From Genius to Yeezus

The Evolution of Kanye


Coming out of Chicago in the early 2000’s, Kanye West is a household name. He is one of the highest selling rappers of all time, with a career spanning nearly 20 years and producing 11 solo albums starting from 2004’s beloved The College Dropout to 2022’s controversial Donda 2. Every album he has put out has skyrocketed to the top of the charts. Though Kanye continues to be commercially successful, his reputation has had a steep decline both as an artist and as a person. It seems like every year, Kanye has something new to do or to say. 

Starting with his debut in 2004, West released his critically acclaimed The College Dropout and little was known of him as a person then, as he was still a developing face. One thing everyone knew from the start was that he was ambitious and confident, this is seen perfectly with his Grammy award or the album where he states, “Everyone wanted to know what I’d do if I didn’t win, I guess we’ll never know.”  The same can be said for his next couple projects, Late Registration, and the anime/Daft Punk inspired album, Graduation were both met with thunderous applause and Kanye remained a hip-hop hero to the public eye 

His next album, the much less rap, much slower, yet still critically acclaimed, 2008’s 808’s And Heartbreak came directly after the death of Kanye’s mother: Donda West. The death of his mother was one of Kanye’s first steps into becoming a much more negative figure in pop culture. A year later came the 2009 MTV VMAs, where Taylor Swift won one of the awards for video of the year. In the middle of her acceptance speech, Kanye went up on stage, interrupting her, to announce that Beyonce had, “One of the greatest videos of all time.” After this moment, West was chewed out by the public for what they saw as an immature outburst. He then went off the grid for the better part of a year. When he returned to the spotlight, it was clear he had changed. 

On November 22, 2010, Kanye West released his fifth solo album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The album exploded onto the scene with amazing reviews. It was clear that this album was different. Kanye still had the swagger and confidence of his older albums, but now he sounded a lot more arrogant and egotistical. There is a lyric from the track “Power” that demonstrates this better than no other. In the song Kanye says, “I’ve got the power to make your life so exciting”. Though Kanye and rap as a genre have always had a more braggadocious attitude attached to it, this is the first time Kanye really embraces his new role as the villain of music. The track ‘Runaway’ is all about this. In this song Kanye is telling the audience about his destructive tendencies and that those close to him should run away.  If 808’s And Heartbreak was Kanye’s first turning point, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was where he decided to fully change his persona, then the next project was where he finally showed a new side to himself. 

On June 18, 2013, the Yeezus album dropped. This album was littered with controversy at every point. From the album’s name itself, Yeezus was taken as Kanye comparing himself to Jesus which incited a rift between himself and Christians. Further heat was sent to West faced even more backlash from the Christain community for the title of his track ‘I Am a God’. Another problematic title on the project was the track ‘Black Skinhead’, where he was under fire for comparing himself to a Nazi or white supremacist. The album was designed to create chaos. The album’s name and track list titles prove this, all the backlash from this album clearly got to Kanye… just not in an expected way. All the controversy gave him a lot of attention and kept him in the public eye. Kanye made sure to capitalize on that for future projects. This type of behavior for Kanye would become something common in the future; intentionally stirring up controversy in order to generate hype. 

In early 2016, after Kanye declared his support for President Trump, he was constantly attacked for his show of support, as seen with his common wearing of the MAGA hat. He used the controversy to generate hype for his coming project, his seventh full length solo album The Life of Pablo. This album was one of his most introspective. The album depicts him looking into his life as part of the music industry and pop culture. The track ‘No More Parties In LA’ encapsulates this theme with several lyrics. The opening lyric of the song goes, “Let me tell you, I’m out here from a very faraway place, all for a chance to be a star, nowhere seems to be too far.” He is saying that as an outsider to the music industry, he has so many paths to choose, and he doesn’t’ know where to go next. This is one of the sub-themes of the album, and it is further supported by the album cover itself, where there are two images. One is of a family, and the other is of the partying life, and all over the cover is the saying, “Which One”, which shows how Kanye at this time in his life doesn’t know what to choose from, should he choose his family or the music industry and everything that comes with it. 

 Another one of the things West speaks about on this project is the constant pressure he feels. Another lyric from ‘No More Parties In LA’ shows this. The lyric has an unknown voice consecutively saying, “Shake that body, party that body”, and then Kanye responds with, “Please.” The unknown voice is featured throughout the song, and it likely is symbolic for the voice of his fans and the public people, who he alludes are the ones pressuring him to do unpleasant things.  

The track ‘Famous’ shows the last of the major themes of the album perfectly; how he feels about his fame status. The lyric “They mad they aint famous, they mad they still nameless”, shows his opinion on why people are so critical of him. He implies that some people pray on him because they think he’s an easy target. The theme of what to do with fame was common throughout this album and 2016 entirely. The Weeknd, who appears on this album in the track ‘FML’, talks about the same thing on his 2016 album Starboy. Throughout both entire albums, the overarching theme is what to do when the world wants you to do one thing, and you want something else. Is it selfish to want to be happy despite what everyone else wants. 

In 2017, Kanye took a break from the limelight. He came back in 2018 with an absolutely stacked year. He first produced Pusha T’s critically acclaimed Daytona. Not long after, in 2018 he released another shorter album. Ye which was another very introspective album where he goes in depth on his fears and how they drive him. For example, the song ‘Violent Crimes’ is all about his fear for his daughter, and if he’ll be a good enough parent in order to teach her how to protect herself when he no longer can. In the song, he explains that his “strength”, and “fearlessness” are things he wants to pass down to her. The Jesus Is King album came next in 2019. The album is all about how religion drives him, and his interpretation of his faith. All of that can be seen in the track, ‘God Is’, which is his explanation of what god is to him. He goes deep into how God is for Kanye, the force that gives him an idea, and an urge to do what he does.  

On August 29, 2021, Kanye released his 10th  solo album, Donda which was met with mixed reception. The project came out amidst drama between West and his now ex-wife Kim Kardashian. The Donda album wasn’t as introspective as its predecessors, however, it had a couple of tracks that go into how his childhood shaped how he goes through his adult life, like “Jail” or “Life of The Party”.  

Not even a year later, the sequel to Donda was released to the public. Donda 2 came out in February 2022. The album was heavily criticized for a lack of effort, and little to no narrative. The album also didn’t get nearly as many listens as other projects, due to it being exclusively released on the STEM player. Amidst the album roll out, Kanye was going on numerous rants on social media about Pete Davidson and his relationship with Kim Kardashian. In the music video for the track “Eazy”, West shows himself killing Davidson, for which he received a heavy amount of criticism. 

Fastforward to late 2022. Kanye has received his heaviest amount of heat in a long time. It all started with a couple of tweets West made on Twitter. The first tweet, he mentioned that he was “A little sleepy”, also that when he wakes up he was going to, “Go death con 3”, on Jewish people. After his anti-Semitic comments, he was quickly banned from twitter. His primary way of communication with the public was cut off. As of November 2022, with the change of ownership of twitter to Elon Musk, Kanye has returned to twitter as well as having released an apology to the Jewish community. 

Ultimately, Kanye West has gone from one of the most loved people in pop-culture to one of if not the most controversial. With the public seemingly completely turned against Kanye, and him giving in and releasing his apology which is a rarity for him. Maybe this was the final straw for West. His business model for generating hype has blown up, and his image seems permanently stained. Kanye West, like Ikaris, wanted so much and continued to push the limits until he could push no longer.