Yeezy Yeezy Yeezy. An icon of contemporary music, The Guardian once called him the David Bowie of “modern mainstream” music. Not without his flaws, Kanye is a living embodiment of the modern day celebrity and lives his life as one large performance piece, with his heart hanging out on his sleeve. Here are 42 of the craziest facts about the controversial musical genius.
42. Stuntman Suit
After coming across the video for Kanye’s hit “Touch The Sky,” Evel Knievel sued the artist for the use of his image because in the video, West dons the persona “Evel Kanyevel.” While originally upset with the use of his name, Knievel decided to drop the lawsuit and settle it in a friendly manner after meeting with Kanye. Knievel was actually quite fond of Kanye, saying that he “thought he was a wonderful guy and quite a gentleman.”
41. Flee the Country
One of Kanye’s most infamous moments was his MTV VMA interruption of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech. After this incident, Kanye became a pariah, and fellow rapper Mos Def advised him to leave the United States and settle somewhere else to clear his head and get away from the media. Kanye followed the advice, traveling around the world before finally settling in Hawaii, where he would go on to record his magnum opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
40. Outspoken Kanye
Kanye founded the Kanye West Foundation with his mother in 2003, and to this day continues to provide philanthropic support to low-income communities throughout the United States. Although, many people would consider his most famous community service effort to be the time he said “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” on live TV during the benefit concert for Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
39. Streaming Success
Kanye West holds the digital age distinction of being the first artist to go platinum strictly from streaming, with the release of his album The Life of Pablo.
38. Distinguished Artist
Given his rants, it might be a surprise to find out that Kanye West has won 21 Grammy awards from 68 Grammy nominations, making him the eleventh most awarded musical artist in Grammy history.
Kanye West’s creative agency company is named DONDA, after his mother. The company was a dream come true for him, and he decided to name it in honor of his mother, who tragically passed away from complications following plastic surgery in 2007. Kanye’s life spiraled after his mother died, culminating is him breaking down live on stage during a performance in Paris.
36. New Law
Due to the death of Donda West, California passed into legislation the “Donda West Law.” This law was signed in by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and made medical clearance mandatory for all cosmetic surgery procedures.
35. Conception and Consummation
When Kim and Kanye had to make a decision about where their marriage should be, it was an easy one: Florence, Italy. What made it such an easy decision was that Florence was where they conceived their first child, North.
34. The Bear
Ever wondered if Kanye gave a name to the bear that was the mascot for his first three albums? Well, of course, he did! The bear’s name is Dropout.
33. Extravagant Fish
The first extravagant gift that West rewarded himself with after The College Dropout became a hit was a giant aquarium. The aquarium was from the 18th century and included a golden cherub fountain resting on a marble base, filled with 30 koi fish.
Though he counts Chicago as his hometown, Kanye Omari West was actually born in Atlanta and spent the first three years of his life there, before moving to Chicago with his mother.
31. Net Worth
Kanye is estimated to be worth $145 million
30. What’s Your Opinion
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the stuff of hip-hop folklore by now, but its creative process was one of wide-spread collaboration. When food delivery men would show up to the studio, West would often play them some tracks and ask for their opinion.
29. Sense of Humor
Kanye knew he was creating a meme-in-the-making when he filmed the music video for his song “Bound 2” in 2013, and when he saw what Seth Rogen and James Franco did with their spoof, he invited them to perform their comedic take on it at his wedding to Kim Kardashian.
28. Not The Best Idea
After some reflection, everyone involved realized that it was simply too ridiculous of an idea, and they sadly did not perform their take on the video at the West-Kardashian wedding.
27. Surprise Drummer
During an impromptu trip to visit Kanye in the studio, famed film and music video director Michel Gondry somehow ended up playing drums on the track “Diamonds from Sierra Leone.” The two would collaborate again in the future, as Gondry would go on to direct the video from Kanye’s song “Heard ‘Em Say.”
26. Mistaken Identity
Kanye was once arrested for stealing printers from a location of the now-defunct Office Max chain. Kanye claims that he was racially profiled in 2000 and arrested for the felony of stealing the printers because he was a black man with braids and a white t-shirt. The police report was even doctored by the police to fit the description of Kanye, who was, by then, already a successful producer.
25. The Only One
Let’s admit it. Kanye is a pretty good name. Credit goes not just to his parents, but to the Swahili language, which the name comes from, meaning “the only one.” His middle name Omari is also Swahili, meaning “God the highest.”
24. Beat Breaks
The first beat that Kanye successfully sold was for $8,000 to Gravity, a Chicago rapper. Shortly after this, he moved to New Jersey so that he could be close to New York and pitch his demos to studios. He then got a big break by selling his second beat to Jermaine Dupri, for the track “Life in 1462.”
23. How to Get Signed
After gaining momentum as a producer in the rap world, Kanye wanted to make music for himself, not just other artists. As a college educated, pink polo wearing guy in a world dominated by gangsta rap, Jay-Z was incredibly skeptical of signing him, so Kanye resorted to pestering the star for an opportunity. But, it wasn’t until Kanye was about to secure a deal with Capitol records that Jay finally stepped in and signed him.
22. The Parents
Kanye’s parents were both intellectuals. His father, Ray West, was an activist with the Black Panthers during the Civil Rights era before becoming one of the first black photojournalists in the country. His mother, Donda, made her career as an English Professor and went on to become the Chair of the English Department at Chicago State University.
21. Motherly Duties
While she was making a good living for herself as a professor, Donda would eventually retire so that she could commit herself to working as her son’s manager.
20. Kanye in China
When Kanye was only 10 years old, his mother participated in a teaching exchange program in Nanjing, China. This meant that Kanye, whose parents had split when he was three years old, went to live with his mom in China. Kanye was a fast learner, picking up Chinese in the time he lived there, however, he has since lost most of his ability, because if you don’t use it, you will indeed lose it.
19. Dr. Kanye Suess
Kanye began writing poetry at five years old and started rapping in the third grade. It was around this time, in the third grade, that his mother noticed his talent, and when he was 13, she supported him in recording his first rap song. The name of the song 13-year-old Kanye recorded? Why, what could it be besides “Green Eggs and Ham.”
18. First Machine
It was at the ripe age of 15 that Kanye received his first sampler, and began messing around with the craft that would go on to make him an international superstar.
17. New I.D.
No I.D. is one of hip-hop’s most legendary producers, and Kanye was fortunate to cross paths with the legend when he was in his teens. The two struck up a close friendship, and No I.D. would serve as one of Kanye’s first mentors in the rap world.
16. Momma’s Connections
But wait, how did the two hip-hop juggernauts meet? Well, both of their mothers worked together as teachers in Chicago. No I.D. was 19 at the time that he met Donda, who put in work to convince him to teach her 14-year-old son Kanye about music.
15. Car Crash Trajectory
Kanye rose to fame with his debut single “Through The Wire” in 2004. The track would prove to be a new direction for rap music, as Kanye came up with the idea to tell more nuanced stories about life after surviving a devastating car crash. When No I.D. visited him in the hospital, Kanye told him he had an epiphany to rap about the accident and change the direction of his music by becoming more conscious.
14. Through The Wire
Kanye was so inspired by his accident that he didn’t wait until he was healed to record the track. Instead, he proved his merit by rapping the song while his mouth was still wired shut.
13. College Dropout
Kanye was interested in painting in his youth and he originally attended the American Academy of Art in Chicago in 1997, where he studied painting on a scholarship. It wasn’t long before he decided to instead transfer to his mother’s workplace, Chicago State University, and study English. However, this again was short-lived, as Kanye would famously dropout at the age of 20 because he felt college took too much time away from making music.
12. Blueprint Producer
It is interesting that Jay-Z didn’t originally trust Kanye enough to sign him as a rapper, because if it wasn’t for Kanye, Jay wouldn’t have been able to produce what is considered his greatest album, The Blueprint. Kanye produced 5 of the 13 tracks that appeared on the landmark album.
11. Help With Rent
Donda West was hard on Kanye growing up, and she once demanded that he help with the rent while they were living together, so he was forced to take a job as a telemarketer early in his musical career.
10. Dr. West
Even though he dropped out of college, Kanye eventually would receive an honorary doctorate from the Art Institute of Chicago.
9. Yeezy The Perfectionist
“Stronger” was one of Kanye’s greatest hits, but he put in some serious work for it. In order to create the song, he had eight audio engineers and 11 mix engineers work on the song for months, mixing the song 75 times in order to get the proper effect he wanted.
8. Working With Others
Kanye is known to be a prolific collaborator, and it shows in the credits of his albums. Over 50% of his released tracks have been a collaboration with other artists.
7. Biggest Fan
It may come as a surprise, but Kanye’s favorite musical artist is Fiona Apple. He even sought out her producer in order to make songs that were “like the rap version” of Apple.
6. Dream Job
Music may have been Kanye’s passion, but that didn’t stop him from dreaming. The star was admitted that he thought about pursuing his dream job as a porn star on a couple of occasions.
5. Better Than Sex
Kanye is also on record saying that the greatest pleasure in his life is finally finishing a song in post-production, stating that he actually prefers it to having sex. This explains why he didn’t actually pursue a career in the porn industry.
4. Losing a Mother
Kanye West was incredibly close with his mother Donda, and his whole world shattered when she suddenly died. Even more tragically, the coroner’s report revealed heartbreaking evidence about her mysterious death. Officially, Donda died from a pre-existing coronary artery disease, but she had also just finished having multiple cosmetic surgeries at the time of her death, which caused further complications. There have always been questions about if doctors could have done more for her, and right after her death, Kanye told a magazine, “If I had never moved to L.A. she’d be alive.” Heartbreakingly, he continued “I don’t want to go far into it because it will bring me to tears.”
3. Seeing Music
Kanye is affected by a sensory phenomenon known as synesthesia, which means that when one sense is stimulated, a second cognitive pathway is opened up involuntarily, leading to a multi-sensory experience when working in art. Put simply: music makes Kanye see colors. Other artists as diverse as Vladimir Nabokov, Wassily Kandinsky, Nikola Tesla, Aphex Twin, and Pharrell Williams have claimed to have the condition.
2. Legendary Fans
Michael Jackson was known to be an admirer of Kanye. Not only did he like his music, but he was a big fan of Kanye’s fashion sense, and after seeing the video for “Stronger” he called the rapper to ask him about the jacket he wore in it. For Kanye’s part, witnesses who were there when the rapper first met Jackson say that Kanye was instantly humbled, gushing, and starstruck. As one witness relates, “The whole time, Kanye was like a kid in a candy store. I’ve never seen somebody be so humble. To see him that way was surreal. Everybody knows that Kanye can be very arrogant, and here he was, just amazed to be in the same room as Mr. Jackson.”
1. To Get a Sample
Chaka Khan originally declined to clear her sample for “Through The Wire,” so Kanye took an alternative route in order to get the clearance. Soon after her refusal, he brought Khan’s son to a BBQ and played the track for him and two weeks later…ta-da! the sample was cleared. You know the phrase “You earn more flies with honey?” Well, you earn even more with delicious BBQ.