Kanye West

kanye west

Flickr Credit: SOCIALisBETTER / CC BY 2.0

Whether fan or foe, most people have unshakable opinions of Kanye West. Regardless, West maintains a deep pride in Chicago, so he deserves recognition for repping the city… even though he grew up in the suburbs.

Although born in Atlanta, at the age of three West relocated to the middle class Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn, also the hometown of Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak.

West’s early life was cliché — but for a suburban kid, not a future hip-hop star. An only child, he lived with his divorced mother, Dr. Donda West, who taught English and headed the department at Chicago State University. West took honors classes in high school and worked at The GAP. He epitomized the suburbs.

After a semester and a half at his mother’s university, where he majored in English, West dropped out. His big break came after meeting Jay-Z and producing beats for Roc-A-Fella Records. The rest is history.

His 2004 debut album, The College Dropout, won two Grammy’s including Best Rap Album. Since then he has released numerous chart-topping songs and produced for other artists such as Alicia Keys, Fall Out Boy, and Mariah Carey.

But West has his fair share of controversies attached to his name as well. The list includes stage-crashing Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the ‘09 MTV Video Music Awards, posing for the cover of Rolling Stone in the image of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns, and saying, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” during a televised Hurricane Katrina benefit.

Often to his own detriment, West’s egocentric antics can distract the public from his brilliant musical talent — though it’s important to note that much of his success comes from sampling beats from other artists, such as Chaka Khan (“Through the Wire”), Ray Charles (“Gold Digger”), Michael Jackson (“Good Life”), and Steely Dan (“Champion”) to name a few.

But nothing can detract from his Dr. Donda West Foundation, originally formed in Chicago, aimed at fighting the dropout problem across the nation by providing at-risk youth with programs to cultivate their creativity. The foundation’s initiative S.H.O.W. (Students Helping Our World) is specifically aimed at addressing academic under-performance and behavior problems in Chicago schools. Two students (hailing from New Trier High School and Highland Park High School) founded S.H.O.W. to challenge students at six high schools in the Chicago Public School system to improve their grades and attendance with the incentive of a free West concert. More than 2,500 students participated and saw the June 2009 show.

It is within this constant contradiction that West lives his life. Rapping as a kid from the suburbs. Priding himself as a college dropout while encouraging school attendance. Referring to himself as the “Louis Vuitton don” with employment history at The GAP. But with everything considered, you have to admit—whether you like it or not—this Chicago native is one of a kind.

Jamie Hansen

About Jamie Hansen

I like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain. And I still love reading newspapers. After growing up in the suburbs I took a four-year Chicago hiatus to the University of Iowa where I majored in journalism and English. Now I’m back and ready to help you make the most of the Windy City. As Kanye says, I’m a Chicagoan until Chicago ends… but I wouldn’t mind a vacation home in Florida.

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