FROM COLLEGE DROPOUT TO FIRST BLACK BILLIONAIRE IN AMERICAN HISTORY: HOW KANYE WEST TOLD YOU SO
News publications across the country reported yesterday that rapper and entrepreneur, Kanye West, officially etched his name in history — becoming the “Richest Black Person in America.” Consistent critic of West’s net worth, Forbes Magazine, predictably deemed the claims inflated; estimating his net worth at a much lower, $1.3 billion.
Whether Kanye West’s net worth is as much as $6.6 billion or not is a question only he can answer, however, regardless of the number of billions he’s accrued over time, only he knew he would get to this point. Subject of constant controversy, Kanye has been far from perfect in the eyes of the media and naysayers. His fans remain consistent and unwavering in their support of him, running to buy his newest shoe drop and praising the often-unpredictable album releases he is infamous for.
Hate him or love him, it has never mattered much to him anyway. Overtime Kanye broke the mold of acceptability politics in the industry. Instead, the track record for his time in the industry is self-centered — always prioritizing his own beliefs and creative intentions ignoring what the world had to say.
INTRO — “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
Before his big break in August 1998, Kanye infamously freestyled at Fa Beats storefront. In the video his confidence and style are evident. Sporting an oversized Polo, Kanye gets on the mic clearly thinking and creating quickly, he seems like a natural. This was an early sign of how willing he was to be thrown in the fire and take chances for what he wanted. At just 19 years old, Kanye was ready.
WE DON”T CARE — “We never had nothing handed”
Kanye West was an intellect early on his life receiving a scholarship at to Chicago State University, where he would pursue a degree in English, which is no small feat. Skipping out on the “planned” road, Kanye took a chance after selling Jermaine Dupri a beat. Quickly that beat turned into multiple producing gigs in the industry, and as a result Kanye dropped out of college — his safe route — and took on his dream full time.
The road for Kanye was not as easy as you’d expect, considering how undisputed he now is. Prior to his big break with Def Jam, where he soon became well acquainted with Jay Z, Kanye was denied by an uncomfortable number of labels (to the point where one could deeply question record label executives’ credibility).
Kanye found himself in yet another situation where industry executives tried to cage him in, assuming that because he was a Producer, he couldn’t be a serious recording artist. Kanye almost signed with Capitol Records, while Roc-a-Fella, led by Damon Dash and Jay-Z, were actively pursuing the young Producer. Capitol Records pulled the deal from him because they saw him as “just a Producer Rapper.” Then he signed to Roc-A-Fella and well, you know what happened next.
THROUGH THE WIRE — “Yo G, they can’t stop me from rapping”
On October 23, 2002 Kanye got into a car accident that almost ended his life, but instead propelled it. Two weeks after he fought his way into Roc-a-Fella records after working all night in the studio, he crashed his car into an approaching vehicle.
Kanye was not just bruised; his face was swollen to oblivion and his jaw was wired shut. Two weeks later he was back in the studio recording “Through the Wire”, a track that took him to the top of the charts. In the beginning of the song, you can hear the “College Dropout” rapper forcing words out of his wired jaw.
Again, Kanye’s unique path transcends. A car accident, a broken jaw, and still, he goes back to the studio (that nearly killed him) to create one of the biggest hits of his career.
Through the Wire would go on to be the transformational, proving to the industry that not only could he fight through unimaginable circumstances, but he could do so in an unprecedented way. Through the Wire demonstrated his versatility and will to be the greatest. Earning a Grammy for his №2 album, The College Dropout, he proved he was here to say — by any means necessary.
Spaceship — “But let some Black people walk in, I bet they show off they token Blackie”
The turning point in Kanye’s career, when fans and onlookers really began to understand that he will never filter himself, is West deeming that then president, George Bush, “doesn’t care about black people” at a benefit concert for Hurricane Katrina.
Standing next to Mike Meyer’s he starts with “I hate the way they portray us in the media” and continues on an emotional speech about the (objective) way Black people continue to experience stark differences in treatment.
Mike Meyers continues on his scripted rant, looking at Kanye in confusion as he publicly calls out the President. Though he looks on, concerned at the perceived “rant” Kanye is going on, Meyer’s fails to realize the powerful impact going against the grain would soon have on his career. Though mocked initially, many of these unsolicited, often painfully true, rants the Chicago-native would go on soon would become a defining point in his career.
ALL FALLS DOWN — “When it falls down, who you gon call now?”
On November 10, 2007 Donda West, the only person everyone knew West undisputedly loved, admired, and protected died in Breast-Reduction Surgery. After her passing, everything quite literally fell apart. Kanye was already blunt ad unwavering in his approach to conflict, political issues, and white grievances, but the loss of his mom brought out something completely different inside of him, or so it seems.
Donda seemed to be the one that empowered Kanye to be Kanye. Paying for is first recording studio session at age 13, moving him to China where she taught in an exchange program, always nurturing his love for creativity, Donda was rightfully Kanye’s hero.
In April 2004, West filmed the “Kanye West MTV Diary” where he expressed his love for his mother “This is the reason I did whatever song you might have heard of” said West. “I love her, she is my best friend in the whole world.” If you have studied even a fraction of Donda son’s career, then you would know that Kanye is not public about his emotions for anyone. Vulnerable and excited his love for his mom is clear.
Without dispute, we know Kanye hit a rough patch which included a hiatus from music and the ending of his engagement with Alexis Phifer.
Kanye wasn’t gone too long, and he returned with another hit album dedicated to the loss of the ones he loved he most. The legendary, 808s and Heartbreaks.
I’LL FLY AWAY — “To a land where, joy shall never end”
The loss of his mother was something no one ever thought Kanye would come back from. On the contrary, Kanye come back with an emotional project. From Coldest Winter, Heartless, to Welcome to Heartbreak, Kanye’s mood is much different than his more upbeat albums like Late Registration and College Dropout.
From the loss of his mother, while visibly changed by it, Kanye still demonstrates a will to go harder, be greater, if not for himself, for his mother. Similar to the car accident that almost took his life. The loss of his late mother, Donda, continues to affirm Kanye’s work ethic. People often focus on his reactionary impulses, sure they’re wrong, but Kanye’s story is a capsulation of what it means to see it through, no matter what.
LAST CALL — “I’d like to propose a toast, I said toast mf”
We all remember the Taylor Swift beef. If not, the story goes like this: Taylor Swift wins a VMA award for Best Female Video, a category she shared with Beyoncé and Kanye’s hits her with the infamous “imma let you finish but..”. Unless you’re a Taylor Swift fan, you could acknowledge Kanye’s abrupt interruption as formally inappropriate and contextually fair.
“You Belong with Me” vs. “Single Ladies”, you decide.
Nonetheless, the moment at the VMA Awards changed the way people saw Kanye. Since the beginning of his career he has remained vocal about his frustrations with Black and white dynamics, this seemed different. At a time when Taylor Swift was America’s Country princess, Kanye — in true Kanye form — did what many were probably thinking, stood up for a Black woman slighted by an award show.
From that moment forward, Kanye was “crazy” to on lookers, an unqualified diagnosis that continues to define his career.
The “crazy” characterization only seemed to invigorate Kanye more. The start of his career was rooted in labels and limitations that misinterpreted him, so of course a label that attacked his mental health would only further insight arrogance and drive to be exactly what everyone thought he wouldn’t be; “crazy” successful and unapologetically himself.
JESUS WALKS — “We at War”
In 2009 Kanye collaborated with Nike, foreshadowing his work with Adidas that would make him “America’s Richest Black American in history”.
“Air Yeezy” was the start of something different for Kanye. It showcased his fashion talent and took his net worth to new heights. Despite the controversy surrounding his name, Kanye had already laid an impermeable foundation in the fashion industry. He was always the trend-setter, not follower, much like his time in music.
Resulting from his ability to stay above the curve, Kanye showed the world the power of creativity and originality.
FAMILY BUSINESS — “Nobody expected Kanye to end up on top, they expected the college dropout to drop and it flop”
On June 15, 2013 North West came into the world, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s first child. In a way, it seemed like a second chance at a family for Kanye West. The money, fame and notoriety were apparent in his life, however, since the loss of his mother Kanye seemed lonely.
North propelled Kanye’s life in a way only his mother had in the past. Still publicly distant, Kanye appeared to love something deeply again. Releasing “Only One” Kanye shunned naysayers yet again, showing the world that though his mom’s death and all the chaos that followed broke him, he was still determined to be okay. Kanye will probably never be the same, however, North from an outsider’s perspective, appeared to be a since of normalcy, family and acceptance for him in a time of unparalleled ostracizing and profound insensitivity to what clearly is, a medical sickness.
On December 3, 2013, Kanye finally got the deal Nike just could not seem to provide. He found his away again, and that way changed his impact on culture. Now, the Yeezy Brand is worth Billions, making Nike look silly for doubting the Yeezy founder’s ability to impact fashion culture.
He later took it back to his “Jesus Walks” roots, creating Sunday Service Brand, despite public confusion.
Today, Kanye’s story seems a bit more obscure. He had a failed attempt at the presidency in 2020, he became a Republican for one of the most publicly controversial and racist presidents in American history, and he reportedly is parting ways from his wife four kids after six years of marriage.
Kanye’s mental health is unknown and though we think we have the answers, The rapper, entrepreneur is far from predictable. For now, I would remain inspired by his story. Controversial yes, but inspiring still.
Through the loss of record deals, the wire, the death of his mother, bipolar disorder, and now the supposed separation from his family, Kanye demonstrated that to be the best, you have to upset the rest.
He is no saint, his opinions are both harmful and perplexing at times, but whatever he is doing right now, I am sure he is focused on making money and impact, not making sense.
Perhaps going against the grain is exactly what creates the greats, if done right.
But what do I know, I surely am no Kanye.