Kanye West

Kanye West

At the onset, Kanye West had a solid reputation as a behind-the-scenes guy in the hip-hop world, winning plaudits for his production of Jay-Z, Common, and Talib Kwebi. But his own rapping style -- a mix of self-conscious indecision and a full embrace of the ego-stroking elements of hip-hop -- and the diverse beats that followed were overlooked by many executives, who mostly saw the insecurity and the fact that West hailed from Chicago, which had put out little in the way of successful hip-hop. Said executives were, of course, wrong. The College Dropout (2004) turned into one of the more critically and commercially successful debut hip-hop albums of the decade. Critics loved the self-awareness, and gossip rags loved West's tendency to run his mouth.

The release of Late Registration (2005), a step up from West's debut and still probably his most beloved album, was overshadowed by his unscripted comment at a nationally televised post-Hurricane Katrina benefit for New Orleans that "George Bush doesn't give f*ck about black people." The heavily indie-rock influenced Graduation (2007) was well-received, if not with the same enthusiasm as West's first two records. And 808's and Heartbreak (2008), an open experimentation with Auto-Tune, was heavily debated for the new medium's artistic merit.

By now West's tendency to write screeds in all caps on his website against anyone he saw as his detractor became a source of mockery, leading to fantastically celebrated spoofs by both Stephen Colbert and South Park. His egomaniacal reputation reached a boiling point at the 2009 MTV VMA Awards, when West stormed the stage of Taylor's Swift's acceptance speech to dispute Swift's victory over Beyone with his famous "Imma let you finish" speech. (This despite the fact that, much like with his speech after Katrina, audiences generally agreed with him.) ~Ethan Stanislawski


Photo Credit: Chris Owyoung/

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