How Kanye West Really Became Famous

21-time Grammy award-winner Kanye West is one of the most talented and controversial celebrities of our time (via The Things). With such strategic building of the "Ye" empire, it may be hard to remember a young, pre-Kardashian Kanye, but it wasn't all that long ago that Kanye was a kid growing up in Chicago, Illinois, where he was raised by his mother Donda West. Kanye's mother — the namesake of his most recent album, as well as the inspiration behind songs like "Hey Mama" and "Coldest Winter" — was a huge inspiration for his work before and after her death in 2007, according to Mic.

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Dr. Donda West, an academic at Chicago State University, said Kanye was composing poems in the backseat of the car at age five, likening the autumnal shedding of leaves to "the trees [sic] melting black." By age 13, he'd written his first rap, "Green Eggs and Ham," which he recorded in a basement studio with a microphone hanging from the ceiling by a wire, per the Chicago Tribune. However, it would be years of producing music, working as a Sears telemarketer, going to college, and dropping out before Kanye really began his rise to stardom.

Rapping down to the wire

Kanye's first big bucks in the music industry came from selling one of his beats to the rapper Gravity for $8,000, according to The Things. That opened the door for him to sell his music to lots of other artists, including Cam'ron, Beanie Seigel, and, eventually, Jay-Z. In fact, Kanye was signed to Roc-A-Fella records in large part because he produced five of 13 tracks on Jay-Z's iconic 2001 album, "The Blueprint," per Money Inc.

However, Kanye's initial recognition in the music industry was almost cut short by a near-fatal car accident he suffered in 2002 (Money Inc). After falling asleep at the wheel on his way home from the studio, Kanye underwent jaw reconstruction surgery and had his mouth wired shut, according to The Things. What would have prevented most artists from singing and rapping for a while instead inspired Kanye to write a new track on the spot. After ordering an electronic drum machine to his bedside, he produced a new song, "Through the Wire," which he performed through literally clenched teeth (per Money Inc).

The College Dropout

In the early 2000s, Kanye struck a deal with his mother: He could leave Chicago State University where he was studying and continue to live under her roof while he pursued a career in music, but he would have just one year to make it in the industry or else return to college (via Chicago Tribune). Kanye's breakout 2004 album, "The College Dropout," was the product of this mother-son deal. He spent four years working on it, which, according to The Things, was the album that "propelled West into the spotlight."

Much of the album's messages are consistent with Kanye's projects today. In 2002, Kanye, at the time still rocking his pink polos and school-aged backpacks, told MTV the album was about making "your own decisions," and not letting "society tell you, 'This is what you have to do.'" After designing a pair of shoes, creating the non-profit Yeezy Sunday Service, and even announcing a run for presidency in 2020 (via The Thing), it seems like this message is something that Kanye's kept dear to his heart ever since his rise to stardom began.

The power couple

For the past decade, Kanye West has consistently released top-charting albums and his rise to fame has continued to increase. But in 2003, one big aspect of his stardom came into his life when he met Kim Kardashian, who at the time was working as Brandy's assistant, according to Insider. However, it wasn't until 2012 that Kanye and Kim officially started dating, going on to have four children before they separated and Kim filed for divorce last year (via Insider).

According to Buzzfeed, marrying Kim might have been "the greatest business move Kanye ever made." Since "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" first aired in 2007, Kim has garnered a net worth of nearly $2 billion with her own business ventures alongside Kanye's, via Forbes. Throughout Kanye's career, Kim frequently supported his fashion lines with pop-up shows and through advertising on social media, per Buzzfeed. The Kardashians, for example, wore merch from Kanye's "The Life of Pablo ” album, propelling his clothing line to be one of the highest trending of the year, according to Buzzfeed.

Kim and Kanye were one of the world's most powerful couples, according to Remix Magazine. Although there has been debate on who earned more money and who was more famous, there's little doubt they helped each other become two of the most famous celebrities of our time.