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Kanye West: The calculated impulsiveness of a hit maker

Mikko Stübner-Lankuttis / egFebruary 9, 2016

The rapper knows how to build up hype. On February 11, Kanye West will be presenting his seventh solo album and a new fashion collection in New York.

Kanye West performing at the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas, Copyright: Getty Images/C.Polk
Image: Getty Images/C.Polk

Will Kanye West's next album be called "So Help Me God," "Swish" or "Waves"? The 38-year-old rapper from Chicago has changed the name of his upcoming seventh studio album several times.

According to his wife's contribution to the ongoing speculation, "So Help Me God" would be the fans' most popular choice: Reality TV star Kim Kardashian West created a poll for her 40 million followers on Twitter, and 46 percent of the participants favored that title.

Announcing yet another change of title on Monday, Kanye West's final pick will definitely be revealed very soon, as he launches the album on February 11 at a concert at New York City's Madison Square Garden.

These changes must have been nerve-racking for his record company. After all, the selected title also needs to be found somewhere on the CDs to be released in stores this week. Even if it all sounds a little haphazard, on a promotional level, the rapper knows exactly what he's doing, as he's been getting daily media coverage for the last few weeks.

Through his Twitter spats and proud posts on his wife's sexy app "Kimoji," Kanye West's online activities will be keeping fans busy until Thursday. That day, he will not only be performing his entire new album live, but he will also present his latest fashion collection in association with the German sportswear manufacturer Adidas.

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West in 2015, Copyright: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
Power couple on the red carpet: Kanye with his wife Kim Kardashian West in 2015Image: T. A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Over 18,000 people are expected at the sold-out event at the Madison Square Garden, which will also be broadcast in a few hundred theaters in the US and in 25 European countries.

Between genius and megalomania

While some may find the rapper's cocky style simply amusing, many see Yeezy, as Kanye's also known, as a visionary. He's sold over 20 million albums and ranks as the world's seventh richest hip hop star, according to "Forbes" magazine.

For the last 12 years, Kanye West has been continuously creating shifts in the hip hop scene.

He was born in Atlanta in 1977. His father, a photojournalist, was a former Black Panther activist; his mother was an English professor before she retired.

West's parents got divorced when he was three, and he moved with his mother to Chicago, where he grew up in a relatively comfortable environment. He studied art and English, but dropped out of college to concentrate on his music. His 2004 debut album was appropriately called "The College Dropout."

On that album, he sampled his way back through black music history and rapped about teachers, consumerism, religion, and his near-death experience after a car accident. While everyone else was working on their mean gangsta image, he posed in a cute bear costume for the album's cover.

He also wore pink polo shirts and a designer backpack in real life, leading him to refer to himself as the "Louis Vuitton Don." With a little help from his friend, rapper Jay-Z, the album made it to number two on the Billboard charts. All of his subsequent albums would reach the top spot in the US charts.

Kanye West in 2005, Copyright: Getty Images/C. Allegri
An eccentric icon of style: Kanye West, aka "Louis Vuitton Don," in 2005Image: Getty Images/C. Allegri

Between anger and hype

In the following years, Kanye West would not only establish himself as a hit maker, with singles like "Gold Digger," "Stronger" and "Heartless," but also as a fashion trendsetter. He went to Paris to do internships with Louis Vuitton and Fendi, and then designed his own line - which was a flop.

Kanye West und Jay-Z in 2011, Copyright: Getty Images/J. McCarthy
Kanye West and fellow rapper Jay-Z in 2011Image: Getty Images/J. McCarthy

In 2015, he received a surprising academic recognition: an honorary doctorate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for his interdisciplinary work.

He's also known as a hothead regularly involved in provocative stunts. Most memorably, he ran onto the stage at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards to grab a trophy just given to the white country singer Taylor Swift and announced that it actually belonged to Beyoncé. Even Obama commented publically on his behavior, calling him a "Jackass." The rapper humbly apologized afterwards.

Beyond his egocentrism, the multimillionaire is still passionate about his art and obtaining social recognition. He sees his own success as one for African Americans as a whole, a group he sees as disadvantaged by the consequences of America's history of slavery and racial segregation.

Kanye West's last album, with the narcissistic title "Yeezus," directly dealt with ongoing discrimination. Despite his aspirations to godhood, the artist is still confronted with earthly problems.

One of them was his dispute with the sportswear giant Nike in 2013. The rapper had designed two models of shoes, which were sold out within minutes and were auctioned for absurd sums online afterwards. Yet Nike refused to continue to work with him, and the artist didn't keep their dispute secret.

Kanye West Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 trainers, Copyright: picture alliance/empics/D. Leal-Olivas
How much would you pay for these? Adidas sneakers designed by Kanye WestImage: picture alliance/empics/D. Leal-Olivas

The surprising trendsetter

Adidas saw an opportunity and fulfilled Kanye West's dream to get his one fashion line. It was a gigantic success. Fans were ready to camp for days in front of shops to obtain a pair of his limited edition sneakers in 2015.

He is now launching his third collection. Kanye's designs will once again include very expensive jogging pants going for around 350 euros ($390).

Last year, he maddened several designers by scheduling at the last minute a fashion show during the New York Fashion Week - their events all had to be rescheduled to avoid launching collections in empty rooms.

Paul McCartney and Kanye West, Copyright: picture alliance/dpa/Khayat-Nebinger-Orban-Taamallah
An unlikely duo: Paul McCartney is among the contributors on the upcoming albumImage: picture alliance/dpa/Khayat-Nebinger-Orban-Taamallah

Musical surprises can also be expected from Kanye West on Thursday, on his seventh studio album which he's already claimed to be "the best of all time." He spent three years working on it, and contributors include Paul McCartney, Rihanna and the hip rappers A$AP Rocky and Kendrick Lamar.