Happy Birthday Kanye West! We examine the 40 year-old birthday boy's 40 most memorable career highlights.
Kanye West turns 40 years old today, leaving a quarter-lifetime of unequaled success in the music and fashion industries behind him as he moves into the unknown territory of middle-aged adult/fatherhood.
With his finger in so many proverbial pots, it can sometimes be hard to keep track of all of Yeezy's accomplishments, and it doesn't appear to be getting any easier. Like Prince or Woody Allen, Ye seems to only be getting more prolific as time goes on-- no signs of slowing down with age.
So, before it's too difficult to sift through the ever growing list of accolades, let's celebrate the birthday boy by going through his 40 of his most memorable career moments - one for every year Yeezus has graced this earth (assuming he's inhabited others at some point in time).
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40) Dropping Out Of College (1998)
After receiving $5,000 dollar pay check from Jermaine Dupri for the “Turn It Out” instrumental, Kanye West made a decision to drop out of Chicago State University before graduating. It was a decision that would prove to be formative for Ye as an artist, as indicated by the name of his debut LP and the illustrious career that followed.
In 2001, Kanye West’s abilities as a producer were brought to the mainstream. Now known to be the best beat-maker in the game, West was still a burgeoning, largely undiscovered talent when Jay-Z pinned him to produce six tracks for The Blueprint LP. Nowadays tracks like “Ain’t No Love” and “Izzo” are widely considered classics among fans and pundits alike, but back then they served as music fans first taste at some of Kanye’s trademark sampling styles.
38) Getting Signed to Roc-A-Fella (2002)
In 2002, after getting his rapping talents turned down from numerous labels over a span of years, Dame Dash begrudgingly signed Kanye West as an artist. Likely a veiled "thank you" for producing hits for Jay-Z the year prior, Ye became a contracted member of the Roc-A-Fella roster, forever altering his trajectory in the hip hop community.
37) Car Accident (2002)
Kanye's car accident, which occurred in October 2002 after leaving a studio in L.A. late night, was almost a blessing in disguise for the MC. The accident infamously resulted in his jaw being wired shut, which, by extension, resulted in the career-defining single "Through the Wire."
36) "Champions" (2002)
Nowadays the giant tracks that feature each and every associate from a crew are harder to come by, but in the early 2000s this was the norm. "Champions," which Kanye West produced alongside Dame Dash, was Roc-A-Fella's attempt of perfecting the dream-team single -- and they definitely got close. On a track that included Cam’Ron, Twista and Beanie Sigel, Kanye got to rub shoulders with a handful of proven emcees by spitting an impressive verse of his own. The track acted as the listening public’s first chance to hear Kanye rap.
35) "Through The Wire" (2003)
It’s hard to believe that this now classic track, Kanye West’s first single, only got as high as number 15 on the Billboard charts. Two weeks removed from nearly dying in the same hospital as fellow rap legend Notorious BIG, as a result of the aforementioned car accident, Kanye West got in the studio with a new sense of purpose to record the song that would catapult his career, and act as the first track released off his debut album. Rapping through a literally-wiredshut jaw, Kanye put forth the ultimate display of what we now consider his trademark relentless work ethic and began cementing his legend.
34) College Dropout (2004)
It was easy to write off Kanye West’s freshman effort The College Dropout as a vanity project. After all, Kanye was just a producer to the stars.
Any skeptics were quickly silenced by the album’s early leak and subsequent official release in February 2004. Recorded over a span of five years, TCD may not be as refined of an LP as some of his later releases, but is still considered a timeless favorite by many.
33) "Slow Jamz" Tops the Charts (2004)
Twista teamed up with an up-and-coming Kanye West and a fresh-off-an-Oscar-win Jaime Foxx for mega-hit "Slow Jamz." Still new to the game, this track was Yeezy’s first song he rapped on to actually top the charts.
32) Formation of GOOD Music (2004)
Kanye West founded the GOOD Music label under the Sony/UMG umbrella in 2004. After Common and John Legend were named the label’s first signees, GOOD Music has remained as a proving ground for hip hop’s finest.
31) George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People (2005)
In one of the most shocking moments in television history, Kanye West went off script during a telethon to benefit the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The clip and Mike Meyers' face tell the story far better than I.
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30) Grammys (2005)
The College Dropout’s sales and mainstream success did a lot to silence Kanye West naysayers, still leery of his capability to transition from producer to rapper. Winning Best Rap Album over fellow nominees like LL Cool J, Jay-Z and the Beastie Boys, was enough to put any doubters to bed for good. This same year, Kanye received 10 Grammy nominations in total, also taking home Best Rap Song for "Jesus Walks."
This was the moment Kanye West had truly arrived.
29) 808’s and Heartbreak (2008)
Kanye’s first release after the death of his mother, Donda West, marked a distinct tonal shift in both his personal sound, and subsequently the rest of hip hop and pop music altogether. His fourth LP, Kanye had earned clout in the industry due to the successes of all three instalments of The College trilogy - he didn’t need to change his sound. But he did, and the deviation away from the soulful samples he became famous for and towards sonic minimalism, space drums, and auto-tune (but shout out T-Pain), is still influencing hip hop to this day.
28) Martin Louis the King Jr. (2009)
Kanye’s video announcing his name change to Martin Louis the King, Jr. feels like a precursor to peak raving and ranting Kanye. Though the name change proved to be impermanent, it greater refined the boisterous, high society persona of Ye that was just beginning to bubble towards the surface.
27) Collaboration with Louis Vuitton (2009)
Before there was a Yeezy season to celebrate, there was Kanye West’s Louis Vuitton sneaker collaboration. In 2017, we know Ye as equal parts musician and fashion designer, but this 2009 collaboration was an early foray into the fashion realm. Its success provided momentum for future projects that got him where he is today in the fashion industry.
26) I'mma Let You Finish (2009)
When one closes their eyes and pictures Kanye West, they'd be hard pressed not to picture him in all black, wielding a microphone, and ruining Taylor Swift's night. It's an important marker in the timeline of Kanye's career, and the music that followed.
After all these years, the clip still speaks for itself.
25) Recording My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in Hawaii (2010)
Largely considered to be Kanye’s quintessential masterpiece, the story behind the recording process of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is just as fascinating as the album itself. Kanye holed up in a studio in Honolulu, Hawaii for the larger part of a year while keeping a rotation of reporters, artists and collaborators on standby, ready to be flown to the island whenever Kanye summoned them. Remembered fondly as “Rap Camp,” esteemed artists like Nicki Minaj, Pusha T, Q-Tip, Kid Cudi, and Justin Vernon could be found roaming Ye’s studio on any given. West essentially created his own commune, including a list of “Kanye’s Commandments” - a list of rules including No Tweeting, No Hipster Hats, and Just Shut The Fuck Up Sometimes to name a few - that was kept in the studio for all to abide by.
Perhaps the biggest feat Kanye accomplished in these studio sessions was inviting and embracing members of an industry that he had built a reputation for alienating. Vernon, who is the mind behind Bon Iver - a band with a sound that, before MBDTF, one would not associate with Kanye West - was inspired by West’s work ethic, saying “[Kanye] just doesn’t quit. He does not quit on a song...He’s not just a rapper. He’s not just a producer. He’s a musician.”
24) "Runaway" VMA Performance (2010)
When Kanye took the stage at the 2010 VMA’s to debut My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s lead single “Runaway” one thing became immediately clear: a clear tonal shift in the vibrant anime inspired aesthetic that occupied much of Kanye’s work and performances was taking place. In place of all the color, costumes, and sets was bare stages, stark designs, and a newly invigorated Kanye West.
The result was one of the best live performances the famous award broadcast has ever seen and a creative wave Kanye has been riding since.
23) Joins Twitter (2010)
After previously making waves for discrediting the platform and its many inauthentic accounts in his name, Kanye West finally made himself a Twitter account in 2010. For the past seven years, Ye has gone to the platform to stir the pot on numerous occasions. Though he recently deleted his account, we’re holding out for a comeback.
22) Watch the Throne (2011)
Jay Z and Kanye West have defined their legacies with their unparalleled creative intrepidness, boldly trying projects and venturing uncharted territory for artists of their stature. It should come as no surprise, then, that Hov and Ye innovated the method in which albums get delivered to consumers by releasing Watch the Throne as a digital exclusive, before making it available physically weeks later.
Watch the Throne also revitalized the super-duet album concept, a trend that still persists and uses the same model as WTT to this day.
21) Cruel Summer at Cannes (2012)
The Kanye West-directed Cruel Summer, based off of his GOOD Music team-up LP of the same name, debuted in the 2012 Cannes Film festival. Described as a “fusion of short film and art,” the film starred then-GOOD Music artist Kid Cudi. Everything down to the custom space that it was presented in was meticulously curated by Ye and the DONDA collective, and thus has never been screened or made available anywhere else since.
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20) Watch the Throne Tour (2012)
Watch the Throne tour may be the closest we’ll ever get to a money tree existing. Two living legends touring their new album and the hits synonymous to them, side by side, is as good as printed money. Who wouldn’t want to see that? The answer is “not many” - with the tour becoming highest grossing hip hop tour of all time - a record Hov and Ye would hold until they were dethroned by Future and Drake’s "Summer 16" (a tour that followed the Throne’s blueprint, seeing Drake and Future tour their duet album). The tour also became infamous for the numerous back-to-back performances of "N*ggas in Paris."
19) Debuting "Awesome" at Met Gala (2013)
Kanye defied rumors of his fiancée Kim Kardashian's banishment from the exclusive Met Gala by pulling out a surprise performance, debuting “Awesome” from the yet-to-be-released Yeezus. This performance was particularly pithy, what with “Awesome” being an ode to Kardashian’s DGAF celebrity status.
18) Anchorman 2 Cameo (2013)
Known for never displaying joy in the public eye, fans of Anchorman and Kanye alike were pleasantly surprised when he appeared in the giant news-team battle in Anchorman 2.
17) Becoming a Dad (2013)
If his enduring and muse-like relationship with his now-deceased mother Donda West is any indication, then Kanye becoming a parent would have a huge impact on his personality and his art. Thus, the births of both his daughter North and son Saint have to be included on this list-- starting, of course, with North in June 2013.
16) "Bound 2" music video (2013)
Super cheesy profession of love? Brilliant commentary on the public's fascination of celebrity couples? Maybe a little bit of both. Either way, when all is said and done, there may be no single visual more easily associated with Ye than that of "Bound 2"- his Yeezus power ballad.
In 2013, everything changed for Kanye West and everything changed for sneakers. Adidas took a gamble by officially announcing their collaboration with the avant-garde rapper, but it ultimately worked out for both parties. Yeezys revolutionized the sneaker game, shifting the focus from athlete-endorsement fueled functional foot-wear and onto designs that strike the balance between fashion and function, unbeholden to any sportsperson.
14) Marriage to Kim Kardashian (2014)
The super-couple to trump all other super-couples tied the knot on May 24, 2014. Illusory and vanguard, the pairing of Kim and Kanye is the epitome of celebrity. You’d be lying if you said you were never planning on this relationship, like many famous “it” couples, to fizzle out. Instead, the two have persevered - enduring personal tragedy and building a lovely family in its wake.
13) Most Liked Instagram Photo (2014)
Kanye and Kim’s wedding photo posted on Instagram, which apparently took the couple four days to filter in-app perfectly, broke the internet by becoming the most liked post in the history of the social network. Their reign of social supremacy lasted until Kanye in-law Kendall Jenner surpassed them with 700,000 more likes on a photograph of her hair.
12) Michael Jackson Vanguard Award (2015)
Kanye West’s love/hate relationship with the MTV Video Music Awards came full circle when they honored him with what was only the second Michael Jackson Vanguard Award. Preceded as an honoree only by Beyoncé (which I’m sure Yeezy wouldn’t object, if history is any indication), Kanye was cemented by MTV and its viewers as a pop culture icon for all time.
11) Interrupting Beck (2015)
You could almost hear DMX singing “Here We Go Again” when Kanye West hovered over singer/songwriter Beck as he accepted his 2015 Best Album Grammy, eerily reminiscent of his interruption of Taylor Swift six years prior. A quick reminder that you are never safe if nominated in the same category as Mr. West.
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10) Armenia (215)
If you needed any proof of Kanye’s wide-spread influence, look no further than his surprise concert in Armenia. Done on a lark, Kanye’s impromptu performance included a swath of hits from multiple albums - a special treat for the audience in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, the birthplace of his wife Kim Kardashian’s grandparents.
The show nearly turned into an international incident, when hundreds of fans followed Kanye as he (illegally) jumped into the historic Swan Lake, causing police to promptly shut the concert down.
9) DONDA: Kanye’s West Plan to Take Over The World (2016)
The sometimes brilliant, sometimes head-scratch-inducing flowchart put forth by Kanye’s creative collective DONDA is the perfect peek into the Chi-Town emcee’s mind. Part stream of consciousness, part political agenda - the release of Kanye’s plan to perfect planet earth sent a statement to the media public: that Kanye refuses to let his genius be bound to just music and fashion. The scope only gets bigger.
Kanye went full Kanye, taking to Twitter to absolutely drag Wiz Khalifa through the cyber-mud for disrespecting Kim Kardashian. The rant, which lasted for the better part of an hour before being deleted later in the day, took Wiz’s clout as an emcee when compared to Kanye into question and came just hours before tickets for Kanye's hotly anticipated and soon-to-be record setting Madison Square Garden concert went up for sale.
Whether a brilliant piece of viral marketing or a legit beef, it is etched in internet meltdown history.
7) Breaking MSG Record (2016)
Due in part to the Saint Pablo Tour's general admission, mosh-pit floor seating and Kanye's notoriously rabid fanbase, Mr. West was able to break the record for most individual tickets sold at the landmark New York venue.
Kanye talks a big game, but he’ll be damned if he doesn’t back it up. That’s why it was a big deal when Kanye cemented his fashion legend in February 2016, when the Yeezy fashion show sold out Madison Square Garden in minutes. It takes a special kind of personality and vigorous entrepreneurship to sell out the world’s most famous arena for a fashion show, just three years removed from the fashion line’s debut. Kanye’s got that type of talent.
5) The Life of Pablo 7th Straight Debut #1 (2016)
The staying power of Kanye West can only be matched by his high demand, as proved by his consistently impressive debuts. The most recent feather in Ye's hat is The Life of Pablo, which marked Kanye's seventh straight album to debut at number one.
4) Beating the Pope (2016)
The Saint Pablo Tour was a creative feat in many aspects, from its lack of an opening act or feature performances to the famous flying stage. This milestone is reserved for one of the tour’s many financial feats: breaking the Madison Square merchandise sales record, and surpassing the Pope himself.
No one man should have all that power.
3) TLOP first streaming only album to go platinum (2016)
Platinum albums? The Life of Pablo marked Ye’s seventh straight, yet it was still a career landmark when TLOP broke the platinum threshold. Sure, the sales weren’t anything new - but the medium of consumption was, as TLOP was the first streaming album to achieve the platinum milestone.
2) Kanye For President 2020 (2016)
During a speech at the 2016 VMA’s Kanye West concluded what was a dizzyingly disjointed address with one very clear announcement: Kanye West for President 2020. If the past year has proved anything, it’s that the political landscape has changed and is more vulnerable to bombastic personalities than ever. Could Yeezy really call the White House home in three years? Only time will tell.
1) Trump Tower (2016)
Our jaws are still on the floor after bearing witness to Kanye West’s shocking post-election trip to President Trump’s Trump Tower in New York City. While none of us can know for sure what was said between the two personalities behind closed doors, everyone can agree in saying they’d do anything to be a fly on that wall.