Kanye West: How the Rapper Grew From 'Dropout' to 'Yeezus'

Kanye 2013

Marco Cibola

The college dropout is now an icon. Read up on Kanye's musical journey to "Yeezus."

"My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" (released Nov. 22, 2010 through Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)

After a self-imposed exile, following his notorious interruption of Taylor Swift’s MTV VMAs acceptance speech in 2009 – which prompted President Barack Obama to call him a “jackass” -- West recorded his most critically acclaimed album yet: “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.”

“MBDTF” featured a who’s who of guests; Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Fergie, Elton John, Bon Iver and a host of others played roles in the effort. Still, Kanye led the way. Though he raps for the majority of the album, the set is a masterfully created amalgam of all of the skills West had picked up throughout his career. Several tracks sample from classic records of yesteryear. He sings on numerous songs, including standout single “Runaway.” And on the effort’s biggest single “All of the Lights” (No. 18 on the Hot 100), the content revolves around grim topics like domestic violence and the pitfalls of not being a supportive father.

Overall, “Twisted Fantasy” is a gloomy album. Race relations, societal injustices and relationship woes dominate its content. That paired with the fact that West’s image had yet to fully recover from the Swift incident, made this his lowest selling solo album. Fortunately for Kanye, “low” is 1.3 million albums sold.

“Yeezus” (out June 18, 2013 through Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)

Points about society’s ills and West’s shortcomings are no longer undercut by witty quips on “Yeezus.” “Songs like “Black Skinhead,” “New Slaves,” “I Am a God” are swigs of dark liquor with no chaser in site. Sonically, only two tracks (one of which is closer “Bound 2”) resemble the soul-sampling Kanye of yore. The remaining eight smack of new wave, punk, and dance. With Rick Rubin executive producing and Daft Punk also assisting with this set, West has clearly put a great deal of work into ensuring its quality. But he certainly is not pandering for album sales or even to be appreciated for anything other than being an artist. Not one song here pleads or screams “hit single.” 

Really though, they don’t have to. Without a conventional album rollout (no singles have been released ahead of its June 18 release) and only one major interview to his credit, “Yeezus” aims to be West's most experimental and polarizing album yet.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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