There likely aren’t that many things hip hop star turned fashion mogul Kanye West can’t afford. On any given day you might see him purchase diamonds for reality megastar wife Kim Kardashian West perhaps, or any toy under the sun that each of his four children desired. But recently West shocked fans when he bought something relatively inexpensive and decidedly unglamorous.
In April 2020 Forbes magazine declared West a billionaire. Far from being pleased, the star disputed the figure, declaring he was worth much more. Whatever the exact sum, his hard-won fortune is undeniably huge. What’s more, with his marriage to Kim Kardashian in 2014, he confirmed his place in one of the celebrity power couples of our age.
Kardashian West needs little introduction, as arguably the most famous reality star turned business magnate on the planet. Both she and West were global brands on their own terms when they married six years ago. Kardashian West herself was valued by Forbes in 2018 at $350 million dollars, a figure which could have since increased courtesy of a lucrative body-shaping clothing and make-up line.
The pair haven’t been reticent in enjoying their wealth; indeed, shy is not an adjective you’d ever associate with them. They live in a lavish multi-million-dollar house in Hidden Hills, California, which they spent years renovating. They reportedly purchased the house in 2014 for $20 million, and have spent a further $20 million improving it. The work has now made the abode worth $60 million, according to Kris Jenner, Kardashian West’s mom.
West over the years has built up a vast amount of money. Starting out as a music producer for other artists, in 2000 he secured a job at iconic hip hop label Roc-A-Fella Records. Here West worked on album The Blueprint by one of the label’s co-founders, Jay-Z (Damon Dash and Kareem Burke were also behind the outfit). The collaboration was a huge success, and his reputation as a producer was secured.
Although sought-after in his behind-the-scenes role at Roc-A-Fella, West’s dream was to become a rapper himself. But not fitting the industry’s image of a gangsta rapper, he struggled to get record labels to see him on the other side of the microphone. Ultimately however, Roc-A-Fella decided to give him a chance to prove his rapping skills rather than potentially lose him to another label.
In the end, though, the inspiration for his first album came not out of his struggle to be taken seriously as an artist. Rather it was the result of an horrific car crash, when he fell asleep at the wheel driving back from a recording studio in 2002. His jaw was broken and had to be wired shut for months to repair it. To help block out the pain, he wrote the track “Through The Wire”.
The song, which later featured on his 2004 album The College Dropout, was a hit. In fact, it was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance, and was only beaten by seminal track “99 Problems” by mentor and friend Jay-Z. The album was to go platinum three times and launch the star as a globally credible rap artist.
His next album, Late Registration, would also go multi-platinum. It featured lush string arrangements and collaborations with artists including Maroon 5’s Adam Levine (on single “Hear ’Em Say”) and Jamie Foxx (“Gold Digger”). The playful video to the album’s single “Touch the Sky” saw Pamela Anderson acting the love interest to West’s Evel Kanyevel.
The critically acclaimed Late Registration won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album in 2006. West’s success saw him take part in a global tour with U2, before releasing number one single “Stronger” from follow-up album Graduation in 2007. Another successful album 808s and Heartbreak followed. But it was perhaps his infamous stage invasion at the 2009 MTV Music Video Awards that cemented his reputation as an unpredictable figure.
When Taylor Swift came on stage to accept her award for Best Female Video, West rushed up as well. He grabbed the microphone to claim the gong should have been given to his friend Jay-Z’s wife, Beyoncé, for “Single Ladies.” Wounded by the fallout from the widely condemned stunt – Swift, after all, was only 19 years old at the time and a relative newcomer – West fled to Hawaii. He started designing clothes, a spin-off empire which has become even more lucrative than his music.
Despite the backlash, the incident certainly got people talking about West. By 2010 West had become so internationally recognized that his fifth album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, largely dealt with the themes of wealth and fame. It included epic single “All Of The Lights” featuring Rihanna and Kid Cudi. Three years later, sixth album Yeezus and a tour of the same name cemented his global brand.
By this time however, West’s private life had become as talked about as his musical genius. In June 2013 he had a child, North, with reality star Kadashian and they married in May the next year. If he had been famous for his undeniable and lucrative music talent previously, now he was aligned with a worldwide reality phenomenon.
Not only is his wife extremely rich, some members of her family are equally – if not even more – wealthy than her. His supermodel half sister-in-law Kylie Jenner has recently also been named the world’s youngest self-made billionaire by Forbes. She has her own $29 million abode for herself and two-year-old daughter Stormi.
Jenner shot to fame in 2007 when she was just ten, on family reality show Keeping Up with the Kardashians. By the age of 16, she and her sister Kendall earned $100,000 each from their collaboration with OPI nail lacquers. After further fashion ventures with her supermodel sister, Jenner created her own makeup range. Kylie Cosmetics was valued by Forbes at $900 million in March 2019.
But West has shown that he won’t be outdone by his famous relatives in money matters. A recent Business Insider article revealed that the rapper was now the highest-earning hip hop star on the planet, overtaking former mentor and friend Jay-Z, who is the second-highest. The article reported that the money wasn’t made from his music, but his fashion line Yeezy.
With his money, he has bought multiple properties: aside from his Hidden Hills mansion, he has bought not one but two ranches in Wyoming. Together, they are thought to be worth approximately $30 million. And when you have a ranch, you need livestock: West has reportedly spent $200,000 on farm animals. He has also invested in land and property in California, Miami and New York.
Aside from real estate, there are plenty of ways that West splashes his cash. He keeps his wife in the manner to which she has no doubt become accustomed, spending what is thought might be $4.5 million on her engagement ring alone. The doting husband also bought her a $240,000 Mercedes truck. He can’t resist showering his children with presents, either.
Before daughter North turned two, he bought her a $62,000 diamond-encrusted tiara, according to Business Insider. He also splashed out on a $12,000 toy model of a SUV he owns. On that subject, Forbes magazine estimates that West owns almost $4 million dollars worth of luxury cars. This would include a $200,000 Aston Martin that he’s been seen driving.
The rapper, of course, hasn’t always been the billionaire that he is today. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, he was raised in an ordinary suburban household. His parents divorced and he moved to Chicago, Illinois with his mom at the age of three. It’s a city he has since very publicly declared as close to his heart.
His father, Ray West, had been in the Black Panthers, and mom Dr. Donda West was an English professor. Before giving up academic work to manage her son’s music career, she worked as Chair of the English Department at Chicago State University. In 2007, tragically, Donda died at the age of just 58 from coronary artery disease and complications of cosmetic surgeries.
His mom’s death hit West hard, as they were particularly close. Aged ten, he had accompanied her to China when she secured an English teaching post there. Ten years later, she was upset when he quit college to pursue his rap career. But she later told encyclopedia Icons of Hip Hop, “It was drummed into my head that college is the ticket to a good life… but some career goals don’t require college.”
She continued, “For Kanye to make an album called College Dropout it was more about having the guts to embrace who you are, rather than following the path society has carved for you.” After her death, West renamed the charitable Kanye West Foundation, which he had established in 2003 in Chicago, to The Dr. Donda West Foundation.
Although this organization has now ceased to exist, West’s collaborator and friend Rhymefest also started “Donda’s House, Inc” with him. The foundation aimed to teach music to disadvantaged young students, based on learning approaches adopted by Dr. West. More of that in a minute. West also established creative company DONDA in his mom’s name in January 2012.
This leads us, then, to West’s recent purchase. We’ve discussed how West has bought numerous mansions. Indeed, he even told DJ Charlemagne Tha God in 2018 on the radio that he wanted to be “one of the biggest real estate developers of all time, what Howard Hughes was to aircrafts [sic] and Henry Ford was to cars.”
So then, earlier this year, he bought another property. It’s not quite in the ilk of his huge ranches and lavish L.A. houses, but it’s one very close to his heart. Instead, West spent $225,000 on the home where he grew up in Chicago. While this might in itself seem an unremarkable, if sentimental purchase, the state of the house is not what you might expect.
Clearly a once-handsome, even imposing, suburban property, it has now fallen into a worrying state of disrepair. It is clear no proud homeowner has been living there for a while. Doors and windows are boarded up or painted over, with a padlock on one door to stop intruders getting in.
The outside of the house is littered with waste and debris, and the structure itself looks to be becoming unstable. There are tiles missing from the roof and panels seemingly broken on the front exterior wall. The metal rail leading up the front steps worryingly appears to be coming apart.
Inside the house, there is little to tempt you to come in. The property is empty, except for the remnants of broken electrical appliances, a discarded door and a bed frame. Paint peels from the ceiling, which in parts is riddled with mold. All in all, there seems a huge amount of work to be done to make it habitable again.
Indeed, you might question if there was much argument against ripping down the house and rebuilding it. However, seeing as the purchase is obviously an emotional one for West, one might assume that he would want to restore it to how it was when he was a child.
Donda West bought the house in 1980, when she first moved to Chicago with her son. His mother states in her memoirs that the young West spent about eight of his formative years living in the property. She didn’t sell it until 2004, when she relocated to L.A. to live closer to West.
It is certainly a sad state of affairs for the house. It had been bought in 2016 by West’s former collaborator, Rhymefest – the friend who set up Donda’s House charity. The rapper, who also goes by the name of Che Smith, had grown up alongside West in Chicago, and West’s mom took him under her wing.
Smith was evidently grateful to his friend’s mom; he wanted to use music to provide young people in need with a route out of poverty or hardship. The idea seems to have been that the house would become the foundation’s headquarters. A recording studio and museum were planned.
That was until West and Smith had a falling out a couple of years ago. After West purportedly chose not to support the non-profit financially, Smith accused West of “abandoning” the charity on Twitter in 2018. Kardashian West quickly came to her husband’s defence, accusing Smith of lying. “Truth is you haven’t been able to sustain the foundation,” she tweeted back.
When Kardashian West said they’d take over running of the non-profit themselves, Smith gladly accepted the threat. “If you and Kanye want us to dissolve the organisation so that you can do the work, we welcome that,” he replied. Kardashian West didn’t seem to respond, but the foundation has since ceased running under the name Donda’s House.
“This has been an incredibly difficult decision but the social media quotes from Kim Kardashian West, as well as the expressed interest of her family running the organisation, has brought us to this decision,” a final statement from the charity read. It added it “encourages Kim and Kanye to indeed pick up the baton of service.”
Since then, thankfully Smith and West seem to have made peace, resulting in West buying the house back. Smith told newspaper The Sun, “He came to my house in Chicago, we sat down and had dinner, and talked about how to move forward through love. My plan was to turn it into an arts hub, but that may not have been Kanye’s vision for his childhood home.”
Smith added, “I don’t know what he’s going to do with it, but I see he’s going somewhere with it, and it’s better than what was happening, it was on the demolition list for the city. Once we sold the property back to him, Kanye made a promise to me he would do something constructive with it.”
It’s unclear what West has planned for his childhood home now. He has spoken about his desire to move back to Chicago, telling a crowd at a gathering of Chicago high-school students, “I’ve got to let you know, that I’m moving back to Chicago, and I’m never leaving again.”
His wife, however, was reportedly unhappy about the possible move, calling it her “breaking point” in an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Fortunately for her, the impulsive decision seems to have been forgotten about for now. But even if West was planning on relocating with his family, the billionaire is unlikely ever to move back into his modest childhood home.