Kanye West has found incredible success since getting his start as a music producer in Chicago. A few years after he produced a few songs on Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, he broke out as a solo artist with his hit debut album, The College Dropout. In 2005, he reached the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with "Gold Digger," the second single off his second album, Late Registration. And the rest is history. Jump to 2020, and West has a whopping 69 Grammy nominations and an impressive 21 wins.
In addition to his music, West has also become a fashion icon, and his adidas Yeezy sneakers continue to bring in the bucks. And we are talking serious bucks: West has a reported net worth of $3.2 billion. But for all of his ups, Kanye West has also experienced plenty of downs. From family hardships to financial troubles and medical drama, life hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Ye. These are the tragic details from the life of Kanye West.
Kanye West believes his dad didn’t want him
When Kanye West was just 11 months old, his parents, Donda and Ray West, split up. Ye and his mother relocated to Chicago following the separation, and his parents divorced when he was three years old. Kanye spent most of his childhood and teen years with his mom, and as JET reported, he visited his father, a former Black Panther and award-winning photojournalist, in the D.C. area every summer.
The music giant hasn’t shied away from opening up about his childhood. When speaking with President Donald Trump in 2018, Kanye said there was "not a lot of male energy going on" when he was growing up. And on 2007’s "Champion," he seemingly suggests his dad struggled with his finances, but did his best to spoil his son. "’Cause every summer he’d get some/Brand new harebrained scheme to get rich from," Kanye raps. "And I don’t know what he did for dough/But he’d send me back to school with a new wardrobe, but ayy."
Despite Ray’s efforts, however, Kanye revealed during his first 2020 presidential rally that he believes his father didn’t want him. Becoming visibly emotional, he told the South Carolina crowd (via USA Today), "My mom saved my life. My dad wanted to abort me." He continued, "There would have been no Kanye West, because my dad was too busy."
A serious car crash threatened Kanye West’s career
Two weeks after he was signed to Roc-A-Fella as an artist — a watershed moment in his career — Kanye West got into an accident that put his dreams in jeopardy. As MTV reported in October 2002, West was rushed to a Los Angeles hospital after he got into a car crash that left him with a fractured jaw. West’s manager, Gee Roberson, confirmed that the rapper’s life was not in danger, but that his jaw would be wired shut for six weeks. WIUX later reported that West also required "reconstructive facial surgery" and "teeth replacement" and spent two weeks in hospital.
As MTV reported in 2004, West initially told cops he fell asleep at the wheel, but then apparently adjusted his account to claim the driver of the other car, Miguel Villasana, cut him off. WIUX noted Villasana was left with a broken pelvis, two broken legs, two broken knees, and a shattered ankle. According to court documents obtained by SPIN, Villasana sued West, but the lawsuit was apparently dismissed.
Following the ordeal, West wrote and recorded his first single, "Through the Wire," while his jaw was still wired shut. As he told Interview in 2014, "I think I started to approach time in a different way after the accident. Before I was more willing to give my time to people and things that I wasn’t as interested in." He went on to say that the accident "gave me perspective on life — that it was really now or 100 percent never."
Donda West’s death was a shocking tragedy
Kanye West and his mother, Donda West, had a bond like no other. When Ye was just 13, she agreed to take him to a studio to record his very first track, "Green Eggs and Ham," and when her son became famous, she retired from Chicago State University to work for Kanye full-time. As Red Eye Chicago reported, she was chief executive of West Brands, the company which owned all of Ye’s businesses. Donda was always her son’s No. 1 fan, telling the Chicago Tribune in 2004, "To say I’m proud of him is an understatement." A few years later, she shared with the Chicago Tribune that she "always encouraged him to think and to speak the truth as he sees it."
Then, in November 2007, Donda died unexpectedly, just one day after undergoing a number of cosmetic procedures. Donda was under the knife for five and a half hours, receiving a breast reduction, tummy tuck and liposuction after which, as the autopsy revealed (via People), she "opted to return to her home for care even though she was advised that she receive post-operative care at another facility." The following day, she reportedly experienced a sore throat and pain in her chest and died that evening. According to Reuters, "the manner of death could not be determined," but the coroner did conclude that Donda "died from some pre-existing coronary artery disease and multiple post-operative factors following surgery."
‘Unresolved grief’ seems to be a part of Kanye West’s life
Just 12 days after the passing of Donda West, Kanye West threw himself back into his work. As the NZ Herald reported, he took to the stage and grappled with tears while performing "Hey Mama." Opening up about the important role Donda played in his life, the rapper later told MTV, "My mother was my everything." He shared that she was his "first manager," adding, "I remember her driving me out to the suburbs that would be like an hour away to studios, and her just sitting there with me in support."
According to one source who spoke with People in 2018, Kanye’s various outbreaks may be tied to the pain he feels over losing his mother. "It happens every fall as we get close to the anniversary of his mom’s death," the insider claimed. And it’s clear Donda is still a constant on West’s mind. In 2018, he tweeted an image of her plastic surgeon, Dr. Jan Adams, writing (via The Guardian), "This is my album cover." Explaining the reason behind he idea, he revealed, "I want to forgive and stop hating." (Kanye used a photo of the Teton Range instead.)
It seems this is one wound that time simply cannot heal. As Ulysses Blakeley, who dated Donda "for years," told Page Six in 2020, "He has not recovered from the loss of his mother. They had such a close bond." Blakeley said he believes "unresolved grief" is at play.
Kanye West blames himself for his mother’s death
Kanye West has repeatedly claimed that it’s his fault that his mother died in 2007. When Q asked him (via NME) in 2015 what was the biggest sacrifice he had to make for success, he responded, "My mom. If I had never moved to LA, she’d be alive," he reasoned, adding, "I don’t want to go far into it because it will bring me to tears."
He again placed the blame on himself on a 2008 track called "Pinocchio Story" on which he rapped, "And the day I moved to LA, maybe that was all my fault/All my fault to be a real boy, chasin’ the American dream/Chasin’ everything we seen, up on the TV screen." And when he was asked to guest-edit an issue of XXL in 2010, he opened up about the impact Los Angeles had on his mother’s untimely passing, writing (via Huffington Post), "When I moved to LA, she moved to LA. And she wound up in a place that would eat her alive. Even if I stayed in New York, it wouldn’t have been like that." He went on to spell it out as plainly as possible: "If I had lived in New York, she’d still be here."
A ‘nervous breakdown’ landed Kanye West in the hospital
In November 2016, TMZ reported Kanye West suffered a "nervous breakdown" and was hospitalized at UCLA Medical Center. According to TMZ, West was at trainer Harley Pasternak’s house when he started "acting erratically" and 911 was called. While the official reason for his hospitalization was said to be dehydration and sleep deprivation, the incident was classified as a "psychiatric emergency," according to dispatcher audio.
Speaking about the incident in 2018, West told Charlamagne tha God that "fear, stress, control, being controlled, manipulation, being a pawn and chess piece of life" led to the breakdown. Meanwhile, he shared with TMZ Live that he had gotten liposuction, which resulted in an opioid addiction and that was what led to his hospitalization. TMZ had a different theory, however, pointing out that West canceled a concert at the Forum on November 20, which was the anniversary of his mother’s death. He pulled the plug on the entire tour and was taken to UCLA Medical Center the following day.
Red debt redemption for Kanye West
How can a world-famous rapper be millions of dollars in the hole? That’s the question many were asking when Kanye West took to Twitter in 2016 to reveal (via CNN) that he was "53 million dollars in personal debt" and ask Mark Zuckerberg to "invest 1 billion dollars into Kanye West ideas."
Breaking down the numbers, TMZ noted that the losses likely came from investments in his music career and fashion, including shelling out $40 million for three seasons of his clothing line, Yeezy. Vanity Fair agreed, noting that most of his money woes likely stemmed from a number of failed undertakings in the fashion world, like his first clothing line, Pastelle, which never saw the light of day, a 2013 collaboration with A.P.C. that cost him $30 million, and the fact that Nike reportedly didn’t share any of the revenue from the Nike Air Yeezy with him.
West then teamed up with adidas to launch Yeezy Season 1, which, as he told BET (via VIBE), put him $16 million in the red. "I was trying to play a sport that’s a billionaire sport," he said, adding, "It’s not a millionaire sport and I’m proud of the debt … I care about my vision." West’s collab with adidas turned out to be a smart move, however, as his Yeezy sneakers reportedly brought in $1.3 billion in 2019 and, in 2020, Forbes reported that West had officially become a billionaire.
Donda’s House was at the center of a feud
In 2011, Kanye West, Donnie Smith, and Rhymefest founded Donda’s House, a charity that was meant to honor West’s late mother "by supporting Chicago’s young creatives." However, the initiative appeared to create more drama than good when Rhymefest suggested West did not care about the project. Alleging that he had asked West for funds to "rebuild Kanye’s mother’s house for the youth of Chicago," Rhymefest tweeted that the rapper’s response had been "F*** the youth of Chicago." And when West publicly shared his support for President Trump in 2018, the charity tried to distance itself from West, writing in a statement, "We do not want your rejection of Kanye West, to be a rejection of Dr. Donda West and the thousands of lives she impacted including her own son." Again, they accused West of declining to offer funds, "despite multiple attempts, and despite those early conversations about his plan of support and advocacy for the youth in our programs."
Kim Kardashian was quick to fire back, slamming Rhymefest’s "audacity to use Kanye’s mom name to try to shed a negative light on Kanye." She added, "After several years of lack of performance from the organization … Rhymefest asked to take it over and Kanye agreed with no financial strings attached."
There’s drama surrounding Kanye West’s childhood home
Not only has Donda’s House charity caused a lot of drama for Kanye West, but his beloved childhood home at 7815 S. South Shore Dr., which was meant to be the site of Donda’s House HQ, has become a sore spot as well. West’s mother, Donda, bought the home in 1981 with then-boyfriend Ulysses Blakeley, and, according to the Chicago Tribune, West lived there for about eight years. They moved out around 1990 and Donda sold the property for $121,000 in 2003. It was later foreclosed, but Donda’s House charity bought it in 2016 with plans of transforming it into a community arts center.
This is where things become messy. Not only did Rhymefest accuse West of failing to provide the necessary funds for the project, but according to the Chicago Crusader, he also decided to "demolish the home in order to build our Donda’s House Center" in 2017, rather than salvaging it, after "significant structural damage" was discovered. As the Chicago Tribune reported, the city of Chicago eventually got involved, deeming the home "dangerous and unsafe" and filing a demolition court complaint in January 2019. A court date was set for early 2020 but pushed back due to COVID-19.
In April 2020, WGN reported West purchased the home for $225,000. The outlet noted that "permits were taken out for renovating the home" but there weren’t any updates regarding what West intended to do with the property.
Kanye West’s road to parenthood was tough
These days, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian are happy parents of four, but their parenthood journey hasn’t been easy. The pair welcomed their first child, daughter North, in 2013, after a difficult pregnancy. As Kardashian revealed on the All’s Fair podcast, she was still technically married to Kris Humphries and had only been dating West for seven months when she found out she was expecting North. "It was all new territory to me and I was so scared," she admitted.
As USA Today reported, West revealed at a 2020 campaign rally that he and Kardashian considered an abortion. However, after they decided against it, Kardashian was sure she had a miscarriage because, as she shared on the aforementioned podcast, she was "really heavily bleeding and in so much pain." A doctor told her there was "no heartbeat," which was obviously incorrect, but things didn’t get any easier. "I had a really bad pregnancy, I had preeclampsia, I delivered six weeks early, she was four pounds and I had something called placenta accreta, where the placenta grows inside your uterus," she shared.
Kardashian’s second pregnancy occurred through IVF, but West had to once again watch his wife suffer from, as she put it, the "same condition," which resulted in the need for "five surgeries in the next year and a half to internally fix the damage that was done." The Wests’ two youngest children, Chicago and Psalm, were born via surrogate.
Kanye West and his dad have overcome obstacles together
Kanye West’s dad, Ray West, has always been around, but the pair didn’t start building a real relationship until after Ye hit 40. As he revealed on 2016’s "Pt. 2," things weren’t always easy for them. "Sorry that I ain’t call you back, same problems my father had," he raps. He goes on to hint at his father’s financial troubles and his parents’ split: "All this time, all he had, all he had/And what he dreamed, all his cash/ Market crashed, hurt him bad/People get divorced for that."
In 2019, Kanye tweeted (via Page Six), "It took me 42 years to realize that my dad was my best friend." He also shared that his father visited him on his ranch in Wyoming and they bonded as Ray "talked about his love for fishing, and how he could come here in the summers." The pair even appeared together in the 2019 video for Kanye’s "Follow God."
As they started to cultivate this new chapter of their relationship, Ray was hit with some hard news: he had prostate cancer. Luckily, as sources told People in July 2018, he was "responding well to the treatment." Understandably, the diagnosis took its toll on Ye. "Kanye doesn’t really talk about it," an insider shared with the magazine. "You can tell it’s something that’s very difficult for him." By October 2018, Ray was in remission, and he and his son celebrated with a plate of bugs.