Kanye West: A rapper whose talents are matched only by his controversies

Kanye West: A Rapper Whose Talents Are Matched Only By His Controversies
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Hailed as one of the greatest rappers of his generation, often by himself, Kanye West has always been a blend of prodigious talent and extreme ego.

His rise, first as a producer and then as a chart-topping musician and one half of a celebrity power-couple, has been matched only by his controversies, political dalliances and struggles with mental health.

While he was born in Georgia in 1977, West always considered himself to be a Chicago native, having moved there with his mother after his parents split up when he was three.

Kanye West in 2004 (Myung Jung Kim/PA)
Kanye West in 2004 (Myung Jung Kim/PA)

The fact West was a one-of-a-kind talent became evident with his debut album The College Dropout, released in 2004 to critical and commercial success and since named one of the greatest albums of all time.

He had previously been a producer for Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records in the early 2000s, but made a name for himself as a solo artist in his own right with tracks including Jesus Walks, All Falls Down and Through The Wire, the result of a breakthrough after a head-on car crash which left him with a shattered jaw, which had to be wired shut in reconstructive surgery.

His mother Donda, to whom he was very close, died in 2007 and his subsequent record, 808s & Heartbreak marked a major musical departure and the start of his love affair with the auto-tune vocal processor, purportedly because his emotions could not be conveyed through rapping.

He first became a figure of mainstream controversy at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards when he crashed the stage and grabbed the microphone from a teenage Taylor Swift during her acceptance speech for best female video to declare that Beyonce’s video for Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It) was “one of the best videos of all time”.

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West got married in Italy in 2014 (E! News/PA)
Kim Kardashian and Kanye West got married in Italy in 2014 (E! News/PA)

Beyonce, who was sitting in the audience, looked horrified and then-president Barack Obama later proclaimed him a “jackass”.

In 2012 he began a relationship with the reality megastar Kim Kardashian, after years of friendship, and they announced their engagement and the birth of their first child, daughter North, the following year, around the same time he dropped album Yeezus, one of his many comparisons of himself to Jesus.

They married in May 2014 in Florence, Italy and their relationship, dubbed Kimye by tabloids, has produced three more children – sons Saint and Psalm and daughter Chicago.

This period also saw West’s emergence as a player in the fashion industry, and he premiered his clothing collaboration with Adidas, entitled Yeezy Season 1, including the hit Yeezy Boost trainers, in 2015.


He also headlined Glastonbury Festival that year, even though more than 100,000 people signed a petition protesting his booking.

Kanye West performing on The Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury (Yui Mok/PA)
Kanye West performing on The Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury (Yui Mok/PA)

During his set, watched by his wife and the rest of her famous family, he proclaimed himself “the greatest living rock star on the planet”.

The following year he released The Life Of Pablo and its lead single Famous, which revived his feud with Swift.

While the video itself, featuring wax figures of celebrities including West, Kardashian, Swift, Donald Trump, and Bill Cosby, sleeping nude in a shared bed, was controversial, it was the lyrics that stirred up the ensuing storm.


In the song he rapped: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous.”

Swift later objected to the lyric and called it “misogynistic” before Kardashian West shared a snippet of a phone call between West and Swift on Snapchat, which appeared to reveal Swift approving of a portion of the lyric.

The call became infamous and caused years of bad blood, with both sides alleging the other lied.

Kardashian West has described her husband as a ‘brilliant but complicated person’ (Ian West/PA)
Kardashian West has described her husband as a ‘brilliant but complicated person’ (Ian West/PA)

Fans became aware of his mental health issues during The Life Of Pablo tour in 2016, when he cancelled his remaining 21 dates following a week of curtailed gigs and rants about politics and was later admitted to hospital.


He announced that if he had voted in the US election, it would have been for Donald Trump and died his hair blond ahead of a visit to Trump Tower.

West said people only assumed he would be a Democrat because of the colour of his skin and continued to reaffirm his support for the president for years after, saying in 2018 “the mob can’t make me not love him. We are both dragon energy. He is my brother”.

In 2018 West also faced a backlash after saying slavery was a “choice” in an explosive interview with TMZ, in which he also revealed he had been addicted to opioids after having liposuction, which led to his 2016 hospitalisation.

West only began to distance himself from Trump this month after announcing that he planned to run for president.

He has qualified to appear on the presidential ballot in Oklahoma in November, where he will run as an independent against the president and Democratic Party challenger Joe Biden.

He announced his plans in a tweet on July 4, writing: “We must now realise the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future. I am running for president of the United States.”

He distanced himself from the president, whom he has supported by wearing a red Make America Great Again baseball cap, in a rambling and lengthy interview with Forbes, saying, “I am taking the red hat off, with this interview”, and insisting he has lost confidence in Trump.

But he has since hinted he might wait until 2024 to run, writing on Twitter: “#2020vision or maybe ’24. I guess all black people supposed to vote on Biden? Y’all want me to run or nah???”

Kardashian West later spoke about West’s battle with bipolar disorder, saying he is a “brilliant but complicated person” whose “words sometimes do not align with his intentions”.

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