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He's one of the most celebrated artists of the past decade, selling more than 32 million albums and 100 million digital downloads worldwide. He's also won a total of 21 Grammy awards and been named by Forbes Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. To call him 'a bit of a character' doesn't quite do him justice... and today, it's his birthday.
Of course, we're talking about the self-proclaimed 'greatest rockstar of all time' (ok, steady on mate), the one and only Mr Kanye West.
'Ye is a man who can seemingly do no wrong - even the people who openly call him an arsehole have probably secretly thought about copping a pair of Yeezy Boosts, or wear out their headphones with 'Jesus Walks' on the down-low. Everything the dude touches turns to gold.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Before he made it as a solo performer, Kanye produced and ghost-produced (that's 'making tunes for other artists without being publicly credited', in layman's terms) for some of the biggest hip-hop stars around.
However, it hasn't been an easy ride for our Kanye. In fact, his first solo hit - the one that sent him on his way to where he is today - came as the result of a pretty horrific accident that nearly killed him.
Let us regale you with the story.
After spending most of the 1990s producing tracks for various artists, Kanye's real big break came when he started writing beats for artists on Jay Z's Roc-A-Fella Records, including the label boss himself. In fact, it's often said that Kanye was responsible for revitalising Jay's music career with his musical contributions on the rap icon's influential 2001 album The Blueprint. Not bad going, to be fair.
As brilliant a producer as he was, Yeezy was keen to shake that tag and wanted to get more involved with rapping. Unfortunately, Jay Z and his labelmates weren't keen to give him a shot, seeing him as a producer rather than a solo musician in his own right. Talk about getting it wrong.
Although Roc-A-Fella were reluctant to give him a shot, Kanye got the break he had been looking for a year later, but not in quite the way he'd expected.
On October 23, 2002, 'Ye was in a California recording studio producing music for Beanie Sigel, Peedi Crakk and The Black Eyed Peas. We assume it must have been quite a lengthy stint behind the desk, because on his way home he fell asleep at the wheel of his Lexus and ploughed into another car. The accident almost killed him and left him gurgling blood, needing a metal plate in his chin and his jaw wired shut.
Any normal person at this point would probably give themselves a bit of a break from work, but Kanye's near-death experience inspired him to write music. Two weeks after first being admitted to hospital for his accident, Kanye went into the studio to record what would become his debut solo single, 'Through the Wire' - with his jaw still wired shut.
"Well, the only thing this accident's is saying is, 'I am about to hand you the world, just know at any given time I can take it away from you,'" the producer turned rapper said in a statement.
"To nearly lose your life, to nearly lose your mouth, your voice, your whole face, as a rapper... and I had to be on TV! My face looks crazy to me now... But I have to just thank God for the situation that I am in... 'Through the Wire' is the worst thing that could've possibly happen to me, and now it's obviously the best thing. Look how it exploded!"
The track used a pitched-up vocal sample from Chaka Khan's 'Through the Fire', which she initially declined to let him use. However, when Khan's son attended a BBQ with Kanye, who played him the video for the track, he went and showed his mum, who liked it so much that she immediately cleared the sample for use.
What began as a near-tragedy became the catalyst that launched Kanye West's career. Whether you love him or hate him, Kanye turned one of the worst situations imaginable into the launchpad for the rapping career he'd always dreamed of. Pretty inspiring stuff, really.
As he put it in 'Last Call' - "It's funny how wasn't nobody interested, 'til the night I almost killed myself in Lexus."
Fair play 'Ye, we salute you. Many happy returns.
Words: Paddy Maddison
Featured Image Credit: PA
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