Kanye Omari West, it’s your birthday. You’re 35 and it seems just the other day you were the hungry 23-year-old producer trying to get on as a rapper. Back then you were most known for your beats like “H to the Izzo” and my favorite, “This Can’t Be Life,” but you had a message for us and the naysayers didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t even know who you were until “Through the Wire” debuted on MTV2. There was something so familiar, yet new about you. I felt like I could relate to you, and I was only a 22-year-old college graduate from Memphis, Tennessee.
A few months later, a friend brought The College Dropout to my apartment. We played in the car, and I fell in love. He wouldn’t even let me keep the copy to burn (sorry, but you know the deal) so I had to buy my own. I spent the summer buying mixtapes, “I’m G.O.O.D.” and anything else I could find with you on it.
Then, you talked about your struggle working in retail and other odd jobs while working on beats daily in the summer, then trying to prove yourself as a lyricist. That was 2004, my first year of graduate school. I played “Spaceship” every morning during my commute to my 7 a.m. communication theory class and every day on the way to work at night. I felt that song because I, too, was working a dead-end job trying to make dreams come true. When they’d lock us in SuperTarget after hours to restock and close the store well after 12 a.m., I’d sing the hook in my head. That album got me through. By the time “Jesus Walks” was released and I saw you walk your “walk” on the GRAMMY’S stage, you weren’t just a hood star anymore, but a global one.
“I been waiting on this my whole life. These dreams be waking me up at night.”
~ I Wonder
Late Registration and Graduation got me to work on the days when I hated having a steady 9-5. I don’t know what touches me the most, the music or the lyrics. I’ve seen you live as many times as possible, but the Glow in the Dark tour changed my life. “I Wonder” gave me chills. You told us to get our dreams out no matter what. You sang “Hey Mama” and the entire crowd cried together. We’d seen your high moments and your lowest moment.
I and everyone else loved you because you were honest and unafraid, even to a fault. I guess it’s no secret that you can be an asshole, but that’s what makes you Kanye. You’ve done everything from going left and making remarks about the POTUS during a natural disaster telethon (“George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”) to upstaging a little white girl receiving her most prized and likely most memorable award yet (I’mma let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all times.”) to cursing out fans during live shows for…whatever. For a second, I asked myself how could I love music from a person I didn’t like all the time. Was it possible to have a love-hate relationship with you?
Over the years your music and message have changed, and some have criticized you for it, saying “He ain’t the same Ye from College Dropout.” I understand. The kid from Chi-City finally lives the life he’s always dreamed of, complete with his own designer sneakers, couture-packed closets and the most beautiful arm pieces you can find on God’s green earth. You’ve loved and lost, and though I don’t always agree with how you get your frustrations out, I feel where you’re coming from, even when you mask your emotions with autotune. Through all of that, you’ve never ever stopped being you. You are confident, smart, funny and arrogant–a grand mix of everything people love to hate, but hate to love.
Mr. West, you are the epitome of an artist. Someone who is fearless in what he/she says through art. You have been right and wrong, out of the box and I’d even say petty at times, but you stand by what you believe in. You change and then you stay the same all at once. That’s why your music will always be in constant rotation wherever I am. It’s been the soundtrack to my adult life so far, and I’m looking forward to more growth, more mayhem, more life through your music. I don’t care that you don’t rap about driving raggedy cars or trying to come up in the rap game as much anymore because with you, you never what you’re gonna get, and that’s the beauty of it.
Happy birthday Kanye!