In a short span of time, Kanye West went from hitmaking producer to just plain hitmaker, as his stellar production work earned him a solo record deal and soon his beats were accompanied by his own witty raps on a number of critically and commercially successful releases.
His flamboyant personality also made a mark. West showcased a dapper fashion sense that set him apart from most of his rap peers, and his confidence often came across as boastful or even egotistic, albeit amusingly. This flamboyance, of course, made for good press, something West enjoyed plenty of during his sudden rise to celebrity status.
He was a media darling, appearing and performing at practically every major awards show (and winning at them, too), delivering theatrical videos to MTV that were events in themselves, and mouthing off about whatever happened to cross his mind. For instance, he once spoke out against the rampant homophobia evident in much rap music, and he also posed for the cover of Rolling Stone as Jesus Christ. He seemed to court controversy. West's steady presence in the celebrity limelight, on the other hand, could sometimes eclipse his considerable musical talent.
His production ability seemed boundless during his initial surge of activity, as he not only racked up impressive hits for himself like "Jesus Walks" and "Gold Digger," but also graced such fellow rap stars as Jay-Z and Ludacris with smashes. In addition to these many accomplishments, it's worth noting how West shattered certain stereotypes about rappers. Whether it was his appearance or his rhetoric, or even just his music, this young man became a superstar on his own terms, and his singularity no doubt is part of his appeal to a great many people, especially those who don't generally consider themselves rap listeners.
From out of left field (i.e. Chicago, anything but a hip-hop hotbed), West was an unlikely sensation and more than once defied adversity. Like so many others who were initially inspired by Run-D.M.C., he began as just another aspiring rapper with a boundless passion for hip-hop, albeit a rapper with a Midas touch when it came to beatmaking. And it was indeed his beatmaking skills that got his foot in the industry door. Though he did quite a bit of noteworthy production work during the late '90s, it was his work for Roc-a-Fella at the dawn of the new millennium that took his career to the next level.
Alongside fellow fresh talent Just Blaze, West became one of The Roc's go-to producers, consistently delivering hot tracks to album after album. He first caught everyone's ear in 2001 when he laced Jay-Z's earth-shaking Blueprint album with "Takeover" and "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)." Both songs were enormous successes, partly so because of West's trademark beatmaking style, which was largely sample-based - in these brilliant cases the former track appropriating snippets of the Doors' "Five to One," the latter the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back."
More high-profile productions followed, and before long word spread that West was going to release an album of his own, on which he'd rap as well as produce. Unfortunately, that album was a long time coming, pushed back and then pushed back again. It didn't help, of course, that West experienced a tragic car accident in October 2002 that almost cost him his life.
He capitalized on the traumatic experience by using it as the inspiration for "Through the Wire" (and its corresponding video), which would later become the lead single for his eventually released debut album. That debut album, The College Dropout (2004), was continually delayed while West continued to churn out big hits for the likes of Talib Kweli ("Get By"), Ludacris ("Stand Up"), Jay-Z ("'03 Bonnie & Clyde"), and Alicia Keys ("You Don't Know My Name").
Then, just as "Through the Wire" was breaking big-time at the tail end of 2003, another West song caught fire, a collaboration with Twista and comedian/actor Jamie Foxx called "Slow Jamz" that gave the rapper/producer two simultaneously ubiquitous singles and a much-anticipated debut album. As with so many of West's songs, these two were driven by somewhat recognizable sample-based hooks - Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire" in the case of "Through the Wire," and Luther Vandross' "A House Is Not a Home" in the case of "Slow Jamz."
In the wake of his breakout success, West earned a whopping ten nominations for the 47th annual Grammy Awards, held in early 2005. The College Dropout won the Best Rap Album award, "Jesus Walks" won Best Rap Song, and a songwriting credit on "You Don't Know My Name" had West sharing the Best R&B Song award with Alicia Keys and Harold Lilly.Later in the year, he released his second solo album, Late Registration, which met with enormous success, hit the top of the charts, and won the Grammy for Album of the Year in early 2006. That same year, the live album Late Orchestration: Live at Abbey Road Studios found West performing his hits with a 17-piece string orchestra. The album and accompanying DVD were only released in Europe.