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Kanye West, the Grammy-winning rapper and producer, has made headlines once again - this time for being banned from a Venice boat company following inappropriate behavior aboard one of their vessels.
West, who legally changed his name to "Ye" in 2021, was photographed in late August enjoying a boat ride in Venice with Australian architectural designer Bianca Censori. However, some of the photos showed the pair in compromising positions, with West's pants down and bottom exposed while Censori appeared to be positioned between his legs.
The boat company, Venezia Turismo Motoscafi, whose celebrity clients include Lady Gaga, Harry Styles, and Ben Affleck, subsequently released a statement that West and Censori are banned from using their services in the future. A spokesperson explained that the driver had not seen "these obscenities" due to watching for traffic on the water. Had the driver witnessed lewd behavior, the couple would have been immediately disembarked and reported.
This is just the latest controversy for the prominent rapper, who has made headlines in recent years more for erratic behavior than for his music. Here is a look at Kanye West's background, career highlights, and the scandals and issues that have surrounded him in recent times:
Early Life and Career Beginnings
Born in Atlanta and raised in Chicago, Kanye West first made a name for himself as a producer, working with artists like Jay-Z and crafting hits for Talib Kweli, Alicia Keys, and Janet Jackson. His skills behind the mixing boards earned him prestige and respect within hip hop circles, though he had ambitions of being a rapper himself.
West got his big break into rapping when he was involved in a near-fatal car accident in October 2002. With his jaw wired shut as he recovered from injuries, he wrote and recorded a song inspired by the experience, "Through the Wire." The song, built around a sped-up sample of Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire," catalyzed his transition from sought-after producer to solo artist.
The College Dropout and Early Success
In February 2004, West released his debut album The College Dropout, which featured the singles "Through the Wire" and "Jesus Walks." The album was a critical and commercial smash, selling over 4 million copies and earning 10 Grammy nominations, including Album of the Year. West took home three Grammys that night, including Best Rap Album.
He quickly followed up this success with his 2005 sophomore album Late Registration, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts and spawned the hits "Diamonds from Sierra Leone" and "Gold Digger" (featuring Jamie Foxx). The album won Best Rap Album at the 2006 Grammy Awards, where West also won Best Solo Rap Performance for "Gold Digger."
Over the next few years, West continued to release new music at a prolific rate while expanding his influence and notoriety through provocative interviews and attention-grabbing antics. 2007's Graduation again topped the Billboard charts and contained smashes like "Stronger" and "Good Life." Each album showed West's talent for fusing hip hop beats with elements from different genres like house, synthpop, and classic rock.
West gained a reputation for his ego and outspokenness early on, occasionally getting him into trouble and public spats with other stars. In 2009, he notoriously interrupted Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards, claiming Beyonce should have won her award.
While his antics sometimes drew ire and criticism, West generally let his undeniable talent as an artist overcome any ill will. But controversies began mounting in the 2010s, along with signs of increasingly erratic behavior from the rapper.
The 2010s: Marriage to Kim Kardashian, Mental Health Issues, and Politics
In 2012, West began dating reality star Kim Kardashian. The two became rap's new "it" couple, getting married in Florence in 2014. They went on to have four children together: North, Saint, Chicago, and Psalm.
Around this same period, West became more vocal about struggles with his mental health, primarily bipolar disorder. After works like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) and Yeezus (2013) continued his streak of critically acclaimed albums, West canceled his 2016 Saint Pablo Tour after making statements onstage about politics, radio stations, and other artists like Jay-Z and Beyonce. He was hospitalized shortly after as he reportedly suffered a psychiatric emergency.
West re-emerged after his hospitalization as an ardent supporter of Donald Trump's presidency. He visited Trump in the Oval Office in 2018 and made controversial statements about slavery being "a choice." He also announced plans to run for President himself in 2020 under the self-styled "Birthday Party," though he only appeared on a few state ballots.
Throughout the 2010s, West's albums like The Life of Pablo and Ye continued pushing the boundaries of hip hop and furthering his legendary status as a producer. But his political stances and provocative comments increasingly became intertwined with his music career.
Recent Antisemitic Comments and Fallout
In the last two years especially, West has become more and more outspoken with offensive comments, particularly directed towards Jewish communities. In 2020, he tweeted that his album recording deal resembled "modern day slavery," saying "I'm the new Moses." References evoking antisemitic tropes like Jewish greed and control of the music industry led Twitter to temporarily suspend West's account.
In 2021, further antisemitic posts from West led Instagram to delete content from his account. Defending himself on a podcast, West stated "I can say antisemitic s*** and Adidas can't drop me." This turned out not to be the case, as Adidas ended its lucrative Yeezy shoe deal with West in October 2022 following an antisemitic tirade on social media.
West appeared on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' InfoWars show in December 2022, where he flatly stated "I like Hitler." He tweeted about going "death con 3 on Jewish people," which resulted in his accounts being restricted or suspended. Even longtime corporate partners like Balenciaga fashion house severed ties.
Despite public criticism and repercussions, West has largely continued doubling down on antisemitic rhetoric and tropes. He claimed the term antisemitism "doesn't actually apply to anyone," as Jewish people are not the true semites. A January 2023 Instagram post saying fellow rapper Diddy is controlled by Jewish people led to another account suspension.
Personal Life in Recent Years
In February 2021, after nearly seven years of marriage, Kim Kardashian filed for divorce from West. The couple's split played out publicly, with West making pleas to Kardashian to reconcile during concerts and public events. He also took issue with Kardashian allowing their daughter North to have a TikTok account.
In January 2022, West began romantically seeing actress Julia Fox, though they split after just six weeks together. He then became involved with architectural designer Bianca Censori in late 2022. The two participated in a non-legally-binding wedding ceremony, though their relationship status is unclear following the Venice boat incident.
West released his latest studio album Donda 2 in February 2022, though he chose not to make it available on streaming platforms like Spotify or Apple Music. It can only be streamed via his proprietary Stem Player device.
Kanye West remains one of the most acclaimed and influential musicians of the 21st century for his production and rapping skills, visionary albums, and indelible cultural impact. However, increasingly unhinged statements and behavior over the last five years has seen his reputation badly tarnished.
The Venice boat incident banning West is just the latest in a string of controversies stemming from the rapper's embrace of offensive far-right tropes and conspiracy theories. While he retains a devoted fanbase, West's legacy and credibility continues suffering with each new outburst. It remains to be seen if the rapper can make amends and find a constructive way forward, or if further harmful rhetoric and alienation awaits. But West's unchecked words and actions continue overshadowing his artistic genius.
EJ Dickson. "Venetian Water Taxi Company Bans Kanye West for NSFW Behavior on Boat." RollingStone.com, 04th September 2023,https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/kanye-west-venetian-water-taxi-company-ban-1234817870/
Garchik, Leah. “Kanye West Dropped by CAA After Antisemitic Remarks.” San Francisco Chronicle, 25 October 2022, https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Kanye-West-dropped-by-CAA-after-antisemitic-17552194.php. Accessed 5 September 2023.
Leight, Elias. “A Timeline of Kanye West’s Most Controversial Moments.” Rolling Stone, 12 October 2022, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/kanye-west-controversial-moments-timeline-1234606915/. Accessed 5 September 2023.
Opie, David. “Kanye West has been dropped by Balenciaga.” Dazed, 21 October 2022, https://www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/58417/1/kanye-west-has-been-dropped-by-balenciaga. Accessed 5 September 2023.
Petridis, Alexis. “Kanye West: why antisemitism seems to be sticking to him.” The Guardian, 26 October 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/music/2022/oct/26/kanye-west-why-antisemitism-seems-to-be-sticking-to-him. Accessed 5 September 2023.
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