The Stunning Transformation Of Kanye West

Even if you don't consider yourself a fan of hip hop, you'd have to be living under a rock to not have heard of Kanye West. Legally known as "Ye," West has been on the music scene since the early 2000s, and, no matter what you think of him personally, it certainly can be said that you can't separate the rapper from the strides he made in hip hop. As his career has progressed, West has redefined hip-hop music standards, released generation-defining hits, and even contributed his vision to the fashion industry. To say that West hasn't had a profound impact on art, music, and culture as we know would be an understatement.

While West's contributions to the arts have been profound, his personal life and mental health struggles have often overshadowed his accomplishments. Publicly struggling with bipolar disorder, among other concerns, West's behavior has been troubling to many — including his now-ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, who is now seemingly his public enemy No. 2, just behind her boyfriend, Pete Davidson. So, how did West get here, and what has contributed to his life (and spiral) in the spotlight? This is the transformation of Kanye West.

Kanye West's parents divorced when he was 3 years old

While many of us are seeing Kanye West's divorce from Kim Kardashian play out in real time, this is not the first time the rapper has fallen victim to the legal separation of spouses. As noted by the Daily Mail, Kanye's father, Ray West, and his mother, Donda West, divorced when he was just 3 years old, which certainly had a profound impact on his childhood. The Daily Mail noted that Kanye lived with his mother throughout the school year and spent summers with his father and stepmother, Brenda Bentley, the latter of which reflected on the rapper as a young boy.

Brenda told the Daily Mail that West was a "mild mannered boy" who had the utmost respect for his father — he even called his stepmother "Miss Brenda." West's bonus mom recalled that, from a young age, the rapper was "a curious person" who continuously asked questions. "His parents always encouraged him to do that," Brenda shared about Kanye. "The kind of questions were not the kind of questions I'd have thought of a [9-year-old] asking. He was pretty smart."

The rapper started writing poetry at age 5

What some may not know is that rap as we know it today has a rich background in poetry and has even been tied to African-American folk-poetry as a means of artistic expression, according to "Understanding Rap as Rhetorical Folk-Poetry" by Brent Wood. With that said, it makes sense that Kanye West started to express himself through poetry at a young age, with his mother recalling to the Chicago Tribune (via the New York Daily News) that he started writing verse at the early age of 5. West went on to write one of his first rap songs at age 13, entitled "Green Eggs and Ham," and even explored poetry and rap in the form of social justice.

As noted by the New York Daily News, Kim Kardashian took to Instagram in 2016 to share a video of West at a young age reciting a poem he had written about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The poem, entitled "His Name is Love," focuses on King's own powerful words and his lifelong fight for racial equality. In the video, West sheds light on King's struggle "so Blacks, Hispanics, Jews and Asians could put their foot in the door."

Kanye West moved to China with his mom during his childhood

While many of us associate Kanye West with his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, or his current residence of Los Angeles, you might be surprised to learn that he spent a good chunk of time as a child living in China. As noted by Radii China, Kanye's mother, Donda West, was the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, and, as such, she spent a portion of 1987 lecturing at Nanjing University. Kanye was 10 years old at the time and, of course, made the journey with her. 

Shortly before his return to Shanghai for a concert in 2018, Kanye shared what it was like to live in China at a young age, calling it a meaningful time for him and his mother. "We really connected there," he said of his childhood in China alongside his mother, "so it'll probably be very emotional for me to go back to China." He continued, expressing that returning to the same streets, same sights, and same smells would "take [him] right back to fifth grade with [his] mom."

He attended high school in Chicago and produced artwork now worth thousands

After spending a good chunk of time living with with his mom in China, Kanye West returned to the U.S. A student at Polaris High School in Chicago, West explored his artistic side, producing work that is now worth thousands. As noted by the Chicago Sun-Times, West's high school art teacher, Rhonda Levy, remembers West as a "talented" and "supremely confident student" — doesn't sound too far off from the West we know today. "It's just so weird having little Kanye as a freshman, and then here he is now one of the most famous people on Earth," Levy said of her former student.

The work that West produced while in Levy's class was appraised by art specialist Laura Woolley — she specifically looked at five pieces ranging from landscapes to portraits. In her professional opinion, West's high school work could sell for up to $23,000. "I think these pieces demonstrate an extraordinary facility as an artist," she said of West's teenage-work. "It shows the different mediums he was working in." Considering that most of our high school art was on our mom's refrigerator, West certainly sounds like he had a special talent from a young age.

The musician had a brief stint in college

It's common knowledge that many actors, singers, and performers don't vet college as a viable option — their talent got them through the door, and the rest is history. Kanye West  was itching to jump into the music industry, but his mom's desire for him to attend college led him to enroll at the American Academy of Art and Chicago State University, per NBC Chicago.

Kanye's mom, Donda West, was not only a staunch supporter of higher education, but she worked as a professor at Chicago State, clearly expressing interest in her son's intellectual pursuits. "It was drummed into my head that college is the ticket to a good life," Donda wrote in her book, "Raising Kanye: Life Lessons from the Mother of a Hip-Hop Superstar," clearly displaying her intent for her son to acquire a degree. But college wasn't for him, and he dropped out to pursue his career. Donda eventually came around, saying that her son was "embrac[ing]" who he was, rather than "following the path society has carved out for you," per The National News.

Kanye West suffered a life-altering car accident in 2002

After leaving college, Kanye West jumped into the music industry, where he made a name for himself as a producer. Working with the likes of Jay-Z, West was behind some of the great rap records of the early 2000s. But, as noted by Notorious Classics, West's true ambition was to become a rapper himself, and everything in his life changed after he endured a massive car accident. On October 23, 2002, West was driving home in the early morning hours after spending all night in the studio. In a scary turn of events, West fell asleep behind the wheel and crashed head-on into another car. The collision resulted in a shattered jaw, which required West to endure reconstructive surgery and a wired shut mouth. But, clearly, nothing was stopping him.

Rapper Consequence recalled receiving a phone call from West just three days after the accident, telling Complex that West had found his true purpose. "He called me ... rapping 'Through the Wire' verses," Consequence told Complex. "I'm thinking to myself, 'What the f*** is wrong with you? Why the f*** are you rapping right now?'" Clearly, nothing was going to stand in West's way.

The rapper's first album made an impact on the music industry

Kanye West's massive car accident sparked creativity in him like never before, leading him to release his first studio album, "The College Dropout" — aptly named for his foray into music and abandonment of higher education — in 2004. As noted by uDiscoverMusic, the album features "irresistible" soul elements intertwined with rap, setting West apart from the hip hop of the era. Sourcing inspiration from the likes of Chaka Khan and Jay-Z's work that West produced himself, "The College Dropout" projected the one-time producer into the spotlight.

The album was not only a musical success, but its performance on the charts was historic. "The College Dropout" made it to No. 2 on Billboard's Top 200 chart, and its success snagged West a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album. If one thing was clear with his first solo album as a headlining rapper, it's that West was not to be underestimated. Of "The College Dropout," the rapper told Complex, "I don't know if hip-hop can be perfect but I feel like this album, 'The College Dropout' is over-perfection."

Kanye West's second album was a commercial success that put him in debt

If 2004 proved anything, it was that Kanye West was not to be messed with. His grip on rap and hip hop was undeniable, so fans and artists alike anxiously waited for his second studio album to drop. As noted by Complex, that came in the form of "Late Registration," which "expanded" his music style in a way that "The College Dropout" didn't — with more soul intertwined with his hip-hop tracks, West's work alongside producer Jon Brion was just as groundbreaking as his rookie record.

But, as reported by Complex, "Late Registration" wasn't the best for West's own financial health. The rapper told MTV that, at the time of its drop, he was $600,000 in debt. So, why did the album set him back so much? Jay-Z shared that West became almost obsessed with its sound and even recorded his hit song "Diamonds" 14 times before he liked it enough to release it. West's perfectionism certainly enabled him to release a hit album, but the cost of perfectionism definitely ate away at his finances.

Kanye West suffered a massive loss when his mother died in 2007

The early 2000s were life-defining years for Kanye West, as his career started to take off in a big way. Sadly, his personal life suffered a massive blow in 2007, when his mother tragically died just days after undergoing a routine procedure. As noted by Harper's Bazaar, Kanye's mother, Donda West, underwent cosmetic surgery the day before she died — after getting liposuction, a tummy tuck, and a breast reduction, she was able to walk out of the hospital less than six hours after going under the knife. As per People, she was given Vicodin to combat any pain, and she headed home.

Once she arrived home, Donda reportedly "experienced a sore throat, pain and tightening in her chest, before collapsing in the early evening." A friend who was with her at the time called 911, but, only a short time later, Donda was pronounced dead. Her autopsy found that she died from heart disease and that her surgery could've been a contributing factor. However, the doctor who worked on Donda, Dr. Jan Adams, told Inside Edition that the surgery "went ahead without any issues."

The musician split from his fiancée in 2008

Just a year after his mother's death, Kanye West suffered another blow to his personal life. His fiancée of 18 months, Alexis Phifer, called it quits with the rapper after they'd experienced problems within their relationship. As noted by MTV, West was reportedly "really focused" on his show and his music career at the time and was "putting everything into" his art. As such, he and Phifer — a fashion designer — "hit a rough patch" and later ended things for good.

Rumors of their split began circulating after Phifer was seen attending the "Evenings in Vogue" event without her engagement ring. She later confirmed that the wedding was no longer in the cards. "It's always sad when things like this end, and we remain friends," Phifer said of her split from the rapper. "I wish him the best in his future and all of his endeavors. He's one of the most talented people I've ever met." West went on to famously date Amber Rose, who claimed that she withstood "constant bullying" from West after their relationship ended in 2010, per People.

One of Kanye West's most viral moments occurred in 2009

It was the MTV moment seen around the world, and, chances are, you already know what we're talking about. In 2009, a young country singer by the name of Taylor Swift made a splash on the music scene, and, in a surprising and wonderful turn of events, she took home the MTV VMA for Best Video by a Female Artist. As she stood on stage accepting her award, West jumped on stage and interrupted her, shouting out that Beyoncé's work should've rightfully won instead. The moment was beyond awkward, and Vox reported that both Swift and Beyoncé were seen crying backstage as a result. The disruption even impacted Swift's scheduled performance during the awards show, as she was truly shaken from the now-viral moment.

Of course, that night marked the start of a very public feud between Swift and West, with the rapper dissing the record-smashing artist in his song "Famous." She later opened up about the VMA moment and the fallout from that event in her documentary, sharing that West's diss sparked a dark mindset that she "couldn't really bounce back from," per the Evening Standard.

The rapper's behavior became worrisome in 2013

Throughout his years in the public eye, Kanye West had a number of trials and tribulations play out in the headlines. However, the severity of those instances increased in 2013, arguably starting with an escalating situation involving a photographer. As noted by Rolling Stone, West and the photographer got into an altercation outside of Los Angeles International Airport, resulting in West striking the cameraman, Daniel Ramos. Ramos hired famed lawyer Gloria Allred and took West to court, claiming that the rapper had assaulted him and damaged his photography equipment. The case eventually settled out of court, but not without its repercussions.

As part of the settlement, West had to issue an official apology to Ramos, among other legal consequences as a result of his actions. To avoid jail time, West pleaded no contest and was on probation for two years. He also had to compensate Ramos for the cost of the damaged equipment, fulfill 250 hours of community service, and take part in anger management classes.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Kanye West got engaged to Kim Kardashian and became a dad

The world knew that a power couple was on their hands when Kanye West and Kim Kardashian got together. Kardashian, of course, was known at the time for her reality television power and high-profile split from husband Kris Humphries, and West was known — obviously — for his groundbreaking music career. Their relationship had fans incredibly excited, and the name Kimye was born seemingly overnight. Before long, the two welcomed their first child, North West, and, from then on, fans knew — this was a couple worth watching.

As noted by E! News, shortly after their daughter was born, West popped the question in a lavish proposal. While at AT&T Park in San Francisco, West asked Kardashian to marry him in front of their famous family and friends. It was the culmination of a relationship that fans were dying to get to know more about, and it seemed from that moment on that a new Kardashian dynasty was born. Kris Jenner later asked West if he knew that Kardashian was the one for him when he first met her. He didn't mince his words when he said, "Oh yeah, definitely."

In 2016, Kanye West was admitted to the hospital amid mental health struggles

To say that 2016 was tough for Kanye West and Kim Kardashian is an understatement, and, as noted by E! News at the time, West was hospitalized due to his spiraling mental health. A number of events were said to have contributed, with his struggles allegedly beginning shortly after Kardashian's terrifying robbery in Paris. When he learned of the news, West halted his performance and quickly left the stage, telling spectators he had a family emergency. About two weeks later, West went on a strange rant during his Oakland, California, show, telling fans he would boycott the Grammys if rapper Frank Ocean was nominated for an award. A few weeks later, West arrived at his Sacramento, California, show more than an hour after its start time before proceeding to engage in a rant about Jay-Z and Beyoncé.

West's behavior was clearly worrisome to those closest to him, and, in late November 2016, he was admitted to UCLA's medical center for "exhaustion and sleep deprivation" (per E! News). According to reports, doctors were under the impression that West posed a threat to himself and others around him.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

The rapper became a fashion icon in the mid-2010s

Kanye West may have worried some fans given his unpredictable behavior, but the mid-2010s still proved to be very successful for the musician. In addition to his chart-topping hits, West began exploring the world of fashion, a venture he first teased way back in 2008. As noted by Boardroom, West released his first shoe — the Nike Air Yeezy 1 — in 2009 and returned to the fashion stage in 2015 with the Yeezy Boost 350. The second shoe was a massive hit and catapulted West onto the fashion stage without a doubt.

After his successful reboot in 2015, West made a bit of a blunder. He released his song "FACTS" that "dissed" Nike, the company that helped him achieve success in the industry. However, his design ventures were soon picked up by rival Adidas, and, soon, the rapper was working with the likes of fashion industry insiders, including Christian Tresser, Mark Miner, and Steven Smith. Together, they made Yeezys one of the most sought-after shoes, not only for substance, but for style. Even to this day, Yeezys are a symbol of status and wealth.

Kanye West was diagnosed with bipolar disorder

Whether people loved him or hated him, it couldn't be denied by the mid-2010s that Kanye West was an integral part of music and fashion culture. But 2016 brought another layer of complication to his personal life, when the rapper revealed to his fans that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. As noted by Vogue, West was extremely open about his diagnosis, sharing that the disorder, in him, took the form of manic episodes and paranoia — he also shared he was not taking any kind of medication to help ease his mental state or experience.

In the wake of his diagnosis, Kim Kardashian spoke out about her husband, sharing that the stigma around the condition needed to be eliminated. "As many of you know, Kanye has bi-polar disorder. Anyone who has this or has a loved one in their life who does, knows how incredibly complicated and painful it is to understand," Kardashian wrote in an Instagram story. "I feel like I should comment on it because of the stigma and misconceptions about mental health." With time, however, West's actions in public and at home began to drastically change.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Kanye West surprisingly became affiliated with Donald Trump in 2018

To say that many of us were shocked when Kanye West began to express his political affiliations is an understatement. Things started off on a really strange note in 2018 when he said that 400+ years of slavery was a "choice," and his comments just escalated from there (per CNN). As noted by USA Today, West expressed his support for then-President Donald Trump, and not only did West meet him at the White House, but he called the former reality television star his "brother." "You don't have to agree with trump but the mob can't make me not love him," West later posted on Twitter of his affiliation with the then-president.

From there, West made his support for Trump well known and was often seen sporting one of Trump's popular "Make America Great Again" red baseball caps. With time, however, West did switch back and forth on where he stood with Trump politically, telling DJ EFN, "I still got a red hat on today, I'll let y'all know that. I might not got it on (right now), but I'll let y'all know where I stand with it" (via USA Today).

After expressing his political aspirations, the rapper ran for president in 2020

During the late-2010s, Kanye West's behavior startled fans and spectators alike when the rapper announced his run for president in 2020. Let's take you back to the 2020 field — Donald Trump was running for a second term in office, so the Republican side was firmly established. Joe Biden was running against a chorus of other Democratic politicians, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The field, while crowded, was full of well-known politicians with storied track records — except for West. The rapper had made his political stance known at that point in time and decided to throw his hat into the ring. Given the stats, he really shouldn't have.

As noted by Billboard, West spent almost $6 million on his presidential run, and, due to his last-minute efforts, he only made it to the ballot in 12 states. As results poured in, West snagged only 60,000 votes, scoring no delegates despite his efforts. Of West's presidential run, political scientist Robert Shapiro said, "For $6 million you could spend your money in better ways to get on the ballot and look less ridiculous."

His relationship with Kim Kardashian began to decline amid the pandemic

Since their relationship took off in 2013, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West had been known as a power couple. Kardashian had absolutely blossomed into a powerful reality star, businesswoman, and legal student, while West had transformed himself both positively and negatively. Despite West's controversies, the couple stayed together for years and ultimately had four children together. However, time was not particularly kind to them. As noted by Us Weekly, the couple started fighting more regularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with an inside source saying that West had been more focused on his artistic work than his family. And time did not heal their relationship, to the disappointment of their fans.

By the time February 2021 rolled around, Kardashian — who was living separately from West — had called it quits. As noted by NBC News at the time, Kardashian filed for divorce at the Los Angeles County Superior Court, closing the chapter on one of pop culture's most famous couples. Kardashian cited her struggles with West's mental health, among other factors, as reason for the divorce.

Kanye West became romantically linked to Julia Fox after separating from Kim Kardashian

When it became clear that Kanye West and Kim Kardashian were calling it quits, both the rapper and the business mogul attached themselves to other romantic interests — she began dating "Saturday Night Live" star Pete Davidson, while West became involved with actress Julia Fox. In an article she penned for Interview Magazine, Fox shed light on their first date night, recalling meeting West on New Year's Eve. "It was an instant connection," she wrote in January 2022. "His energy is so fun to be around. He had me and my friends laughing, dancing, and smiling all night."

Of course, as many fans and foes of pop culture already know, West and Fox's romance was incredibly short-lived, and the two called it quits by March. In the aftermath, Fox was grilled about the authenticity of the relationship, telling The New York Times that "elements" of the bond were real. In reality, she told the publication that she and West had spent about 15 days together total due to their heavy work schedules and family obligations. And, of course, the "Uncut Gems" meme was born shortly after, solidifying Fox in the pop culture vernacular.

Kanye West targeted Kim Kardashian's boyfriend, Pete Davidson, after their high-profile split

Since ending her relationship with Kanye West, Kim Kardashian has seemingly been out living her life. Focusing on her businesses, new Hulu show, and strange-yet-sweet romance with comedian Pete Davidson, she has certainly tried to be the bigger person, but West's public outbursts have certainly made that tough. As noted by People, West has not taken to his divorce from Kardashian well, especially amid her relationship with Davidson. From posting screenshots of Kardashian's private text messages to him from lashing out in the press, West made it clear early on that he did not approve of his ex moving on.

West's public feud with Kardashian and Davidson escalated in March 2022 when he released the music video for his song "Eazy." The video shows a doll-version of Davidson, who is tied up, kidnapped, and buried alive — West is ultimately seen standing on top of the Davidson grave, rapping, "God saved me from that crash, just so I could beat Pete Davidson's ass." Only time will tell where West takes his personal and professional lives after nearly two decades in the public eye.