public stature only benefited him.

In an attempt to remain under the radar, he set up shop in Hawaii. A place of seclusion where sessions for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy took place. Collaborators discretely flew in to compete in a musical Survivor quest to have their verse make the final album. Ye’s intricate details were akin to an orchestra conductor’s, weaving in his penchant for sampling with avant-garde influences that reflected the evolution of his sound to date. The electrifying guitars on songs like “Power” reflected the stadium-sized production on Graduation. The eloquent string sections on “All Of The Lights” and the intro was a deeper exploration of his approach to production on Late Registration. “Hell Of A Life” and Bon Iver’s use of auto-tune expanded the 808s sound even further while the inclusion of artists like Jay-Z, RZA, and Raekwon further emphasized the need for lyricism. Some might still argue against MBDTF as a bonafide masterpiece but its significance to pop culture alone has made the album a case study for the tight line between experimental and traditional. And similarly to how he helped introduce Kid Cudi to the masses on 808s, Nicki Minaj’s verse on “Monster” set the stage for her global reign as the queen of Young Money.

“He’s a legendary producer. Kanye could produce a hit, you know, like a no. 1 hit, but he oftentimes chose to make more avant-garde art pieces. So this, in the wake of the Taylor Swift thing, he’s like, ‘Man, I’m gonna show everyone that I can hit it from the three-point line all day long, so that’s what I’m gonna do,’” said Anthony Kilhoffer, one of the main engineers on the MBDTF, during our 2020 interview with him. “That’s why I think he was gonna, just like, ‘I made 808s and everybody was like, ‘oh, this is weird, but cool,’ but at the same time, it wasn’t just certifiable, undeniable smashes, which kind of was what he was shooting for in Dark Twisted Fantasy,” he continued. “His attention to detail for Dark Twisted Fantasy was way more specific, you know what I mean? There was way more to prove.”

What followed was a relentless streak of wins. The Cruel Summer compilation cemented Pusha T’s longevity as one of the greats and provided a more in-depth introduction to artists like 2 Chainz, Big Sean, and Teyana Taylor as the G.O.O.D Music unit. “Mercy” still rings off and the influence of drill music was further cemented with a gentrified remix of Chief Keef’s “Don’t Like” – an official co-sign to the budding regional sound that has now, 10 years later, become the most sought after sound in hip-hop.

In many ways, Kanye’s co-signs to the younger generation, whether artists like Nicki Minaj or Chief Keef, proved to be an important factor in pushing the culture forward. It’s not like they necessarily needed the stamp of approval but the acknowledgment was a tide shifter. Ye embraced the new generation of talent, similarly to how artists like Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Jay-Z embraced him.

The epic run that included MBDTF and Cruel Summer and positioned G.O.O.D Music’s dominance in the early 2010s was capped off with a dream that no rapper will ever manifest – a collaborative album with Jay-Z, Watch The Throne. A full-circle moment after a 10-year-plus rapport built off Kanye’s production on The Blueprint to later executive producing The Blueprint III. Five years before WTT, Kanye professed his love for his “Big Brother” Jay and then, the two stood as equals, side-by-side, as they reflected on status, wealth, and success. All of the predictions of greatness Kanye made when he was traveling back and forth to New York City with hopes to break into the music industry was validated by his idol not only championing his protegé’s success but embracing his creativity with equivalent merit. Lil Wayne may have declared himself a rockstar with the release of Rebirth but Watch The Throne cemented hip-hop artists as the new rockstars of the generation.

It must’ve been a moment of vindication for Kanye West. As the story goes, it was Biggs and Dame Dash that truly vouched for Kanye when others didn’t. Even in the Jeen-Yuhs documentary, Jay-Z appeared reluctant to hand over the Roc-A-Fella chain to Kanye West, resulting in Dash taking the necklace off of his own neck to introduce the latest member of the label.

After making an undeniable masterpiece, going from his mentor’s protegé to peer, and shifting hip-hop yet again, Kanye’s focus moved towards his personal life and its impact on his professional career. Ye developed a wider outlook on life and society following his relationship with Kim Kardashian and the pending birth of their first child, North. As much as the internal observations for a better future bled through his back catalog, there was evidently a bigger mission statement at hand when 2013 struck – breaking the glass ceiling. Fighting against the powers that be, at least within haute couture. Despite being a pivotal force in bringing the Givenchy dog to the forefront with Watch The Throne’s stage designs and album artworks – among many, many, many other fashion trends – Kanye went on an iconic press run where he declared himself as the Walt Disney of hip-hop on Zane Lowe’s show, insisted Sway never had the answers, and finally, had a face-to-face moment with Charlamagne Tha God, who frequently condemned Kanye’s egotistical public rants.

Yeezus remains Kanye’s most polarizing album in his catalog, and perhaps, the most production-focused album since 808s. Kanye spent the entirety of the decade prior proving himself as a formidable MC who could not only stand alongside the greats but out-rap them at any given opportunity. However, Yeezus was a return to form for Kanye, in a sense. Rather than put emphasis on his bars, he reminded everyone that his ear for production and ability to adapt to the current climate of the game was unlike any other. At a time when Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Drake were ascending into conversations about the “new greats,” Kanye went left, embracing the sounds of his hometown – drill and Chicago deep house – even further, along with the rising sounds of EDM and trap into mainstream consciousness. Yeezus might not be the most commercially viable album in Kanye’s catalog but it remains integral to his ethos. It was the album that charged through the “glass door” of the fashion industry.

Over the years, Kanye embraced being the bad guy. And with Yeezus , the villain of the tale embraced a God complex that only created more divisiveness among his fans. It’s a common outcome for any artist that’s fueled by public discourse, good or bad. Yet, along with his newfound relationship with the Kardashians and his proven ability to defeat the odds of cancel culture, Kanye’s commentary largely became centered around more surface-level observations. His celebrity grew to a point where he could be considered royalty but that also meant that he was no longer the average Joe that related to us all on The College Dropout. He began relating to the elitists, but even still, he managed to find common grounds between worlds that ran parallel to each other. “Blood On The Leaves” tied together Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit,” a sacred song that captured the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement, and C-Murder and Snoop Dogg’s iconic No Limit anthem, “Down For My N’s.” The interpretation of the song largely centered around Kanye’s own celebrity status, the paranoia that comes with it, and betrayal and divorce which, similar to “All Of The Lights,” predicts his current marital disputes playing out on the public stage.

For as left-field as the album was at the time, Kanye brought it all together with the release of “Bound 2.” A sense of nostalgia popped out through the warm soul samples and Charlie Wilson’s contributions while Ye’s more humorous side came through when referencing Martin or his butchered take of Jamaican Patois. The brief flashbacks of Kanye’s roots on the Yeezus outro foreshadowed Kanye’s next moves on The Life Of Pablo.

Every project from Kanye West has shifted the culture, introduced new sounds, and broke new barriers. After six groundbreaking studio albums, Ye didn’t necessarily need to draw influences from outside of his universe. The Life Of Pablo was a celebratory body of work acknowledging Ye’s own influence over the years, including the many artists who he opened the doors for – Drake, Young Thug, Kendrick Lamar, Chance The Rapper, etc. It didn’t have the bite of Yeezus, the cohesiveness of Dark Fantasy, or the Avante-garde approach of 808s. However, the elements of these projects, along with his first three albums, allowed Kanye to produce a body of work that, for the first time, could be an accurate, well-rounded representation of all aspects of his artistry.

Kanye accomplished more in 12 years of his career than most can even fathom in a lifetime. Being a devoted father and husband became an integral part of his being, as he and Kim welcomed Saint West just months before TLOP dropped. His motives shifted knowing that the future he was fighting for wasn’t solely for a generation of kids that looked up to him, but his own seeds that would have to grow up in his and Kim’s shadows. Between his role as a cultural leader, musician, designer, father, husband, and CEO, the responsibilities evidently weighed on him, and his outlet came in the form of impulsive tweets. A generation who looked up to Ye as a superhero witnessed his vulnerability during unhinged “streams of consciousness” (i.e rants) during the Pablo tour, where he’d call out TIDAL, Apple, Jay-Z, DJ Khaled, and anyone else who were apparently dodging conversations with him. And while his mental health was a large conversation topic in the wake of the tour, the breaking point came during the Meadows Festival in Queens, NY when he learned of Kim Kardashian’s robbery in Paris.

The past five years of Kanye West have felt like witnessing his rehabilitation in real-time. His bipolar diagnosis turned him into a self-proclaimed mental health advocate. His attempts to destigmatize mental health issues also came with ill-advised claims against the use of medications. And much of what occurred post-The Life Of Pablo has felt like Ye trying to find his voice again. The fights and bold statements that once resonated with fans across the world transformed him into a pillar of “free thought” among right-wing pundits who’ve since attempted to weaponize him against the same community that he once was the voice of.

From Ye to Donda, the lack of focus, cohesion, and ambition has led to lackluster results (by Kanye’s standards, at least). His co-sign didn’t necessarily propel Lil Pump or Tekashi 6ix9ine into another stratosphere the way it did years prior when he uplifted an artist like Chance The Rapper on “Ultralight Beam.” However, the same defiance that he delivered on “Jesus Walks” when he stated he could “rap about anything except for Jesus” turned his faith in God into his biggest creative outlet. The community he built around his artistic ventures helped make Sunday Service a cultural phenomenon that was able to draw massive celebrity crowds. Even those who might not share a similar faith in God found an appreciation for Kanye’s venture.

While fans have called for the return of the “Old Kanye” as far back as Yeezus, it’s an obsolete concept at its core. Kanye’s evolved over time, as people do, only, his evolution has played out in front of the world to see. What’s remained the same over the years is Ye’s ability to take control of his destiny, and turn the ideas he spouts into the world into a reality.

“The old Kanye is the new Kanye. He never changed,” said Coodie, one-half of the directorial duo Creative Control, alongside Chike, who are behind Netflix’s Jeen-Yuhs documentary. “When I first put the camera on him on 95th, the drive and everything about him, I saw when I put the camera on him in 2018/19 in China.”

At one point in Jeen-Yuhs, Kanye tells a writer at Rolling Stone that his new word is “fruition.” He discusses practicing his Grammy speech in the mirror, years before he even had an album to submit to the committee. He stated his goal to be the best-dressed rapper alive before Louis Vuitton and Nike opened the doors for him. He even expressed his desire to simplify his name to Ye. As we approach the release of Donda 2, the 21x Grammy Award winner is preparing to release his first album under his new legal name and launch the first collection under the YEEZY GAP x Balenciaga collaboration.

“Those things are important for people to see because you have to understand that if you have a dream and you believe, then you will get to where you need to go. You will achieve,” Coodie added. “You can manifest anything you want but you have to have a belief in a higher power, which I call Jesus Christ. And he’s going to guide you where you need to go no matter what obstacles come right in front of you. You know, you have to take a detour and let God lead you on the way and the beautiful things he will show you on your way to your destination.”

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Made_to_Post
Feb 24, 2022

Wow!! This article is really cool, great work! Love it

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HotNewTrashMusicSite

Hate it or love it, please publish more content similar to this that gives deeper insight & worthwhile analysis

JesusOfTrap
JesusOfTrap
Feb 25, 2022

That's what hnhh needs more, no that gossip bullsh*t. great work to the team

Expand Consciousness

Weird. I can’t thumbs down this article. I guess that’s saved for articles you guys don’t care about.

Made_to_Post
Made_to_Post
Feb 24, 2022

Wow!! This article is really cool, great work! Love it

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_levitate_

You're always so kind, and while I'm glad they [finally] have an actual "hiphop" article for once, this one sorely missed the mark. I'm going to get trolled the f up after this, but I truly feel blanket statements like "Kanye accomplished more in 12 years of his career than most can even fathom in a lifetime" are largely responsible for Ye and others conflating what they perceive as "genuis" with the known "creative" mood-swings of bi-polar disorder. This is why '06 Ye is no more. The fame part of his style used to be the icing on the cake, but now publicity just for publicity's sake is what makes up the entire of his style and cake these days; a stark contrast to the "people's champion" we once thought him to be, a title Kendrick has now come to inherit, much like how J. Cole has become the prophet we also used to see Kanye as. And while many might view this as "slander", this also shows how engrossing his early style and philosophy was -- to be both of these simultaneously.

Made_to_Post
Made_to_Post
Feb 26, 2022

@_levitate_ : Thank You!! Sorry for the late reply I wanted to really dwell on what you were saying, I think it’s interesting you mention the “creative” side of bi-polar disorder, I wasn't really aware of that & I should look more into it. While I think he does put his self out their for publicity pretty often I do find the music that comes out of it compelling. It’s true that it’s definitely a stark contrast from his early days, he really was a people’s champ but I do like that we have different eras of Kanye, I love that he always keeps fans on their toes & when I look at his discography I see the journey that he’s been through & it’s hard not to appreciate it. Kendrick & Cole we’re definitely heavily inspired by early Kanye I agree with everything you’re saying here, love both of them! I don’t view it as slander at all, Kanye’s definitely changed. I see just how special early Kanye was & I appreciate how collaborative & willing he is to try new things

_levitate_

@Made_to_Post : I appreciate the consideration 🙏

Madrell
Madrell
Feb 23, 2022

Let us know your favorite moments from last night's DONDA 2 livestream!

Made_to_Post

Baby Keem’s opening on “We Did It Kid” was 🔥, “Lost Sometimes” & “Broken Road” we’re powerful. Jack Harlow did pretty well on Louis Bag, Sci-Fi was enjoyable, funny, also the beat & rhythm were pretty beautiful. Lift Me Up was hard too, the aesthetic of the show was dope. The rippling water with the night sky atmosphere, smoke & fire was all pretty amazing. Fun show, very theatrical!

New Nigga at HNHH||MJ The True 🐐

The 2 songs with Xxxtentacion, and the kanye x migos song and the jack harlow feature, and Alicia singing city of gods, Sci fi too and the third or fourth song with that dope beat and ye autotune was flames