After spending time producing for local artists, West developed a signature style, dubbed "chipmunk soul," characterised by sped-up soul samples. Here he got his big break handling the production for the Jay Z track "This Can't Be Life," which appeared on the 2000 album , widely regarded as one of the greatest rap albums of all time. But he initially struggled to be taken seriously as a rapper — he lacked the "gangsta" credentials that were prerequisite at the time: he was an arty middle-class kid who wore pink polo shirts and Gucci loafers.
West spent a year and million on his sophomore album, hiring an orchestra and working with the composer Jon Brion, who had never worked with a rapper before.
West, the restless bourgeois-creative, wanted to "see how far he could expand" hip hop, he told the New York Times.
In response, West decided to make it better: he revised and rewrote songs and refined the production, adding stronger drums, gospel choirs and strings (he paid for orchestras out of his own pocket).
, it broke the gangsta-rap mold, with themes including consumerism (he was critical of it back then), racism, higher education and his religious beliefs.
That October, as West was driving home from a recording session in a California studio, he was involved in a head-on car collision that left him with a shattered jaw.
He wrote and recorded a song about the experience, "Through the Wire," with his jaw still wired shut following reconstructive surgery.
He began to draw influence from both rock 'n' roll (the Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Killers) and house music (which originated in his hometown of Chicago).
This led to his third album, 's groundbreaking (for hip-hop) palette of layered electronic synthesizers, and sloganeering wordplay — "I'm like the fly Malcolm X/Buy any jeans necessary," he smirked on ' Good Morning' — there could only be one winner.
As Kanye West would doubtless tell you himself, he is a 21st-century phenomenon — a producer turned rap superstar who has reinvented hip hop several times over in the course of a stellar career; but whose creative genius is sometimes eclipsed by his talent for putting his entire foot in his own mouth.
He has made headlines for his bizarre tweets and his grand pronouncements, his award-show stage invasions, his outré fashion sense and his flashbulb-popping marriage to Kim Kardashian.
"I'd leave meetings crying all the time," he recalled.