Kanye West's talent as a rapper and producer has won him fans and critical acclaim for over a decade, and his controversial life offstage has only cemented his icon status. Between the Twitter rants, paparazzi lawsuits, and fathering a child with one of the most ostentatiously public families in America, you might be up to speed on all things Kanye. Well... almost all things Kanye.
In anticipation of the Yeezus Tour kickoff this weekend, we rounded up seven little-known facts about Mr. West.
Kanye’s debut single "Through the Wire" captivated new fans who hadn’t been poring over The Blueprint liner notes. But the song—and its equally innovative video—almost didn't make it on air.
Chaka Khan initially refused to grant Kanye permission to use the pitched-up sample of her vocals from "Through the Fire" on College Dropout. As the video's co-director Coodie Simmons told ESPN.com, a Sunday barbecue at Coodie's house changed hip-hop history:
"Kanye brought Chaka Khan's son and I was like, 'We've got to shoot this video,' so we showed him the "Through The Wire" video. He was like, 'Aw man, I've got to show my mom this and tell her we're trying to get this done.' And I would say about two weeks later, she cleared the sample."
Kanye once told will.i.am that "the only albums that I listened to were yours, System of a Down and Fiona Apple," and 'Ye got the chance to gush to Apple when the two spoke for an Interview magazine piece in 2005.
Yeezy told Apple she was "possibly [his] favorite" and that the lyrics and singing on her debut Tidal made him want to work with producer Jon Brion "so I could be like the rap version of you." West went so far as to say "I hold you higher than Lauryn Hill in my eyes," and the singer-songwriter thanked him for even comparing her to Hill.
Both West and Apple have recently made headlines (again) for their unguarded speech and public displays of emotion. We'd love to hear the two artists discuss feeling misrepresented by the media in a new interview—or better yet, collaborate on a song about it.
Kanye made his first beat in seventh grade for a video game he attempted to program himself—a "very sexual" game, he told Details magazine. "The main character was, like, a giant penis," he explained. "It was like Mario Brothers, but the ghosts were, like, vaginas." Sadly, it seems the project was abandoned due to the labor-intensive process. "[It] literally took me all night to do a step, 'cause the penis, y'know, had little feet and eyes."
West should consider reviving this idea, which has enormous potential as an iPhone app (granted, one don't want to be caught playing on the bus) or a video game to corner the market Leisure Suit Larry has yet to reclaim.
On the night of the infamous Taylor Swift Gate VMAs incident in 2009, Mos Def visited Kanye. "You can't make it in America right now," Mos told 'Ye, advising him to leave the country. West took his advice, escaping to Japan, then Rome, before finally moving to Hawaii for 6 months to start working on music again.
In addition to avoiding the VMAs backlash (when Katy Perry likens your behavior to stepping on a kitten it's time to lay low), 'Ye was able to slow down and spend time reflecting. "It was the first time I got to stop, since my mom had passed, because I never stopped and never tried to even soak in what all had happened," he later told Ellen Degeneres. Plus he got to do fun stuff like intern at Fendi.
As Kanye explains in this clip from Ice-T's Art of Rap documentary, the lyrics on his first four albums were "from the head straight to the booth." He revised his method while recording MBDTF because "I felt like my life was dependent on the success of this album." Not every artist writes lyrics down before they record, but it's surprising that a notorious perfectionist like West previously took such an impromptu approach.
The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director visited the studio on the same the day West was recording "Diamonds From Sierra Leone," producer Jon Brion told MTV. In addition to playing drums on the Grammy-winning song, Gondry's more famous Late Registration contribution is the video for "Heard 'Em Say" featuring Adam Levine.
No I.D. (born Dion Ernest Wilson) is a veteran hip hop producer and current VP at Def Jam. He's also the man who taught Kanye how to produce beats and gave him his start in the music business—all because their moms forced the two to hang out.
Donda West taught with No I.D.'s mother in Chicago, and she approached the producer herself: "'Can your son meet my son and teach him how to do music? He's trying to do music...'" Kanye said, mimicking his mom. "I'm like 19 years old and she's talking about a 14 year old, I'm like [shakes head]."
No I.D.'s mother convinced him to meet this "energetic" kid, and the lessons paid off: "At first it was just like, 'Alright man take this, learn this, go, git git git.' But eventually he started getting good and then I started managing him." West's subsequent success only bolstered No I.D.'s reputation outside of Chicago—a powerful lesson in why you should probably listen to your mother.