The Evolution of Kanye: From College Dropout to Billionaire
Kanye West is an American rapper, sure. But as of late, he's added record producer, billionaire businessman, and fashion designer to his resume! What could possibly be next, for the Chicago-born phenomenon?
Zero, Millions, Bankrupt, Billions
Kanye formally filed the paperwork to run for the presidency in 2020. Forbes had placed his net worth at $1.3 billion bucks, and that got him thinking. Kanye claimed he could do something similar for America's economy and soul. Was that really so crazy?
Evidently, it all became too much for wife Kim Kardashian. Just as 2021 began, she filed for divorce after 7 years by his side. The truth is, there's been a lot of turmoil behind the scenes: Mental health scares, public stunts that no one understands, and traumatic events have shaped Kanye's charmed life in recent years. Was it his failed presidential run that really led to the end?
Next: Learn what really led to Kanye's divorce from the love of his life, Kim!
Never the Same Thing Twice
One reason Kanye has such loyal fans is his commitment to experimentation. With unrivaled success on the pop and hip hop charts, this artist probably didn't need to reinvent himself, over and over, And yet, he did!
Today, he seems to be in moving in the avant-garde direction. Strange art concepts and novel collaborations, galore! But with more than 20 million albums sold and 21 Grammy Awards, why not? Kanye cannot be contained in one category. Just ask Kim!
First Lady Kim K
Yes, Melania is the first high fashion model to play the role of First Lady. But what would it be like to see Kim Kardashian in the White House? The Queen of Instagram might be an interesting update!
If Kanye ever does get far in politics, he definitely has a partner. According to Kim: “Kanye will never run in the race of popular opinion and we know that and that's why I love him and respect him." That's ride or die, right by his side!
Born Kanye Omari West, the future pop figure was actually raised in a middle-class house. While a lot of rappers talk about life on the streets, there was a good reason Kanye started his career with different lyrics. He attended Polaris High School in suburbia, just outside of Chicago. Not so scary, really!
Then, he moved with his mom to China! At the time, Donda West was teaching at Nanjing University as a professor. Who would have guessed?
Kanye's parents were divorced, and he spent more time with his stepfather. Around age three, he relocated to the Chicago area with his mom. Who was his real father, Ray West?
As it turns out, dad was a former Black Panther. He was also one of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's original black photojournalists, and a Christian counselor later in life. Sounds like both his parents were well educated! What kind of professional track did Donda have, after her return from China?
An Early Poet
Mama was actually known as Dr. Donda West by her students at Clark Atlanta University and Chicago State University. She was an English professor! Observers today can see that the apple did not fall far from the tree.
Kanye showed a passion for the arts pretty early on. First, he wrote poems at five. Later, he started making beats and raps. Another form of poetry, it turns out! Moving around in his formative years must have been tough, though. Did his official grades suffer?
Obviously College Bound
In China, Kanye was the only foreigner in class! According to mom, he learned the language — though he has forgotten most of it now. The rapper is proud of his grades from that period, explaining: "I got A's and B's. And I'm not even frontin'."
Pretty impressive stuff! At 18, he accepted a scholarship to Chicago's American Academy of Art for painting. But like Donda, he had an interest in the written word. Kanye changed course and went to Chicago State University for English!
Kanye dropped out, in the end. School and work together were getting in the way of his dream to make music. Working at the Gap, back in the day, was also not paying his bills while he wrote those lyrics.
In Spaceship, he sang: ''Let's go back, back to the Gap. Look at my check, wasn't no scratch. So if I stole, wasn't my fault. Yeah, I stole, never get caught!" His petty acts of defiance made it into a song!
Ironically, Kanye would one day score a big contract with Gap as a fashion designer. But Donda would not have been able to foresee that. She did not approve of the dropout!
In the future, she would eventually admit: "It was drummed into my head that college is the ticket to a good life...but some career goals don't require college." Hindsight is 20-20, as they say! How did Ye actually make his big break?
Beats in the Streets
Kanye West began producing in the mid-'90s before he was the frontman. In the beginning, he created beats for local musicians. His first official credits in this role were at only nineteen, for the Chicago rapper Grav. More names on the scene hired him after that!
Eventually, Kanye's own rap talents became known in these circles. But he struggled to find a real record deal, and was turned down on multiple occasions. Who eventually snatched him up?
Rapping Through the Wreck
In the end, industry insider Damon Dash signed Kanye to Roc-A-Fella Records. Owner Jay-Z was a little skeptical, though! Many people thought Kanye was really meant to produce. But then, a breakthrough!
While Kanye was in the middle of recording his first album, he got into a serious car crash! His jaw was wired shut for the rest of the rap sessions, incredibly. The result was The College Dropout — and millions of fans were born. It's iconic, these days!
Mama's Mea Culpa
After all the critical acclaim came in, Donda changed her mind. And she even retired from her university job to become Kanye's manager! She explained: "For Kanye to make an album called College Dropout it was more about having the guts to embrace who you are, rather than following the path society has carved out for you."
She even wrote a book: Raising Kanye: Life Lessons from the Mother of a Hip-Hop Superstar. Undoubtedly, things had changed a lot in their lives!
Kanye was very close to his mom. Now that she was in the entertainment business, she wanted to enjoy the good life. For many women in the spotlight, that includes a nip tuck! Kanye supported this decision, and she signed up for quite a few procedures.
On the menu: A tummy tuck, liposuction, and a breast reduction. Her experienced surgeon testified that everything "went ahead without any issues." But was that true, in the end?
Coroner Weighs in
Life took a sharp detour when Donda West died of complications during recovery. It was out of the blue, and Kanye never anticipated such a risk for popular surgery! What did the autopsy say?
According to the coroner: "The final manner of death could not be determined. Multiple post-operative factors could have played a role in the death...There was no evidence of a surgical or anesthetic misadventure." Was something going on, at home?
The report talked about vomiting and pain meds as possible factors, among many. Donda was thought to have taken "20 pain-killing Vicodins in less than 24 hours." Everyone in the family was confused and devastated. Most of all, her son!
Kanye has routinely brought up the tragedy for years. On one occasion, he claimed: "If I had never moved to L.A. she'd be alive...I don't want to go far into it because it will bring me to tears."
Acting Out, Big Time
Over time, Kanye's behavior became more obviously erratic. Was it related to the loss of his mother? No one knew for sure, but Taylor Swift famously got the brunt of it at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Kanye tried to ruin her moment, rushing on stage uninvited!
Evidently, he felt the honor of "Best Female Video" should have gone to Beyoncé. People started to wonder what was going on with Kanye, and the gossip wasn't positive anymore.
No matter what was going on with his public image, though, Kanye was plotting a fashion empire. Perhaps he caught the bug while shoplifting at the Gap! But his interest was real, and the rapper invested serious cash into this passion.
The result? Yeezy shoes, a collaboration with Nike, his own clothing line for women, and invitations to design for Louis Vuitton at Paris Fashion Week. A renaissance man, without a doubt!
But creativity cannot be confined to one or even two disciplines, for Kanye West. His other ideas included a record label called GOOD Music, 10 burger joints in the Chicago area, and one very big project: DONDA, a creative content company.
Named for his late mother, Kanye hoped to create affordable experiences and products with cutting edge design. He explained that DONDA would "pick up where Steve Jobs left off". But not everyone understood his vision, like so many times in the past!
Kanye did have one person by his side throughout the journey who believed in his vision. That person was Kim Kardashian, and not everyone knows exactly how they met. Back when Kim was just Brandy's assistant, they became friends!
Kim recalled: "I met him I think in 2002 or 2003...He was asking his friends: 'Who is this Kim Kardajan?' He didn't know what my name was." Despite this tiny indignity, they remained pals for a decade!
Baby Mama Drama
At some point, of course, they both found themselves single. Paparazzi started to notice them out on the town, and photos started to dominate the tabloids. It was all true: Kimye was happening!
Not long after, Kim got pregnant. She blogged the news: "Kanye and I are expecting a baby. We feel so blessed and lucky and wish that in addition to both of our families, his mom and my dad could be here to celebrate this special time with us."
North West Arrives
In 2013, North West was born. With a quirky name and millions of fans on day one, Kanye and Kim enjoyed sharing their baby on social media.
By that time, Donda had already died. Kanye shared: "After I lost my mother, there were times I felt like, I would put my life at risk. I felt like sometimes I didn't have something to live for. Now I have two really special people [Kardashian and North] to live for."
Put a Ring on it
Yes, it was time to lock down Kim. She was already his co-parent, after all! The truth is, both were very much in love. Kanye West made a rare appearance on Keeping Up with the Kardashians for the big moment, against his usual inclination!
On her 33rd birthday, Kim said yes. In San Francisco, Kanye had rented out the AT&T baseball stadium to pop the question — the whole thing! The couple began building an even bigger family and business empire, united.
Throughout the years, Kanye tried so many business ventures. Some succeeded, and some failed. But for a little while, disturbing news surfaced that he had lost it all!
Not for long, though. Kim revealed: "It’s of no surprise to anyone who works with or is close to Kanye that he has been able to turn millions of dollars in debt into a billion-dollar empire in only 4 years — 100% on his own terms, while owning 100% of his business."
While millions were busy admiring his business skills, Kanye was thinking about the next big thing he wanted to impact. When Donald Trump was elected, he unexpectedly donned the red hat!
On social media, he explained: "This represents good and America becoming whole again. We will no longer outsource to other countries. We build factories here in America and create jobs...Message sent with love." Many were surprised, but Kanye didn't stop with one post!
The Infamous Speech
At one concert, he shouted out: "I told y'all I didn't vote, right? But if I would've voted, I would've voted for Trump."And soon enough, he met with the newly elected candidate Trump right at the golden tower itself.
Years later, Kanye came to the White House. He gave a rambling speech that many felt was incoherent, and out of character. It was all captured on camera, too! Previously diagnosed as bipolar, people started to gossip online.
Mental Health Rumors
Kim Kardashian West eventually did make a public statement about her husband. How did she characterize his new behavior?
Unrelated to politics, Kim talked about Kanye's personal journey. She wrote: "He is a brilliant but complicated person who on top of the pressures of being an artist and a black man, who experienced the painful loss of his mother, and has to deal with the pressure and isolation that is heightened by his bipolar disorder." Then, she asked for compassion and privacy.
Back to the Bible
With a complicated life and chaotic world, Kanye explored religion again. He had always dabbled in the theme, artistically: Fans may recall his hit "Jesus Walks" a decade before. But this time, Kanye was starting an invite-only church!
Every Sunday, the rapper now holds events across America with gospel music. He explains: "It was really an idea that we had to open up our hearts and make music that we felt was as pure and as positive as possible. And just do it for an hour every Sunday."
Kanye for Prez
With a renewed perspective, Kanye West announced he was ready to lead America. Filing for the 2020 United States presidential race, he tried to get on ballots in a serious way. His running mate was Michelle Tidball, a Christian preacher.
Again, there was a video of an emotional breakdown during one of his campaign speeches. It distracted from his platform, which focused on faith, family, and the environment! What was his next move, on the trail?
National Media Tour
Kanye went on Joe Rogan's famous podcast to reach more listeners. Many wondered why he running since he previously endorsed the administration. What were his views on President Trump, these days?
The guest explained: “I’m not saying Trump’s in my way, he may be a part of my way. And Joe Biden? Like, come on man, please. You know? Obama’s special. Trump’s special. We say Kanye West is special. America needs special people that lead. Bill Clinton? Special. Joe Biden’s not special.”
Voting His Values
Maybe Kanye had a chance, but there was a fatal snafu: His team missed the filing deadline in many places! Candidate Ye did get 60,000 votes in 12 states, at least.
On election day, he posted: "Today I voted for the first time in my life for the President of the United States, and it's for someone I truly trust...me." Kanye West says he may run again in 2024. Fans will have to wait and see!
Home Sweet Home
Kanye may have been talking about some big dreams in public. But back in the mansion, Kim and Kanye had a lot to manage. With four growing kids, a business empire, and rumors about dad's mental health, it wasn't easy. But it would last, as it always had! Right?
Kim had previously asked for understanding about Kanye's ups and downs. After one big swing, she addressed fans: “We as a society talk about giving grace to the issue of mental health as a whole...we should also give it to the individuals who are living with it in times when they need it most.” What was happening behind closed doors, though?
War with Kris
Truthfully, some of the private chaos was spilling out right onto Twitter. In series of strange tweets, Kanye insulted Kim's mom after refusing to fly out to her birthday party on an island. It was all rather confusing, to the family and the world. Kanye later apologized on social media. But perhaps enough was enough!
It's hard to say what the straw was that finally broke the camel's back. Kim and Kanye had been living apart for some time trying to make things work, unbeknownst to most. In the end, it was beyond reconciliation. How did they break the news?
The Secret Was Out
Kim and Kanye had been in therapy for half of 2020. Allegedly, Kim had known things were beyond repair for some time. But it seemed cruel to start divorce proceedings in the middle of a bipolar episode. When Kim floated the idea of divorce, her family was reportedly supportive. Seven years of Kimye were coming to a close. An era, even!
It was more than just a rumor: Kim hired famous celebrity divorce lawyer Laura Wasser. She had already been spotted without her wedding ring in public. A few questions came to mind, right away: How would the considerable assets be divided up — and what about their kids?
An Uncertain Future
Perhaps the arrangement had already been discussed, behind closed doors. Kim filed for joint custody of the children. Maybe some had expected a different request, given the mental health problems she cited for the divorce. Pretty odd, right?
Some think so. But Kim insists that North, Saint, Chicago, and Psalm are safe with their dad. He has staff around all the time, and bipolar issues are not handled alone. As the proceedings continue, it's hard to predict a smooth landing. Anything could happen, at the end of a marriage. But for now, one thing is certain: Kim and Kanye will be living their lives apart. The next chapter begins!