Exclusive: Kanye West is never one to stick with one style forever. HipHopDX's Sparkle Pratt and Jocelyn Valencia details Yeezus' journey through his music.
By Sparkle Pratt and Jocelyn Valencia
In 2002, Kanye West got into a near fatal car accident that left him with his jaw wired shut. For most, this would put their dreams on hold but not Kanye. He was inspired to create his hit single “Through The Wire” two weeks later while his jaw was still wired shut. The song, released in November 2003, would go on to become one of Kanye’s most prominent singles.
Well, the only thing this accident's saying is, "I am about to hand you the world, just know at any given time I can take it away from you." To nearly lose your life, to nearly lose your mouth, your voice, your whole face, as a rapper...and I had to be on TV! My face looks crazy to me now... But I have to just thank God for the situation that I am in... "Through The Wire" is the worst thing that could've possibly happen to me, and now it's obviously the best thing. Look how it exploded. — K. West
Kanye West, we feel your pain, but this hasn’t been the only moment in your life that has influenced your work. Let’s take a look at six other moments in Kanye's career that have influenced his style.
The Jay Z Era
Kanye West started producing records in the late '90s, but it wasn’t until 2000 when he got his big break producing for artists on Roc-A-Fella Records. Many don’t know that Kanye produced Jay Z’s “Izzo” in 2001, and Ye is often credited for helping Jay Z revitalize his career with his contributions to The Blueprint. From this point on, we see Kanye and Jay Z form a sort of bro-ship. With Kanye’s career taking off as a producer, he then pursues his true aspiration to becoming a rapper and after releasing his first album, The College Dropout, Kanye would be known as a viable producer and rapper. It’s no doubt that Jay Z had an obvious influence on Kanye and he made that clear when he released “Big Brother” in 2007, a tribute to Jay Z. Check out this live performance on 106 & Park when Kanye performed "Big Brother" and was joined on stage by Jay Z for a short performance of his song "Encore" which Kanye himself produced.
Passion For Fashion
This Louis Vuitton Don has arguably made his presence in the fashion industry. In 2005, Ye announced that he would release his Pastelle Clothing line in Spring 2006 stating,
"Now that I have a Grammy under my belt and Late Registration is finished, I am ready to launch my clothing line next Spring."
In his hit “Stronger” he hinted at his line in the lyrics,
So go ahead, go nuts, go ape shit
Especially in my Pastelle and my Bape shit
Act like you can’t tell who made this
Some believe that Kanye’s fascination with fashion came out of nowhere, but Ye is no stranger to the fashion world. In January 2012, Kanye took to Twitter to have one of his many rants about life as a fashion intern, his mom’s influence and his plans for his new company.
To begging Bape to do my line and never making any real headway… To having an office in LA that was shut down after the “MTV” moment along with my tour with GAGA. I moved to Japan for one month after that and designed every night in my room… I had this opportunity to intern at Fendi and was also offered a position to at Versace which I could not take due to my contract with LV which was for 2 years. I moved to Rome after I left Japan and worked at Fendi for 4 months under cover … I was there to give ideas for the men’s collection. I snuck to Giuseppe Zanotti Factory still under contract and learned to design women's shoes for 2 years before my first show in Paris. After doing the first LV collection I was sure I would get a second shot to create but was never given the opportunity — K. West
There are many sides to Kanye that no one knows. Around this same time, Kanye’s music changed direction with more of an electronic '80s feel to it, probably from all of his time spent in Europe. He started to incorporate the synthesizer, experimented with electronic music and slowed down the tempo to his productions.
In 2007, Kanye dropped the lead single from his album Graduation, sampling "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" by French house duo Daft Punk. This would be the beginning of many rappers incorporating house and electronica elements into their music. This also lead to a more artistic side of Kanye West visually.
As a producer, Kanye obviously has an ear for beats. As a fashion designer, Kanye portrays his passion by starting from square one. Kanye as an art connoisseur can be seen in all his visuals as well as his album art. In 2007, Kanye teamed up with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami for the cover of his Graduation album. Murakami spoke on working with Kanye saying,
“It was difficult...because every week, Kanye has new ideas — changing, changing, changing.”
His artistic vision didn’t stop there. In 2010, Kanye West began adding a little more artistic elements into his videos.
Kanye’s “Power” video collaboration with director Marco Brambilla shows just how creative the artist could be. The video infused cultural references from the Renaissance period to Greek mythology, and as Brambilla puts it, “it’s kind of apocalyptic, in a very personal way," and that "it’s a very exaggerated hyper-sensational version of what the song is saying.” The “moving painting” — as Kanye calls it — was to serve as a teaser video for a longer video, but it never got to see the light of day. Maybe on the five-year anniversary of the video release, Kanye can surprise us with the unseen footage.
In October 2010, Kanye released his self-directed musical short film Runaway written by Hype Williams. The film, which depicted a romantic relationship between a man and a half-woman-half-phoenix, serves as the music video for Kanye’s entire My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album.
The Great Depression
Even with all of the glitz and the glam, everything hasn’t been peachy keen for Kanye. He has had many trials and tribulations in his life that have also affected his music drastically. A year before he released his 2008 808’s & Heartbreak album, Kanye’s mother, Donda West, passed away due to complications from her cosmetic surgery. He didn’t open up about his mother’s passing until a press conference in New Zealand in 2008 saying, "It was like losing an arm and a leg and trying to walk through that." He also wrote about her in his single “Coldest Winter,” which was a sort of farewell to two important women in his life, his mom and designer Alexis Phifer. Shortly after Kanye’s mom passed, he and his girlfriend Alexis of six years (two of which they were engaged) broke up.
Around this time we also see a change in West's music with the use of heavy Auto-Tune throughout the whole 808’s & Heartbreak album. It’s not the first time Kanye used Auto-Tune, but it’s the first time he used it throughout an entire project. It seemed to help Kanye express his feelings more and create a different tone for the album.
Kanye is no stranger to singing about his relationships though. After his breakup with Alexis, he began dating model Amber Rose from 2008 until the Summer of 2010. It's rumored that Kanye’s songs “Devil In A New Dress” and “Blame Game” were about her. In 2011, Kim Kardashian — Kanye’s now current wife — married NBA player Kris Humphries. In response to that, Kanye mentions Kim in his song “Cold” (originally known as “Theraflu”).
And I’ll admit, I had fell in love with Kim
Around the same time she had fell in love with him.
In April of 2012, Kanye officially began dating Kim after her marriage of 72 days with Kris came to an end. They are now married and have a baby girl, North West. Kanye sure did speak this into existence.
Reunited And It Feels So Good
After Kanye had his momentum to stand out and shine independently, he reunited and collaborated with his “big brother” Jay Z to release Watch The Throne in 2011. It was originally set to be a five-song EP, but the two brilliant minds ended up pumping out a full-length album. For this album, Kanye used unconventional samples and incorporated orchestral and progressive Rock into his sound. Looks like Kanye might have gotten out of his funk while creating this one.
"Niggas In Paris"
One of the hit singles off Watch The Throne, “Niggas in Paris” charted at Number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. In an interview with XXL, he revealed that the song was inspired by his travels in Paris:
I am where art meets commercial. The sweet spot between the hood and Hollywood. Having a conversation with Karl Lagerfeld and Jay-Z within the same hour. When we're in Paris dressing all crazy at fashion shows, we listening to Jay-Z. Jeezy in Paris, that's what it is.
From October 2011 to June 2012, Kanye and Jay Z went on their successful Watch The Throne Tour, which you can see footage from in the “Niggas in Paris” video above.
Let Your Freak Flag Fly
At this point in Kanye’s life, he was a self-proclaimed “creative genius,” as he publicly coined himself on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
“To me, I’m a creative genius, there’s no other way to word it. You’re not supposed to say that about yourself, and I say things the wrong way a lot of times, but my intention is always positive." — K. West
Kanye West no doubt became influential in the music industry. In 2013, he dropped his sixth studio album Yeezus. The album tries a completely different dark sound, combining elements of Chicago Drill, Dancehall, Acid House, and Industrial music. One of the album's cuts “Black Skinhead” has been described as a “galloping punk-rap manifesto" by Entertainment Weekly and “the third best song of 2013” by Rolling Stone, adding “Ye rapping rabid over an industrial glitter-rock stomp pumped with heavy breathing and Tarzan screams. Next time someone says America is post-race, play 'em this, and watch their head explode.”
In the sexually charged video for Yeezus' second single “Bound 2,” we see Kanye riding along into sunset with his now wife Kim Kardashian as he sings about falling in love. This song didn’t have the same electronic influences like the rest of Yeezus, rather it carried more of a soulful sound like his earlier work. Could the love of his life Kim be bringing back the old Kanye?
We recently got a snippet of a new Kanye track called "Black Bruce Wayne" that someone reportedly paid $500 for. We aren’t sure if it will be on his upcoming project, but still dope nonetheless.
Now that he has tied the knot and has reached fatherhood, do you think his style will change drastically again?