Rap musician, record producer
Kanye West began his career in music as a producer for top hip-hop artists such as Jay-Z, but he wanted more: he wanted to rap, too. Though his middle-class background and preppy dress made him seem ill-fitted for a hip-hop scene dominated by gangsta personalities, West's talent and determination led to his massive success. His debut album, The College Dropout, rewrote the rules of hip-hop, reviving socially conscious lyrics and mixing them with cutting-edge commercial party beats. By the time he released his second album, Late Registration, in August of 2005, West had become one of hip-hop's biggest stars.
West was born on June 8, 1977, to Ray, a former Black Panther who went on to become an award-winning photographer and then a marriage counselor, and Donda, an English professor. (His name, pronounced kahn-yay, means "the only one" in Swahili.) His parents divorced when he was three years old; he mostly lived with his mother, but often spent summers with his father. He lived in China for a year at the age of ten while his mother was teaching English at a university there; he would make money entertaining people by break dancing on the streets. His father taught him to be race-conscious, while his mother helped him develop a wide vocabulary through word games. "I was taught to think on my own," he told Jim Farber of the New York Daily News. "That's what a lot of black kids don't get."
In high school, West became friends with producer No I.D., who was working with the rapper Common before he became a star. Inspired, West got a sampling keyboard at 15, and spent a lot of time rapping and beatmaking in his bedroom. He attended Chicago's The American Academy of Art for a year on a scholarship, then transferred to Chicago State University to pursue a degree in English. But he dropped out to pursue a career in music, thwarting his mother's hopes that he would earn several degrees. "It was drummed into my head that college is the ticket to a good life," Donda West told the Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot. "but some career goals don't require college. 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. And that's what Kanye did."
Signature Soul Sound
Instead, West started producing songs for Chicago rappers. In 1998, he contributed to Atlanta producer and recording star Jermaine Dupri's album Life in 1472. He moved from Chicago to Newark, New Jersey, and then to Hoboken in that same state, close to New York City. His big breakthrough came when he composed five songs on Jay-Z's 2001 album The Blueprint. The songs established a key part of West's production style: he sampled classic songs and sped them up so they turned high-pitched. Usually the songs were soul music, such as the Jackson 5 and the Temptations, though he also sampled '60s rockers The Doors. West has admitted getting the idea from The RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, but at a time when sampling had fallen out of fashion in hip-hop, it was still unusual enough to impress. He began working with other top hip-hop artists on Jay-Z's Roc-A-Fella label. Since then, West has produced songs for more than 40 artists, including Scarface, Foxy Brown, and DMX.
West was convinced he could rap as well as produce. He started working on his own album in 2001. But when he first asked Roc-A-Fella executives to let him record his own hip-hop album, they were not receptive, because he did not have the tough background or image that had become almost required of hip-hop stars. "Kanye wore a pink shirt with the collar sticking up and Gucci loafers," Damon Dash, then-CEO of Roc-A-Fella, told Josh Tyrangiel of Time. "We all grew up street guys who had to do whatever we had to do to get by," Jay-Z told Tyrangiel. "Then there's Kanye, who to my knowledge has never hustled a day in his life. I didn't see how it could work."
Accident Changed His Life
"I was mad because I was not being taken seriously as a rapper for a long time," West told Kot of the Chicago Tribune. "Whether it was because I didn't have a larger-than-life persona, or I was perceived as the guy who made beats, I was disrespected as a rapper." A neartragedy ended up giving West the creative inspiration for his project. He fell asleep at the wheel of a car in Los Angeles in October of 2002 and got in a car accident that nearly killed him. He called Roc-A-Fella's CEO from the hospital, asked for a drum machine, and created the song "Through the Wire" about his accident. He recorded the mumbled vocals three weeks after the crash, while his jaw was wired shut. The song was built on a sample from Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire." It helped convince Roc-A-Fella to let him record an album. West used the song as his calling card, passing it around on mix tapes he created to show he could rap as well as produce. "Death is the best thing that can ever happen to a rapper," West quipped to Tyrangiel in Time. "Almost dying isn't bad either."
While working on his album, West also produced a string of hits. His triumph came in early 2004. First, two songs he produced hit number one: "Stand Up" by Ludacris and "You Don't Know My Name" by Alicia Keys. Others, including "Slow Jamz," a collaboration with Chicago rapper Twista, and Jay-Z's "Encore," also became hit singles. Then, West's album The College Dropout appeared and quickly became both a critical and commercial success. It sold 440,000 copies in its first week of release, and almost three million within a year and a half. "Through the Wire" became a top-rated video on MTV and MTV2.
For the Record …
Born Kanye Omari West on June 8, 1977; son of Ray (a marriage counselor) and Donda (a professor) West. Education: Attended The American Academy of Art and Chicago State University.
Producer for Chicago rappers; began producing for national hip-hop acts by contributing to Jermaine Dupri's album Life In 1472, 1998; produced five tracks on Jay-Z's album The Blueprint, 2001; produced number-one hits "Stand Up" by Ludacris and "You Don't Know My Name" by Alicia Keys, 2004; released The College Dropout, 2004; released Late Registration, 2005.
Awards: Grammy Awards, Best Rap Album for The College Dropout, Best Rap Song for "Jesus Walks," Best R&B Song for "You Don't Know My Name" (performed by Alicia Keys), 2005; BET Award, Best Male Hip-Hop Artist, 2005; BET Award, Video of the Year, 2005; MTV Video Music Award, Best Male Video for "Jesus Walks," 2005; Grammy Awards, Best Rap Solo Performance for "Gold Digger," Best Rap Song for "Diamonds of Sierra Leone," Best Rap Album for Late Registration, 2006.
Addresses: Record company—Roc-A-Fella Records, 825 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10019. Website—Kanye West Official Website: http://www.kanyewest.com.
Critics and peers fixated on West's mix of popular party music with intelligent, socially aware lyrics. Admirers, including actor/singer Jamie Foxx (who appears on "Slow Jamz") and Darryl McDaniels of the classic rap group Run-D.M.C., declared that The College Dropout had restored their faith in hip-hop. The New York Daily News' Farber called the album "one of the most informed and political rap records since the heyday of Public Enemy and the Jungle Brothers." The song "All Falls Down" questioned materialism in the black community, while "Jesus Walks," which Village Voice critic Hua Hsu called "a desperate masterpiece," stunned listeners with its redemptive message embracing even drug dealers, its ambivalence ("I wanna talk to God but I'm afraid 'cause we ain't spoke in so long," West raps), and its explicit defiance of the conventional wisdom that a song about God would not get played on commercial radio.
Bridged Mainstream and Underground
West eagerly admitted he was mixing two sides of hip-hop: the commercial side, dominated by gangsta rap, and politically aware rappers (who were less numerous and popular at the time than in early hip-hop). "My whole theory of music is message and melody," West told Neil Drumming of Entertainment Weekly. While other political artists are "like cod-liver oil," West said, he promised "cough medicine mixed with Kool-Aid." The New York Daily News' Farber noted a lack of "gangsta clichés" in West's work. "I never killed anybody, so I don't rap about it," he told Farber. "Every song [of mine] is an inspirational song, to make you feel good." To Spin's Chris Ryan, he explained, "I'm one of the only rappers who has both his parents and all his grandparents still alive. My father was a Black Panther. My grandparents were involved in civil-rights marches. So I have a responsibility to reflect them."
Kelefa Sanneh of the New York Times called The College Dropout "2004's first great hip-hop album" and "a concept album about quitting school, a playful collection of party songs, and a 76-minute orgy of nosethumbing." Sanneh wrote that West "taunts everyone who didn't believe in him: teachers, record executives, police officers, even his former boss at the Gap."
West's huge ego, which gave him the confidence to defy hip-hop stereotypes and record the album, became a huge part of his public personality. "I do music for the sake of showing off," he told Ryan of Spin, explaining that he shows off through music like some people flaunt their cars. He complained to interviewers about one review that gave his album a grade of B+. "My CD is so good, people will have to buy second and third copies because other people will be stealing them," he bragged to the New York Daily News' Farber. Sometimes, West's arrogance has alienated people, especially after he walked out of the American Music Awards, furious that he lost the award for Best New Artist to country star Gretchen Wilson.
In early 2005, West won three Grammy awards: Best Rap Album for The College Dropout, Best Rap Song for "Jesus Walks," and Best R&B Song for co-writing Alicia Keys' "You Don't Know My Name." After Dropout's success, West started his own record label called Getting Out Our Dreams (G.O.O.D.), a fashion line named Pastel Clothing, and the Kanye West Foundation, which promotes music education in schools.
West reportedly spent $2,000,000 putting his second album together, breaking his production budget. He surprised many by working with producer Jon Brion, whose previous work had been mostly with alternative singer-songwriters such as Fiona Apple and Aimee Mann. West aimed to have more musicianship on the new album: 40-piece string sets and 30-piece horn sections grace some tracks. Guests on the album included Jay-Z, Foxx, R&B singer Brandy, Adam Levine of the band Maroon 5, and the rapper Nas.
Made Cover of Time
The album, Late Registration, was released in late August of 2005. Distributors shipped 1.6 million copies of it to stores for its release week. It was greeted with rave reviews. Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield gave it five stars, declaring it "an undeniable triumph, packed front to back, so expansive it makes the debut sound like a rough draft." Time dubbed him "the smartest man in pop music" on its cover.
On the album, the song "Gone" is built on an Otis Redding sample and a simple piano melody. The track "Diamonds From Sierra Leone," built on a sample of Shirley Bassey's theme song from the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, protests the sale of "blood diamonds" that profit from conflicts in Africa. "Gold Digger" encourages women to stick with working-class men who are mopping floors and serving French fries. His duet with Nas, "We Major," was considered a highlight, both for the interplay between the two rappers and an exciting moment where the music fades and West starts it up again, convinced the song is so good, it can go on past seven minutes.
Again, music writers noticed a lot of contrast and mixed inspiration in West's work, and he freely admitted it. "I'm pretty calculating," he told Tyrangiel in Time, while standing in a church in Prague, where he was filming the "Diamonds From Sierra Leone" video. "I take stuff that I know appeals to people's bad sides and match it up with stuff that appeals to their good sides." He mentioned lyrics in "Diamonds From Sierra Leone" about a woman that he admitted were "crass," then the lyrics that follow it, about his father baptizing him. "He's trying to change this genre, and in order to do that he's got to get people to listen to his music," Run-D.M.C.'s McDaniels told Time's Tyrangiel. "They've gotten so used to hardness, to stupidity, that if he has to engage in a little of that to be relevant, so be it."
West also displayed his political passions with two benefit performances in the summer of 2005. First, he performed at the Live 8 concert, meant to raise awareness about poverty and debt in the Third World. Then, after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of the United States in late August, West joined the benefit A Concert For Hurricane Relief. It was broadcast on NBC-TV four days after the storm, when the country was still watching terrifying news footage of evacuees stranded and even dying in downtown New Orleans. West criticized the federal government's response to the crisis in remarks carried live on national television. "George Bush doesn't care about black people," he charged, according to the Associated Press, adding that the country is set up "to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off as slow as possible."
As fall of 2005 arrived, critics were writing that West seemed to be trying to personally embody pop music. Clearly eager to break more stereotypes and musical boundaries, West announced he planned to go on tour with rock band U2 and possibly also Coldplay.
Before he could make good on his outlandish touring promises, Grammy season had arrived, and in December of 2005, West and Late Registration were nominated for 10 awards—the most for any artists that year. A bit more humble than usual, West was quoted at the nomination presentations as saying, "Ten nominations … that's amazing. That's like a perfect score. I'm at a loss for words." But as the awards got closer West announced, "If I don't win album of the year, I'm really going to have a problem with that."
When the Grammy Awards aired in February of 2006, West ended up walking away with three awards, including Best Rap Solo Performance for "Gold Digger" and Best Rap Song for "Diamonds of Sierra Leone" and Best Rap Album for Late Registration. At the awards, West's impact was undeniable, as he performed "Gold Digger" live with singer/actor Jamie Foxx and a full marching band by his side. When accepting the award for Album of the Year, Bono, from the winning band U2, singled out West by saying "You're next." West later told MTV.com that he was more proud of his performance at the awards than the awards themselves, and that he wasn't disappointed that he lost out to U2. "I would have been more disappointed if I didn't have a good performance and I had won Album of the Year. The performance, that's what it's about, the entertainment and people having a good time." He continued by saying, "The first thing I thought is, 'Let's go back to the studio, let's go.' It's good for me, I'm happy, because I have accomplished so much in the last two years, all the way from running the [G.O.O.D.] label to being the artist that you [go to when you] run out of things to do. So now it's like, 'OK, we didn't get the Album of the Year. Let's go [try again].' John Legend, Jon Brion, anyone named John, let's go."
The College Dropout, Roc-A-Fella/Island Def Jam Records, 2004.
Late Registration, Roc-A-Fella/Island Def Jam Records, 2005.
Associated Press, September 3, 2005.
Chicago Tribune, February 11, 2004.
Detroit Free Press, August 28, 2005, p. 2E.
Entertainment Weekly, February 27, 2004, pp. 64-65.
New York Daily News, January 27, 2004.
New York Times, February 9, 2004.
Rolling Stone, September 8, 2005, pp. 109-10.
Spin, February 9, 2004.
Time, August 29, 2005, pp. 54-61.
Village Voice, April 7, 2004.
"Kanye Explains Why He Didn't Freak Out About Losing to U2," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1524093/20060209/story.jhtml (March 31, 2006).
"Kanye West," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (August 21, 2005).
"Kanye West Leads Grammy Nominations," CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2004/SHOWBIZ/Music/12/07/grammy.noms/ (December 7, 2005).
"Roc-A-Fella Records Artist Kanye West," Roc-A-Fella Records, http://www.rocafella.com/Artist.aspx?v=bio&key=7 (August 21, 2005).
"West, Kanye." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 12, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/west-kanye
"West, Kanye." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/west-kanye
June 8, 1977 • Atlanta, Georgia
Hip-hop artist, music producer
Kanye West is a quadruple threat: producer, rapper, songwriter, and record executive. His albums have sold millions; his lyrics are sung by renowned recording artists including Brandy, Usher, and Alicia Keys. In 2005, West was named to Time magazine's list of One Hundred Most Influential People in the World. He was in good company, with a peer group that included talk show host Oprah Winfrey (1954–), actor Jamie Foxx (1967–; see entry), and actor Clint Eastwood (1930–). West's lyrics have been criticized for encouraging children and young adults to drop out of school, an allegation he claims is based on a misunderstanding. His newest album, Late Registration, was released in August 2005.
Southern born, Chicago raised
Kanye (Swahili [African] for "only one") West was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 8, 1977. His parents divorced when West was three. He was raised on Chicago's South Side by his mother, an English professor, and spent summers with his father, an award-winning photographer who became a church counselor.
West graduated from Polaris High School and completed one year of art school at Chicago State University. He explained his decision to drop out of school to Kimberly Davis in a 2004 interview with Ebony magazine. "I dropped out of school because I wasn't learning fast enough.... I learned from real life better." Real life at that time included rapping and working with local artists. West felt it was time to pursue his music career full time, so he moved to New York in 2001. His mixes and beats were getting him a reputation as a man who knew his jams. Respected rapper Jay-Z (1969–) hired him to produce songs for his 2001 album The Blueprint. Sales of that album exceeded 420,000 in the first week alone. West went on to produce for a handful of stars including rapper Ludacris and singer Beyonce. He was doing well, making a name for himself. But he wanted more.
"My [future] is in God's hands. If He wants me to make another album, then He'll give me the inspiration to do so. I can't force it."
Releases College Dropout
While acting as producer to the stars, West cut his own demo (a recording that gives listeners an idea of the style and ability of the musician) and began shopping it around. Despite his solid reputation, no one returned his calls. Then in 2002, Roc-A-Fella Records, the label that signed Jay-Z, decided to give West a chance as a rapper. The company already knew he was a talented record producer. West signed a record deal that year and began recording in the studio.
On the way home from a recording session in Los Angeles, West fell asleep at the wheel and was involved in a head-on car collision that left him with a broken face and fractured jaw. The artist nearly died in the crash. He endured months of recovery, including reconstructive surgery that left his jaw wired shut. That didn't stop West from moving forward with the album. He explained the ordeal to Ebony magazine: "I feel like the album was my medicine. It would take my mind away from the pain— away from the dental appointments, from my teeth killing me, from my mouth being wired shut, from the fact that I looked like I just fought [boxer] Mike Tyson.... I nearly died. That's the best thing that can happen to a rapper."
So with his jaw wired shut, West returned to the recording studio to sing on a regular basis until he was satisfied with his debut release. One song in particular, "Through the Wire," was the first track of several singles on The College Dropout to become a raging hit. The song chronicles West's ordeal. The album itself, which was released in 2004, went multiplatinum, selling 2.6 million copies. "The best thing is being able to get my creative ideas out," West told Ebony. "That's why I rap in the first place—so my voice can be heard."
The College Dropout was hailed as one of the best albums of the year. Critics praised West for taking hip-hop in a new direction. Songs on the album focus on walking with God while trying to "be real," and the producer/rapper says it all with a gospel choir backing him up. Hip-hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari worked with West on the album. Ben-Ari told Ebony, "He has a vision for things, for example, to bring live instrumentalists back to the game and create music like they did back in the day. Kanye is very open to new things; he is not afraid to think differently, to take a chance and to say his thoughts out loud."
An interview on UniversalUrban.com called West "one of a precious few rappers with actually something to say in his songs." West admits to writing lyrics on topics that aren't usually covered in rap music. "It's like if you wanna rap like Jay [Jay-Z], it's hard to rap like Jay and not rap about what Jay is rapping about," he told UniversalUrban. "Once I found out exactly how to rap about drugs and exactly how to rap about say no to drugs, I knew that I could fill the exact medium between that. Just think about whatever you've been through in the past week, and I have a song about that on my album."
Jay-Z, Jiggy, Jigga: A Star by Any Name
Jay-Z was born Shawn Carter on December 4, 1969. The Brooklyn-born boy was nicknamed Jazzy, which got shortened to the now-famous Jay-Z, which sometimes gets changed to Jiggy or Jigga. He is a man of many names and even more talent.
Jay-Z grew up in the dangerous Marcy Projects of Brooklyn. Before he hit his teens, Jay-Z's father left the family. Without a figurehead to support the family, Jay-Z hit the streets to find a way to support himself. He turned to selling drugs, a theme that makes its way into many of his songs. Jay-Z yearned to break into the rap industry and kept company with Big Jaz, a rapper with a record deal. Big Jaz taught the fledgling rapper the ins and outs of the music industry. Jay-Z got tired of waiting for someone to recognize his talent, so he made a bold move and established his own record company. With friends Damon Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke, he founded Roc-A-Fella Records, and in 1996 he released his debut album, Reasonable Doubt.
The album was unimpressive in terms of sales; it never got past number twenty-three on Billboard's album chart. But it is considered a classic among rap fans, and many call it his best work. The album spawned four hit singles, including "Feelin' It" and "Can't Knock the Hustle." Listeners of the album were rewarded with the sounds of R&B singer Mary J. Blige and rapper Notorious B.I.G. as well.
Jay-Z followed his debut with the 1997 release of In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. The album reached the number three spot on the charts and included contributions from rapper Puff Daddy and R&B singer/songwriter Teddy Riley. Unlike Reasonable Doubt, this album moved beyond the gangsta rap sound to appeal to the pop rap listening audience. Singles like "This City Is Mine" helped Jay-Z branch out and get airplay, which helped sales of the album.Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life followed the pop rap trend. The 1998 release contained radio-ready singles such as "Hard Knock Life" and "Can I Get A ..." The album increased his airtime as well as his popularity. Jay-Z had six singles off that one release.
Vol. 3: Life and Times of S. Carter was released in 1999. Nearly every single on this album featured a guest vocalist. The album was a huge hit among fans. Jay-Z began working with new producers for his next album, Dynasty Roc la Familia. The 2000 release included the Neptune's-produced single, "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)."
The Blueprint was released in 2001, with producer/rapper Kanye West at the helm. Unlike his other albums, this one was mainly a solo effort. Many critics and fans consider The Blueprint to be Jay-Z's finest album. It featured one of the year's biggest hit single, "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)." The album helped West's career as well, cementing his reputation in the rap industry.
Jay-Z collaborated with the Roots for his Unplugged album in 2001. R. Kelly teamed up with the rapper for the 2002 album, Best of Both Worlds. That same year, Jay-Z released The Blueprint 2: The Gift and the Curse. In 2003, the rapper announced his retirement but promised one more album. That promise was fulfilled with the 2003 release of The Black Album, which claimed the number one spot on Billboard's album chart.
Although he is officially retired from the recording business, Jay-Z is far from done. He continues to make guest appearances on television music shows. In late July 2005 he appeared on Jay-Z Live@Much. The show was the latest in a series presented by MuchMusic, a Canadian music network. Jay-Z was joined by other Roc-A-Fella recording artists including Kanye West and pop-rock singing sensation Rihanna. Guests on the show performed a song or two and then sat for questions from the studio audience as well as callers who were watching the show on television. As co-owner of the Roc-A-Fella empire, Jay-Z is kept busy with Rocawear, the company's clothing line and Roc-A-Fella films. He is co-owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team as well as a New York sports bar called 40/40 Club. He is the first nonathlete to have a signature line of Reebok sneakers, called the S. Carter Collection. His shoe is the fastest-selling sneaker in Reebok's history.
Rewarded for his originality
West won four Billboard Music Awards in 2004: Male New Artist of the Year, New R&B/Hip-Hop Artist of the Year, R&B/ Hip-Hop Producer of the Year, and Rap Artist of the Year.
West's debut album won Best Rap Album at the forty-seventh annual Grammy Awards in February 2005. The single "Jesus Walks" won Best Rap Song. And though he was nominated for Best New Artist, he lost to the pop/rock group Maroon 5 (see entry). Altogether, West enjoyed ten Grammy nominations that year, either as producer or recording artist. He was not ignored for the Black Entertainment Television (BET) Awards, either. In fact, West walked away a double winner from the fifth annual awards in June 2005. He won Best Male Hip-Hop Artist and Video of the Year, for "Jesus Walks." West produced three different videos for that one song.
The popularity of even that one single ("Jesus Walks") is proof that West has found a niche for his gospel/rap/hip-hop/ R&B style of music. But his tunes aren't without their critics. Barbara Kiviat of Time magazine asked the singer about the contradiction between the religious undertones of "Jesus Walks" and the profanity on the rest of The College Dropout. "Contradiction is part of who I am. I am a real person, and I make my mistakes and I laugh and I cry and I smile and I hate and I love," West replied. He also explained his commentary on college, which some critics say encourages kids to drop out. "People try to make it seem like if you go to college and you get all A's, that you'll move to the suburbs, have 2.5 kids and live happily ever after. But in many cases life just doesn't work like that.... What I'm saying is, Make your own decision."
On July 2, thousands of recording artists donated their time and talent to Live 8, a concert held in ten cities and four continents across the globe. The mission of this free concert was to pressure political leaders into committing themselves to ending poverty in Africa. The concert was considered a huge success by all participants and its organizer, Bob Geldof (1954–).
West performed in Live 8 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, despite being threatened with a lawsuit if he did. The rapper told MTV News, "We had to go through a lot be here today. I had another performance and they're like, 'There's no way you can be here—you'll get sued if you go to this."' West took the chance because he felt it was the least he could do to help out. "I would rather take that chance because it's important for my people," he told MTV.
As if life wasn't already busy enough, West has begun plans for his own line of clothing and sneakers, tentatively called Pastel and Mascott, respectively. A self-proclaimed fashion lover, the business mogul claims to have been compared to Carlton, the preppy and polite character from the television sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."
West established his own record label as well. G.O.O.D. (Getting Out Our Dreams) has already signed and released an album by John Legend (1979–), the label's first artist. West's second album, Late Registration, was released in August 2005. This was his first album made with his new production partner, film composer/musician/ songwriter Jon Brion. His contributions to the album include playing guitar and keyboards as well as helping with song composition. The partnership surprised people in the music industry. Brion is best known for his orchestral arrangements for female artists Aimee Mann (1960–) and Fiona Apple (1977–). Other recording artists who collaborated with West on Late Registration include Jay-Z, Maroon 5's Adam Levine (1979–), and Brandy (1979–).
West's first single from the album, "Diamonds from Sierra Leone," received high marks from music critics. West wasn't so sure. The twenty eight year old told Teen People, "It's hard when people are depending on you to have an album that's not just good, but inspired.... I want my songs to touch people, to give them what they need. Every time I make an album, I'm trying to make a cure for cancer, musically. That stresses me out!"
West worked with award-winning video director Hype Williams to produce a video for "Diamonds." The singer used the video to raise awareness of the so-called "blood diamond" trade of Sierra Leone. Millions of Africans have lost their lives to the mining of these diamonds. The video positions the glamorous life depicted in a modern diamond commercial against the images of the brutal blood diamond trade. "I wanted to do whatever I could to learn more and educate people about the problem," West told Business Wire.
The song's lyrics speak for themselves:
Though it's thousands of miles away, Sierra Leone connect to what we go through today
Over here it's the drug trade, we die from drugs. Over there, they die from what we buy from drugs
The Diamonds. The chains, the bracelets, the charms is
I thought my Jesus piece was so harmless, till I seen a picture of a shorty armless, and here's the conflict
It's in the black person's soul, to rock that gold.
For More Information
Christian, Margena A. "Why everybody is talking about producer-turned-rapper Kanye West." Jet (January 31, 2005).
Davis, Kimberly. "Kanye West hip-hop's new big shot: talks about his next surprising moves and why marriage is the key to life." Ebony (April 2005).
Davis, Kimberly. "The many faces of Kanye West: producer-turned-hit rapper takes hip-hop in new direction." Ebony (June 2004).
Foxx, Jamie. "Kanye West: in just a few short years, he has emerged as one of music's premiere behind-the-scenes hitmakers. But it took a near-fatal crash—and one of the year's most inventive songs—for him to take center stage." Interview (August 2004).
"Kanye's Next Move." Rolling Stone (August 11, 2005): p. 16.
Kiviat, Barbara. "Ten Questions for Kanye West." Time (December 20, 2004).
"Throw Your Diamonds in the Sky: Kanye West Returns with Epic New Video 'Diamonds from Sierra Leone'; Hype Williams-Directed Video Set to Air This Week as Hot New Remix Feat. Jay-Z Blasts off at Radio." Business Wire (June 15, 2005).
Birchmeier, Jason. "Jay-Z." MTV.com. http://www.mtv.com/bands/az/jay_z/bio.jhtml (accessed on August 9, 2005).
"Kanye West: Biography." VH1.com. http://www.vh1.com/artists/az/west_kanye/bio.jhtml (accessed on August 9, 2005).
"Kanye West in Legal Battle to Appear at Live 8." Femalefirst (July 4, 2005). http://www.femalefirst.co.uk/entertainment/69392004.htm (accessed on August 9, 2005).
"West, Kanye." UXL Newsmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 12, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/general/culture-magazines/west-kanye
"West, Kanye." UXL Newsmakers. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/general/culture-magazines/west-kanye