Kanye Omari West (/ˈkɑːnjeɪ/; born June 8, 1977) is an American rapper, songwriter, record producer, film director, entrepreneur, and fashion designer. West first gained prominence as a producer for Roc-A-Fella Records; he achieved recognition for his work on rapper Jay-Z’s The Blueprint (2001), as well as hit singles for musical artists including Alicia Keys, Ludacris, and Janet Jackson. His style of production originally used high-pitched vocal samples from soul songs incorporated with his own drums and instruments. He later broadened his influences to include 1970s R&B, baroque pop, trip hop, arena rock, folk, alternative, electronica, synthpop, industrial, and classical music.
West was raised in a middle-class household in Chicago, Illinois, and began rapping in the third grade, becoming involved in the city’s hip hop scene. West attended art school for one semester before dropping out to pursue music entirely in the late 1990s. Although his real desire was to become a rapper, record executives did not take West seriously, viewing him as a producer first and foremost. After being signed to Roc-A-Fella in 2002, West released his debut album The College Dropout in 2004 to commercial and critical acclaim. The baroque-inspired Late Registration followed in 2005, and Graduation in 2007. West switched rapping for singing on his emotive 2008 effort 808’s & Heartbreak, and embraced maximalism on 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Following several collaborations, West released his sixth album, Yeezus, in 2013.
West is one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time, having sold more than 21 million albums and 66 million digital downloads. He has won a total of 21 Grammy Awards, making him one of the most awarded artists of all-time and the most Grammy-awarded artist of his age. Time has named West one of the 100 most influential people in the world. He has also been included in a number of Forbes annual lists. Three of his albums rank on Rolling Stone’s 2012 “the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list.
West’s background and style, from his debut album, deviated from the then-dominant “gangsta” persona in hip hop, and he would later alter the genre stylistically as rappers adopted his alternative aesthetic. An outspoken and controversial celebrity, West has often been the source of incidents at award shows. His interest in fashion has also attracted media attention and differentiates West from other artists. West runs his own record label GOOD Music and has directed several short films.