Turning points mark every rising artist’s career, and while one often involves the industry “discovering” an artist, there’s another kind: the one in which the artist discovers himself.
Sometimes it happens quietly, while alone penning lyrics, when out of nowhere something clicks and your whole creative perspective changes. Other times it’s positively dramatic, as in the case of producer/rapper Kanye West, whose own musical epiphany nearly cost him his life.
In 2002, the Chicago native, who has produced for Alicia Keys, Britney Spears, Jay-Z and Ludicris, reached a near-fatal crossroad. Kanye was involved in a terrible car accident on his way back to a Los Angeles hotel, following a late night recording session.
The sudden impact left his jaw fractured in three places. Instead of the violent act extinguishing his creative desires, it served as the fuel to ignite it.
Within weeks, he recorded “Through the Wire,” which recounted the fateful event that almost shattered his dreams. When it was released, the song sent shock waves across the music industry and hip-hop America, because the rapper had recorded the lyrics while his jaw was wired shut.
Kanye’s thematic perspective on commercial rap is atypical. It stems in part from his family roots: His father was an ex-Black Panther-turned pastor and marriage counselor, and his mother was head of the English department at Chicago State.
With the help of an enlightened upbringing, his double-platinum Roc-A-Fella Records debut set, The College Dropout, represents what could be described as an evolutionary leap in hip-hop. Certainly it’s one that has led Kanye to fame and fortune — after a chance meeting with fate at an uncommon crossroad.