The Center for the History of Black Music is a small library within the Career Center at Columbia College Chicago. When going into the center, I had no clue as to what to expect. I had no idea what I would be doing, what I would have to research, and if I would even have any interest in what I was researching.
Reaching the 6th floor of the building on S. Michigan Ave, I nervously glanced around. I arrived in a tiny hallway with two doors, one of them reading the title of the center. I almost left, thinking, “Do I really need to write this paper?” Lucky for me, I sucked it up and rang the buzzer. A kind student intern brought me into the library where she introduced me to a very helpful librarian. She held a specific shelf for certain students, and she introduced me to many of the topics that she had available. I didn’t recognize most of the names that she threw at me and I was almost ashamed that I wasn’t familiar with historic black music from Chicago. The final name, however, made me nearly jump with excitement.
The book I chose to research was an autobiography of the childhood of Kanye West, one of the most popular rappers to modern date. The book, called Raising Kanye, was transcribed by Donda West, Kanye’s mom. Being a frequent listener of Kanye’s music, as well as hearing how he grew up in Chicago and went to Columbia for a semester, I was surprised at how little I knew about his upbringing. As someone who had not been properly informed on Kanye’s background, I simply saw the idolized figure as another “rap god” that fed off of the media and the drama from the journalists scratching away at him. I simply saw him as the wealthy rapper who got a big break. I never really thought about how he was raised and the strong effect that had on his career and success.
It’s no doubt that Kanye is a very outspoken figure that many young adults can preach to. West quotes, “If parents could be more open-minded to their children, more open to what their children are into-like their music, their clothes, and their interests-maybe they could raise children who become open-minded adults. That’s how my mom was. And I was open to what she told me because she always valued what I had to say” (West ix). Kanye had to be open minded, as well as his mother, in order to go into the business that he thrives off of so well. When someone mentions that they desire to delve into the arts, specifically musical performance, there’s no doubt that they might be laughed at or doubted because everyone seems to have a solid belief that there’s no way to make it into that sort of career. That people are simply born into it. What they don’t realize, however, is the hard work and dedication that it truly takes to become a figure that others will look up to in an artistic sense. Donda understood what success took, and due to her own uprising, she was able to shape Kanye’s childhood into the same ideal of success at all costs.
Donda West quotes, “My father always had a way of making me feel that I was the most special and smartest person on earth, and I never wanted to disappoint him. I’m told that when I was born he said, ‘I’ll make her a masterpiece.’ I have adsorbed those words into my being-in my mind, spirit, and actions. I prayed that prayer to make my child brilliant, in the same vein as my father wanting to make me a masterpiece” (West 4). From a young age, West had the strong hope that her son would grow up to be someone important, to make a difference in this world. She admits numerous times that in no way, shape, or form was it easy raising Kanye, but she kept her hope and her determination in her to drive both her and her son forward.
In the sense of finding the path to success while doing what you love, I can easily relate to Kanye and his drive to become something to the world. Kanye quotes at the beginning of the book, “I wanted to make it as great as she is. I wanted to tell the whole world about our friendship and how it came to be. I also wanted to talk about her in the most artistic way I could. I wanted her to know how much I appreciate her for the way she raised me” (West ix). In the quote, Kanye explains why he worked so hard on his song “Hey Mama” for so long, due to the fact that the song was about his mother. He had a strong hope of making his mother proud in one sense of another. He wanted to create something in honor of his mother because she raised him believing that he could do what he loved, and because of that he is where he is today. In a way, it can be observed that Kanye had a sort of drive to give back to his mom in a way. He wanted to do something for her because she had done so much for him.
In the same sense, I can relate to Kanye (I never thought I would type those words out). From a young age, I’ve had a love for art. I started writing comics as young as seven, illustrating tem as well. My first was about a cat that went into space. I began creative writing when I was in seventh grade, writing my first story about a teenage girl having the worst birthday ever. From there, I began to write little pieces here and there, until one day in eighth grade I began to publish my stories online. The feedback from other young writers like me was insane, with nearly forty thousands people commenting on my work and sharing it with one another. At that point in time, I shared my work with my Dad in hopes that he would have some sort of input on it. I didn’t know what to expect after showing him what I truly loved to do.
“I want to be a writer,” I told him. It was one of the most nerve-wracking things I’d ever said as a sophomore in high school. What would he think? Would he shame me for wanting to go on this path of a career? He was a businessman, and ever since I was little, all he would talk about in my future was how I would become a strong woman in the business industry. He had raised me to be strong and powerfully minded in the sense that I wouldn’t take bullshit from anybody. He had raised me to be a businesswoman.
“Then let’s make it happen,” He responded. I was so dumbfounded that I wasn’t sure what to say. Becoming a writer was no where near a businesswoman. “You’re going to be a kick ass writer.” It was that point in time when I realized that my Dad didn’t actually care about what it was that I went into. He told me I could be a lumberjack for all that he cared. All he wanted to me was to go into what I loved to do as a strong independent individual. He wanted the strength that he had invested into me to shine through my everyday life and the art that I create. He wanted for me to do what I love, and he made sure I did it.
I didn’t understand why he was so keen on allowing for me to go to arts school and become a writer as I so wanted to. My senior year of high school, he told me, “My parents forced me to go to college to be an engineer,” He explained. “I wanted to do something more, like be an architect or designer. But they sent me to school to be an engineer, and I dropped out because I couldn’t find it in me to do something that I hated. To this day, I regret allowing my parents to force me into making my life decisions into what they wanted. I would never want that for you. I just want for you to be happy.”
Donda West explains in her novel how her parents lifestyle on her affected how she raised Kanye. While my grandparents did not have a positive effect on my Dad’s career choices, that still lead him to turn around what he believed and raise me, along with my five other siblings, into strong, independent individuals. Because of my Dad and the way he raised me, I grew up believing that I had to right to do what I want with my life. That art is something that I love, and I should be proud of it. As time as progressed, and I’ve traveled to Chicago, I’ve come to a deep appreciation for my Dad and the way he raised me with the ability to do what I love. In a world full of negativity and doubts, it’s important for some to look into the fog and grin at the challenge, because we could all use a little hope in this world. (Jamie Doonan/CoS Student)