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Kanye West is a quadruple threat: producer, rapper, songwriter, and record executive. His albums have sold millions; his lyrics are sung by renowned recording artists including Brandy, Usher, and Alicia Keys. In 2005, West was named to Time magazine's list of One Hundred Most Influential People in the World. He was in good company, with a peer group that included talk show host Oprah Winfrey (1954–), actor Jamie Foxx (1967–; see entry), and actor Clint Eastwood (1930–). West's lyrics have been criticized for encouraging children and young adults to drop out of school, an allegation he claims is based on a misunderstanding. His newest album, Late Registration, was released in August 2005.
Kanye (Swahili [African] for "only one") West was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 8, 1977. His parents divorced when West was three. He was raised on Chicago's South Side by his mother, an English professor, and spent summers with his father, an award-winning photographer who became a church counselor.
West graduated from Polaris High School and completed one year of art school at Chicago State University. He explained his decision to drop out of school to Kimberly Davis in a 2004 interview with Ebony magazine. "I dropped out of school because I wasn't learning fast enough.... I learned from real life better." Real life at that time included rapping and working with local artists. West felt it was time to pursue his music career full time, so he moved to New York in 2001. His mixes and beats were getting him a reputation as a man who knew his jams. Respected rapper Jay-Z (1969–) hired him to produce songs for his 2001 album The Blueprint. Sales of that album exceeded 420,000 in the first week alone. West went on to produce for a handful of stars including rapper Ludacris and singer Beyonce. He was doing well, making a name for himself. But he wanted more.