West was born in Atlanta, Georgia where he lived with both of his parents. When he was three years old (as mentioned in “Hey Mama”) his parents divorced, and he and his mother moved to Chicago, Illinois. His father was Ray West, a former Black Panther who was one of the first black photojournalists at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and is now a Christian counselor. Kanye’s late mother, Dr. Donda West, worked as a Professor of English at Clark Atlanta University, and the Chair of the English Department at Chicago State University before retiring to serve as Kanye’s manager. He was later raised in an upper middle class background, attending Polaris High School in suburban Oak Lawn, Illinois after living in Chicago.
After attending The American Academy of Art, a Chicago art school, West attended Chicago State University but eventually dropped out due to poor grades and in order to continue working on his music career. While attending school, West produced for local artists, including on rapper Grav’s debut album ‘Down to Earth’. He later gained fame by producing hit singles for major hip hop/R&B artists, including Jay-Z, Talib Kweli, Cam’ron, Paul Wall, Common, Mobb Deep, Jermaine Dupri, Scarface, The Game, Alicia Keys, Janet Jackson and John Legend among others. He also “ghost-produced” for his once mentor Deric Angelettie according to his song “Last Call” and the credits of Nas’ “Poppa Was a Playa.”
West’s style of production often utilizes pitched-up vocal samples, usually from soul songs, with his own drums and instruments. The first major label song he produced was The Truth by Beanie Sigel, and his first major release featuring his trademark vocal sampling style was “This Can’t Be Life,” a track from Jay-Z’s The Dynasty: Roc La Familia. West said he sped up the drum beat of Dr. Dre’s “Xxplosive” to use as a replacement for his drums on “This Can’t Be Life.”
West has said that Wu-Tang Clan producer RZA influenced him in his style, and has said on numerous occasions that Wu-Tang rappers Ghostface Killah and Ol’ Dirty Bastard were some of his all-time favorites. Said by Kanye West: “Wu-Tang? Me and my friends talk about this all the time… We think Wu-Tang had one of the biggest impacts as far as a movement. From slang to style of dress, skits, the samples. Similar to the [production] style I use, RZA has been doing that.”
Kanye West recently won 4 Grammy Awards for his album Graduation. He performed his hit song “Stronger” at the 2008 Grammys and a new lyrical version of “Hey Mama” as a tribute to his mother’s death in 2007.