I’m from Chicago.1 I was always on my own island.2 Ever since I was at preschool I had little kids following me around. The teacher just said I was a natural born leader.3 I was in fourth grade painting nude women, because I was a proper artist!4
People ask me a lot about my drive. I think it comes from, like, having a sexual addiction at a really young age. Look at the drive that people have to get sex—to dress like this and get a haircut and be in the club in the freezing cold at 3 A.M., the places they go to pick up a girl. If you can focus the energy into something valuable, put that into work ethic...5 I wasn't just born the best lyricist in the world. Not saying I'm that today, but I'm pretty good. I'm amongst the top ever.6
One of the problems with being a bubbling source of creativity—it's like I'm bubbling in a laboratory, and if you don't put a cap on it, at one point it will, like, break the glass. If I can hone that...then I have, like, nuclear power, like a superhero, like Cyclops when he puts his glasses on.5
I am so credible and so influential and so relevant that I will change things.7 I wanna take over the world. And people say, "It's kinda cocky to think that."8 In America, they want you to accomplish these great feats, to pull off these David Copperfield-type stunts, but let someone ask you about what you're doing, and if you turn around and say, "It's great," then people are like, "What's wrong with you?"2 Yo, why won't you let me be great?... Please, I beg you, give me a break! Just let me be great!9
People always tell you, "Be humble. Be humble." When was the last time someone told you to be amazing? Be great! Be great! Be awesome! Be awesome!10
I love me.11 Oh my God, I'm one of the greatest rappers in the world. I'll get on a track and completely annihilate that track, I'll eat it and rip it in half. I wouldn't have to think of it.5 I mean, I fucking rock shows and people know what it is.12 If I heard Graduation and it was made by somebody else, I would go to the bathroom and take a shit, because I would be scared. This record speaks to me so much.13
There’s so much bullshit going on in music right now and somebody has to make a fucking difference.14 I really like my raps, so if I go to the barbershop, I'mma say, "Man, you know…" and I'm not gonna speak in third person. I'm gonna speak in first person. "I'm nicer." "I can do this." "I can do that." Oh, now I'm arrogant. But it's not from arrogance it's just from me debating and me wanting to get my point across.15 People say, "Oh you over-explain yourself." Well, there’s things that won’t ever be explained in my time.16
The biggest misconception is people think I wouldn't be cool to hang around. I think I'm a cool guy to hang around, but then maybe that's just me being arrogant again.17 I used to feel this sense of entitlement that’s completely immature. I needed to really get past that. It’s been a great detriment to people liking me, me being a spoiled baby.18
I just wanna be a doper person which starts with me not always telling people how dope I think I am. I need to just get past myself.19 I'm not above the people. I'm of the people. I love the people. I am the people.4 You can’t choose to be the No. 1 rapper in the world, you can’t choose to be the president. People choose you.16 I have one of the biggest voices around, so I'm not trying to hurt people I’m trying to help people and teach.20
I have socially conscious lyrics.21 The fact that I’m actually talking about something new, that’s somewhat on the positive side, is just an added bonus.1 I like facing up to the realities – like black people being super homophobic. It's still prevalent. We still are. We still will be. I'm not as brutally honest as I used to be. Sometimes honesty can be used improperly.13 I play to the stereotypes. I believe in the stereotypes. And I submit to them.22
I get to represent somebody I don’t think is getting represented right now. The regular dude: the guy who believes in God but still likes pussy. You know what I mean?23 I’d like people to have this alternative, even if it isn’t me.1 I’m the only voice for the guys because rap dudes don’t rap about love, and R&B dudes rap about love, like, “I want to love you.” So Pink is making songs, Ciara, all these male-bashing songs, so I’m like the only dude to speak up for the guys from an intelligent, really been in a relationship type perspective.18
What is hip-hop?24 Hip-hop used to be about being fearless and now it's all about being afraid. It used to be about standing out, now it's all about fitting in.25 I studied rap. I studied the greats.20 I studied the game kinda like a boxing coach... No one thought that I would get played anyway so I just made the songs I wanted to hear the most because I figured at least I could play 'em in my car if they never blew up.26 Call me any name you want: arrogant, conceited, narcissistic, racist. Whatever you can think of, BUT NEVER SAY I DIDN’T GIVE MY ALL!27
When you look back at these four and a half years, who's the icon at the end of the day? Who broke down color barriers? What other black guy would a white person use as a fashion reference?5 You know I realize now, that I’m more of a like ambassador to black people and to hip-hop and that’s why I have so much responsibility.28 I rock a bespoke suit and I go to Harold's for fried chicken. It's all these things at once, because, as a tastemaker, I find the best of everything.22 Respect my trendsetting abilities.7
Hey, I just looked down and realized how dope my shirt is.13
My biggest thing is impatience.22 I want the world to be better! All I want is positive! All I want is dopeness!7 I’m an artist at the end of the day and sounds are like my paints. Basically no one can tell me what to paint with and that’s the medium I chose to make these paintings with. I just really want to tell anybody who wants to say anything about me for using Auto-Tune and they don’t like it, fuck ‘em.12 I have to be creative at all times and I have to learn. I don't know any other way.17 I CAN HEAR YOU SCREAMING 'COLOR INSIDE THE LINES!!!' WELL FUCK YOUR COLORING BOOK, COLOR BY NUMBERS APPROACH TO LIFE.29
I make music that is good, and it should be the biggest.18 I'm pretty calculating. I take stuff that I know appeals to people's bad sides and match it up with stuff that appeals to their good sides.30 But I’m always going left until everyone is going left, then I’ll go right again. I’ll always push the envelope, try to get a rise out of people, and try to entertain them too.3 I think it takes experience to be a great poet and communicator, and as life goes on I have more and more experiences, so hopefully I’ll just get better and better.18 My career is a labor of love.17
I’m famous, but I’m not a celebrity. I don’t act like a celebrity at all. You might see me, like, riding my bike downstairs or something at any given moment.31 I'm the worst kinda, worst kinda, worst kinda celebrity, because all I do is make real music. All I do is sit in the studio and make real, real shit. And that's it. That's motherfucking it. That's motherfucking it.32 I love stuffed animals.2 I guess, as a pop star you have a responsibility to not be real anymore.22
I feel like I'm here for a reason.33 I was put on this earth to make magic. I was put on this earth to make music and art... I mean, "Stronger" is going to be around forever.22 Nicole Kidman said “Love Lockdown” was the single of the year. “No doubt. Single of the year.”34 I’m like a vessel, and God has chosen me to be the voice and the connector.23 My story is so written, like God has a plan for me—an exact parallel, like I've seen this before, I'm back in Groundhog Day again.5
I don’t have one regret. If anyone’s reading this waiting for some type of full-on, flat apology for anything, they should just stop reading right now.7 I don’t want to speak on the word regret.35 (I made mistakes that I regret so much. Like that Grammy outfit. People always hold that against me.13) I’ve hurt, I’ve bled, I’ve learned. I only want to do good. I am passionate I am human I am real. I wish I could meet every hater.36 If you read books – which I don't, none at all – about how to become a billionaire, they always say, "You learn more from your mistakes." So if you learn from your mistakes, then I'm a fucking genius.13 I'm briefly saddened by negative comments, but I have to remember those people are scared, incapable, or just plain idiots.37 What I do at this point is a gift. And I think people are complaining about their gift.34
What I want people to realize at this point is, I don’t give a fuck.23 I’m not pandering to sell any more records to get people to like me more — I would like people to like me because I’m likeable.38 Maybe 90 percent of the time it looks like I’m not having a good time.7 Honestly, at this point, when I listen to radio, that ain't what I wanna be no more... At this point, I could give a fuck about selling a million records. At this point, I don't really give a fuck 'bout outside opinions.39 I realize that my place and position in history is that I will go down as the voice of this generation, of this decade, I will be the loudest voice.40
If you say anything then you lose everything. If you say anything then you lose everything. If you say anything then you lose everything.16 I don’t have nothing to lose. There’s no loss that can happen to me.24
It's lonely at the top.41 I don’t have some type of romantic relationship with the public. I’m like, the anti-celebrity, and my music comes from a place of being anti... I’m the type of rock star that likes to have a girlfriend, you know? I’m the type of soul that likes to be in love and likes to be able to focus. And that inspires me...I just don’t want to talk to America about my family. Like, this is my baby. This isn’t America’s baby.7 I don’t owe anything to anyone.12
Anytime I’ve had a big thing that’s ever pierced and cut across the Internet, it was a fight for justice. Justice.7 No anonymity, I put myself in the line of fire. It’s like straight up the kid in Tiananmen Square, the Chinese kid in front of the tank right there. I’m in front of the social, the media tank16 It’s only led me to awesome truth and awesomeness. Beauty, truth, awesomeness. That’s all it is.7
I have sacrificed real life to be a celebrity and to give this art to people, which is great. It is great that I was able to do that, I'm not trying to shun that in any way, but it's definitely a Catch-22 and it's bittersweet.40 Even amidst all the cheers, I can never quite enter into la-la land. And the fact that these issues are always looming is why I get paid the big bucks. Because I'm so conscious of all these things, I put it in my music and everyone relates to it.2 I believe that my music is inspirational.13 I'm not about making music to market by. I'm about making stuff that people love.8 I want people to remember me the way they know Nike, that level of impact. Who was the last person who really had it like that? When I was a kid, it seems like there was a lot of great pop music. There was George Michael, Michael Jackson.23
I think the press has an agenda to try to make people not like me, because they realize what my voice can do.28 That's why I hate written and printed interviews because they don't fuck with how I talk. They gotta cut the words down.33 The press don’t make me.1 The media is scared of me. They're scared of a black man with this taste level.33 I'm an artist that people love to hate. Even if they love me sometimes they just like to talk shit about me, because there are very few artists who stand up for what they believe in.17
People are not going to agree with everything I do. I look back and look at stuff I do and don't agree with it. Man, if I made a dis record of myself, I would kill me. I would be extremely good at it.33bCriticism can bother you, but you should be more bothered if there’s no criticism. That means you’re too safe.24
There's nothing more to be said about music. I'm the fucking end-all, be-all of music. I know what I'm doing.5 I think what Kanye West is going to mean is something similar to what Steve Jobs means. I am undoubtedly, you know, Steve of Iinternet, downtown, fashion, culture. Period. By a long jump. I honestly feel that because Steve has passed, you know, it’s like when Biggie passed and Jay-Z was allowed to become Jay-Z.7
I only rap reality!33 There’s no reality to celebrity.16 I'm never too good for anything.42 I'm just reacting what my soul tell me to do.43 I will die for what’s in my heart.44
Now let's talk about how my fucking sweater didn't come back right from Korea. That's what's interesting me.5
Essay assembled by Rich Juzwiak, using Kanye West's own words from various interviews, tweets, blog posts, and concert rants throughout his career. Original sources are listed in the footnotes.
1"Balloon Mind State," Vibe, April 2004.
2"The Passion of Kanye West," Rolling Stone, February 9, 2006.
3"Kanye West: Interview," Time Out, September 14, 2005.
4Hot 97 Interview with Funkmaster Flex, November 2010.
5"The Unraveling of Kanye West, Details, February 2009.
6"Kanye West Steps Forward and Up," NPR, September 16, 2005.
7"Behind Kanye's Mask," New York Times, June 11, 2013.
8"VH1 News Confidential: Kanye West," VH1, 2006.
10"American Mozart," The Atlantic, April 2, 2012.
12"Kanye West Interviewed," Clash, April 12, 2008.
13"Kanye West: A Genius in Praise of Himself," Rolling Stone, September 20, 2007.
14Concert rant, August 6, 2011
15"Box Set: Arrogance vs. Confidence," VH1, January 18, 2007.
17"It's Kanye's World," The Guardian, August 11, 2007.
18Kanye West Cover Story and Interview, The Fader, November 2008.
19Kanye West's blog, April 2009.
20Kanye West RAW: Grammy Edition, MTV, January 2006.
21"Kanye West; Head of the Class," Rolling Stone, April 29, 2004.
22"Entertainer of the Year: Kanye West," Spin, December 20, 2007.
23"Kanye West’s Time Has Come," The Fader, 2007.
24Angie Martinez Interviews Kanye West, Hot 97, November 26, 2008.
25"Kanye West on Hip-Hop," MTV News Raw, November 19, 2008.
26Interview, DJ Cotten, 2004.
27Kanye West's blog, June 25, 2008.
28Exclusive Interview with Kanye West, Concrete Loop, 2007.
29Kanye West's blog, January 2010.
30"Why You Can't Ignore Kanye," Time, August 21, 2005.
32Concert rant, May 16, 2013.
33Kanye West Speaks Through the Wire, Hip Hop Site, 2004.
34"The Truth Hurts: Kanye West: 'I Am Rap,'" Vibe, February 2009.
35Kanye West's Interview with Matt Lauer, The Today Show, November 2010.
37Kanye West's blog, January 2010.
38Interview with Kanye West, Radar Online, 2010.
39Concert rant, June 11, 2013.
40Kanye West: I'm The 'Voice of This Generation,' Huffington Post, November 13, 2008
41Kanye West: I'm Looking for the "Right Girl," People, November 12 2008.
42The Wendy Williams Experience, VH1, October 2007.
43VMAs Walking and Talking on the Carpet, MTV, August 2005.
44Concert rant, December 30, 2012.
[Photo-illustration by Jim Cooke, photos via AP and Getty]