Kanye West at 44: a tormented artist and (almost) the richest Black man in U.S. history
Kanye West, born 8 June 1977, has probably become the richest Black man in US history, Bloomberg reports. The financial news organization estimates that he has a worth of $6.6 billion (£4.7 billion). This would make the rapper and fashion entrepreneur richer than investor Robert F. Smith and basketball legend Michael Jordan have ever been.
As Sky recounts, Kanye West claimed to be in a "$53 million (£38 million) debt just three years ago," but then, "the rapper and fashion tycoon became a certified billionaire last year with the help of his successful apparel and trainer brand, Yeezy, and a new multi-year contract with clothing retailer Gap."
Other media have nuanced the report. Forbes indicates that Bloomberg's source is a document about "theoretical future expectations" of Kanye West's income - not of his actual worth. Forbes estimates the rapper's net worth at $1.8 billion, causing him to fall behind the richest Black American, Robert F. Smith. Nevertheless, both media agree that he is a certified billionaire now.
The status of richest African American in history is the crown on a reputation of personal and professional success for Kanye West. He's been recognized as a talented musician, an agile entrepreneur, and the father of a supposedly perfect family. However, a flipside to this image has also been on display for years.
Kanye West has publicly stated that he suffers from episodes of bipolar disorder. Sometimes, his behavior can seem irrational - like in 2020, when he unexpectedly ran for U.S. president and made some puzzling public statements. His marriage with Kim Kardashian also came to an end that year.
According to Kardashian, Kanye West is "a brilliant but complicated person." Constantly in the spotlights for his art and businesses, he suffers from a "pressure and isolation that is heightened by his bi-polar disorder." It is clear that the richest Black man in America has a backstory with both fascinating and (at times) disturbing elements.
Kanye West did not have a tough childhood on the streets like, say, Jay-Z. He was born into a middle-class family in Atlanta in 1977 before they moved to Chicago. His father was an award-winning newspaper photographer and his mother a college professor.
Kanye West studied Fine Arts in Chicago, adding a university degree to his innate talent for music. He started out as a producer at the legendary Roc-A-Fella Records label. There he contributed to successes for Janet Jackson, Alicia Keys and Jay-Z. In 2004, West released the first album of his own. From then on, success came easily.
It could have turned out differently. In 2002, just as he was about to switch from producer to artist with songs of his own, Kanye West got into a car accident. He fell asleep at the wheel on his way back from the studio and broke his jaw. The rapper was admitted to the hospital and had to undergo reconstructive surgery.
After 2004, Kanye West's run to stardom was dazzling. The rapper rubbed elbows with celebrities like the late Karl Lagerfeld (in the picture) and became a vocal critic of the (predominantly white) American pop scene.
Over time, Kanye West had several relationships with famous women. Among them were designer Alexis Phifer and model Amber Rose (in the picture).
Kanye's dazzling rise to fame contributed to his megalomania. Critics have said he exhibits a self-love that is almost humorous. One of his statements is "I am the Coca-Cola, the Walt Disney and the McDonald's of music." Another claims a certain religious power for the rapper: "If the Bible were written today, I would be in it."
Kanye West has also declared himself a "born-again Christian" and created his own church. The rapper leads the Sunday service in his church.
West's statements have often led to controversy; especially in recent times. He supported Donald Trump and endorsed him as president in 2016. It was a weird move, because Trump had little support among the African-American community and was known for his racist remarks and ties with the KKK for a long time.
In addition, during the COVID-19 pandemic, West told Forbes that the virus is "the mark of the beast" and that vaccines might be used to install microchips into citizens' bodies.
West has talked openly about the effect of his anxiety and mood swings on his life. They eclipse his great talent and financial successes. In 2018, the rapper revealed to David Letterman that he had to take medication and that it was interfering with his artistic process.
Some of these controversies occurred while Kanye West was married to Kim Kardashian. They were a couple from 2012 through 2020. Combining their creative and business talents, West and Kardashian were one of the most powerful couples in showbiz.
Married in March 2014, the couple had four children: North West, Saint West, Psalm West, and Chicago West.
As he was making billions and raising a famous family with four children, Kanye West seemed to be on the top of the world. However, the brilliant artist began to show signs of bewilderment and uninhibitedness over the course of 2020.
It began with the stunning announcement, on the fourth of July, that he was running for President of the United States. In an interview with Forbes he proclaimed that his slogan would be "Yes" and that his party would be the BP (Birthday Party): "Because when we win it will be everyone's birthday."
Some people thought Kanye West was joking. Or perhaps he was giving a sermon, similar to his work as a pastor during the religious service he organizes every Sunday. But the rapper persisted. A few weeks later, he held his first campaign rally in Charleston, South Carolina. From that point, things went haywire.
The star's performance at his rally made alarm bells go off. Kanye West cried a couple of times and talked about some very personal experiences, for example regarding abortion. In terms of politics, it was unclear whether he opposed abortion or not. Other confusing policy proposals by West included giving a million dollars to every woman who has a baby, and opposing gun control (to the disagreement of most African-American activists). Political analysts did not become much wiser from his first rally.
After the tumultuous Charleston rally, the rapper sent out a streak of disturbing and disconnected tweets. He said, among other things, that he feared ending up in jail like Nelson Mandela, and that the movie 'Get Out!' was about him: "Everybody knows." Kanye West also suggested that his wife and mother-in-law wanted to kidnap him. He claimed that he'd been trying to get a divorce for years.
After the artist's frantic Twitter activity, his wife Kim Kardashian saw herself forced to explain in public that her husband was having mental health issues. Through various stories on Instagram she spoke about his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, which can cause 'manic' or irrational behavior.
Emphasizing that her husband is "a brilliant but complicated person," Kardashian claimed that he suffered from "the pressures of being an artist and a black man." In addition, "the painful loss of his mother" had affected the rapper very much. For people with bipolar disorder, stressful lifestyles and shocking events can add up to a climax.
"Those who know about mental illness and compulsive behaviors, know that the family can't do anything unless we are dealing with a minor," Kardashian added to explain why they hadn't been able to stop her husband from acting out.
By late 2020, Kanye West was reportedly staying in his Wyoming ranch to isolate from media attention and recover from his mental breakdown. At the same time, Kim Kardashian allegedly began thinking about a divorce and consulting her lawyers.
Finally, in February 2021, the couple settled their divorce. They have joint custody over the four kids, and Kim Kardashian keeps the family home in Calabasas, California. Where Kanye West will be living, is not known yet.
Kanye West is the richest Black man the U.S. ever saw. He may also be one of the loneliest. The future will tell whether Kanye West will be remembered as a tycoon and superstar, or whether the image of a tormented artist will dominate his legacy.