In honor of ‘Donda’ — A look back at Kanye West’s New Jersey years
Rapper, fashion designer, and former 2020 presidential candidate Kanye West has become perhaps the most polarizing celebrity in recent memory.
He was born in Atlanta but raised in Chicago, where he started using a sampling keyboard at 15 years old, spending his high school years rapping and making beats in his room. By the late-90s, Kanye was producing songs for the likes of Common and Jermaine Dupri.
Things were looking up for Kanye, but one has to wonder if he knew the impact he would have on the music world for years to come.
The next step for him was to move as close to New York City as possible, which at the time was one of the epicenters of hip-hop. But he didn't actually move to NYC.
Instead, he did what plenty of us who've dealt with a Manhattan commute thought about doing: Moving as close to the Big Apple as possible, without actually living there.
After all, who wants to pay $4,500 for a rat-infested walk-in closet?
Kanye moved in to a Newark apartment with a family friend. He actually talks about this experience on his debut album, The College Dropout. In the song "Last Call," here is how Kanye refers to this part of his life:
Packed all my s*** up in a U-Haul, maybe about ten days before I had to actually get out so I ain't have to deal with the landlord cause he's a jerk
Me and my mother drove to Newark, New Jersey
I hadn't even seen my apartment. I remember I pulled up
I unpacked all my s***. You know, we went to Ikea, I bought a bed, I put the bed together myself.
I loaded up all my equipment, and the first beat I made was, uh, "Heart of the City."
The song contains graphic language, so click here with caution if you want to hear Kanye talk about his Jersey years for yourself. It comes up around the 7:00 mark.
"Heart of the City," by the way, is a song off of Jay-Z's 2001 smash album The Blueprint. Another song I won't embed directly in here because of graphic language, but you can check it out by clicking here.
Before things really took off for him, Kanye West also did a brief stint in Hoboken. Once again, to be close to the city.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Along with producing songs for countless artists, he's released 10 solo albums, as well as several other collaborative albums.
A lot of the music Kanye has created has gone on to change popular music as a whole. Albums like 808s and Heartbreak and Yeezus at the time of their releases surprised critics and fans for the radical departure from West's earlier music.
At least in those two instances, what happened after their respective releases was countless artists from various genres finding great influence in what he was putting out there. Aside from the first three albums of his, all of Kanye West's albums are starkly different from one another.
Between creating music and becoming a mogul in the fashion industry, he continues to churn out art at a rapid pace, all the while becoming a poster child for mental illness.
Even if his Jersey ties are ultimately just a matter of convenience, it's cool to know that New Jersey played a brief role in making all of this happen.
I mean ... how crazy is it that Kanye West is familiar with the perpetual urine stench in Newark Penn Station?
It makes you wonder what Kanye thinks of the burgers at Krug's Tavern in Newark, or if he has any skin in the central Jersey debate. Is it possible he identifies with Exit 145 off the Parkway?
So many questions I will likely never get to ask him.
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 producer, writer, and host Joe Votruba. Any opinions expressed are his own.