No matter who you are or where you lived in 2004 - if you owned a radio, television, computer or CD player, you felt Kanye West's presence. Since the release of his 3 million selling, critically acclaimed-debut 'The College Dropout,' the Chicago-born 28 year old rapper/producer/hip-hop icon has been at the top of the charts and at the top of his game. From the red carpet of the 47th Grammys - where he topped all nominees with a historic ten nods and took home awards for Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song and Best R&B song - to the millions of albums sold, a sold-out stadium tour with Usher, and his ubiquitous presence on MTV, BET, CNN, and radio stations nationwide, West grew from being an artist to watch to an artist you experience.
After co-producing tracks for Harlem World and the Mad Rapper at the tender age of 20, West caught his break when the heads of A&R at Jay-Z's Roc-A-Fella Records – Kyambo "Hip-Hop" Joshua and G. Roberson - were blown away by his soulful approach to hip-hop production. Even back then, West's unique talent made him stand out above the crowd. His use of vintage R&B samples and live instrumentation gave his work a warmth and emotional honesty that wasn't to be found anywhere else at the time.
While his early work suggested greatness, it was on Jay-Z's now-classic 'The Blueprint' that West first achieved it in a major way. Drawing from the Jackson 5 ("Izzzo (H.O.V.A)), the Doors ("Takeover") and the Temptations' David Ruffin ("Never Change"), West created the soulful yet gritty sound behind Jay's best tracks that his imitators (whose numbers would grow with each release) are still trying to copy today. But like any true original, West was in a league of his own—creating the future of hip-hop as he dug back in time with his unique samples to connect the past with the present in a brand new way. Before long, West was being hailed as the future of hip-hop.
Since stepping out from behind the production booth that birthed chart-topping hits like "Izzo (H.O.V.A.), "Get By", "Stand Up" and "You Don't Know My Name" for marquee artists such as Jay-Z, Talib Kweli, Ludacris and Alicia Keys to focus on his tremendous talents as a lyricist and songwriter, West has proven himself to be the most vital artist in hip-hop today.