A timeline of Kanye West’s tumultuous 2016
The man and musical mastermind that everyone loves to hate — and can’t help but love
“I’m Kanye West, and that feels really great to say, especially this year.”
As he made his way down a catwalk at Madison Square Garden, where a mic waited for him at the end of the stage, West, dressed in white, opened a seven-minute speech at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards in August with the above line. Now, as 2016 comes to a close, West’s year has included a lot.
There’s the release of his first album in three years. He also has the latest upper hand in a seven-years-and-counting, obsessive beef with Taylor Swift. He launched a nationwide tour unlike anyone has ever seen. But in between, his wife was robbed at gunpoint, he claimed he “owned” another couple’s child, fired bodyguards, canceled shows, and, eventually, it seemed everything became too much to handle.
Or, are his more polarizing moments just signs of the life of a genius? The highs he produces are intoxicating — from classic tracks such as 2007’s Can’t Tell Me Nothing and albums such as 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, to moments like the 2008 Grammy tribute to his late mother, and his bold 2005 statement: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” In so many ways, he’s the hero to a generation. But sometimes, with West, the lows can be so cold — both in music and in life. It’s hard to forget his last album before 2016, Yeezus, arguably his worst to date, and there are reports that his marriage to Kim Kardashian is going through a tough time.
But it’s been a crazy year, lest we forget, for most everyone. The deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and Terence Crutcher, as well as Prince, Muhammad Ali, Gwen Ifill, and more. There was a nationwide struggle for social justice and stronger police-community relations. “If you think about last week, there were 22 people murdered in Chicago,” West made sure he mentioned in his unscripted VMAs speech.
One of the best things about him is he doesn’t care what people think — he tends to do whatever he wants whenever he wants, so you never know what you’re going to get from a new year of Kanye West. Before we jump into 2017, here’s a look back.
On this track (which eventually made the final cut of The Life of Pablo), West kicks off the new year by taking shots at Nike (and its Jordan Brand) — the company he ended his partnership with in 2013 to sign a $10 million deal with Adidas. Yeezy, Yeezy, Yeezy, they line up for days … I ain’t dropped an album but the shoes went platinum. Bill Cosby and Steve Harvey also catch some shade on the brash tune. Do anybody feel bad for Bill Cosby? / Did he forget the names just like Steve Harvey? (You!) A month later, West sends out tweets both apologizing to Michael Jordan, and claiming Cosby is innocent.
The long-awaited album, formerly titled So Help Me God, which dated back to as far as 2014, finally gets a release date.
After David Bowie dies on Jan. 10, reports begin to surface that West had plans to record a tribute. West’s camp eventually dispels the rumors, but that doesn’t stop some in the U.K. from launching a petition, titled “Stop Kanye West recording covers of David Bowie’s music.” The petition is still active today, and is fewer than 200 signatures shy of its original 25,000-signature goal.
Jan. 25: West reveals Swish tracklist
Notepad tweets became infamous in the days leading up to the project’s release, as West changes the tracklist and name of the album many times.
So Help Me God , Swish, Waves. Wiz Khalifa responds to West’s new album title in a series of tweets that question the originality of the name. Wiz references Harlem rapper Max B, who’s credited with popularizing the slang term “wavy.”
Please don't take the wave.
— Wiz Khalifa (@wizkhalifa) January 27, 2016
Max B is the wavy one. He created the wave. There is no wave without him.
— Wiz Khalifa (@wizkhalifa) January 27, 2016
He's the reason I sing on all my songs. That's the wave. If theres nothing wit that sound ITS NOT WAVY.
— Wiz Khalifa (@wizkhalifa) January 27, 2016
Max B number one trending. FREE THE WAVE.
— Wiz Khalifa (@wizkhalifa) January 27, 2016
West eventually sees Wiz’s comments, and goes off, posting more than 30 tweets in a stream-of-consciousness thread that he eventually deletes. He even numbered his tweets criticizing Wiz. Four tweets in particular, referencing Wiz’s 3-year-old son with West’s ex-girlfriend Amber Rose, take the feud a step too far. “4th you let a stripper trap you … 5th I know you mad every time you look at your child that this girl got you for 18 years … 12th You wouldn’t have a child if it wasn’t for me … 13th You own waves???? I own your child!!!!” Amber Rose responded:
— Amber Rose (@DaRealAmberRose) January 27, 2016
Then, this happens:
Swingers 🐸☕️ pic.twitter.com/S5AgWlWO7x
— Amber Rose (@DaRealAmberRose) February 2, 2016
And just like that, the wife and ex are best friends.
A week before the announced release of this album, West tells popular syndicated radio show host Big Boy that he’s still unsure about what the project will officially be called, even though days earlier West’s wife took to Twitter to poll his fans. So Help Me God won with 46 percent of the vote over Swish (30 percent) and Waves (24 percent). On Feb. 10, West tweets what was presumed to be the album’s final tracklist (though it ultimately wouldn’t be), with the new title The Life of Pablo, leading speculation as to which Pablo West was referencing: Pablo Escobar, or Pablo Picasso?
At the Yeezy Season 3 Extravaganza — an event live-streamed on Tidal and screened in movie theaters across the world — West debuts both his latest fashion collection and previews his seventh studio album, The Life of Pablo. One of the best parts of the event is this joyous moment captured on Vine of West and Kid Cudi bouncing to the track Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1. (More on their relationship later.)
The album isn’t officially released following the Yeezy Season 3 Extravaganza, though West drops two alternate covers for it.
For all my Southside n—— that know me best / I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that b—- famous (God damn) / I made that b—- famous. West raps this on the TLOP track “Famous,” featuring Rihanna. Backlash ensues over the lyric, which is deemed by Swift supporters to be misogynistic, leading West to Twitter to defend himself, saying Swift had a heads-up about the lyric and “gave her blessings” for the song.
Swift’s publicist eventually releases this statement in response to West’s comments: “Kanye did not call for approval, but to ask Taylor to release his single ‘Famous’ on her Twitter account. She declined and cautioned him about releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message. Taylor was never made aware of the actual lyric, ‘I made that b—- famous.’ ” Much more would be revealed in the months to come.
The Life of Pablo officially drops on Feb. 14. The previous night, right before going onstage for an appearance on Saturday Night Live where he performed tracks from the album for the first time, West confesses he’s $53 million in personal debt.
On the day of TLOP’s release, West keeps tweeting about being the greatest artist of all time, says he’s practicing his Grammys speech and wouldn’t attend the awards show unless he won album of the year, and most notably, he asks Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg for a $1 billion investment.
An audio clip obtained by The New York Post’s Page Six reveals a breakdown West had while backstage on the set of SNL. It’s unclear who he’s speaking to on the clip, but the outlet reports that he’s addressing a member of the show’s production staff. In the clip, he refers to Swift as a “fake a–.” Billboard later reports that a source close to the situation clarified that West was “venting his frustration in a private moment to his team.”
According to Page Six, a fellow airline passenger overhears West discussing the presidential election and his support for Republican candidate Donald Trump. “When asked by the passenger if he was backing Hillary, West made it clear he was all for Trump,” according to Page Six’s Maggie Coughlan and Heather Hauswirth, “but a source close to West said the Grammy Award winner supporting Trump is ‘totally untrue.’ ”
After TLOP’s release on Jay Z’s music-streaming service, Tidal, where it remained exclusively for several weeks, the album becomes available on Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora Media and can be purchased and downloaded for $20 on his website, despite West originally speaking against a wide release.
West’s seventh No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart of his career.
After performing his controversial track Famous at a show in the Philippines, West goes on a rant about his infamous moment with Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, saying, “I said what everybody else was thinking. This [Famous] is the song that broke the writer’s block for me. ‘Cause it’s something I wanted to say so bad that they told me I couldn’t say.” The speech leads to chants of “Yeezy!” from the crowd before he performs an encore of Famous.
The widespread release of TLOP leads a California man to file a lawsuit against Tidal and West for deceiving fans into subscribing to the music-streaming platform, which claimed to be the only place the album would be available.
The New York Daily News reports that West fired his bodyguard, Steve Stanulis because he thought he was flirting with his wife. “I’m not having an affair with Kim Kardashian, I’m not f——- Kim Kardashian, I’m not doing anything with Kim Kardashian,” Stanulis tells The Daily News. “Kanye needs to chill out … He’s the most condescending person I’ve ever met in my life … I’ve worked with a lot of people in his position and higher a lot less self-absorbed and more humble.”
Later in the month, TMZ reports that West and Kardashian threaten Stanulis with a $30 million lawsuit for talking.
May 9: ‘Kanye saved me,’ Lamar Odom says
In an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, it’s revealed West played a part in the road to recovery for former NBA player and ex-husband of Khloe Kardashian Lamar Odom, who was found unconscious in a Nevada brothel in late 2015. “Kanye really felt we can cure him through music, like we can get him to talk,” Kardashian says on the show. “He would go to the hospital and he would rap and sing, and I think Lamar started to get his function back and started to talk once he started to listen to a lot of music.”
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June 14: West shares Saint Pablo Tour dates
West announces 29-city tour, set to kick off on Aug. 25 in Indianapolis — his first major North American tour in three years.
In an interview for a GQ cover story, Kardashian says that not only did Swift have prior knowledge of West’s contentious Famous lyrics, but that she signed off on them. “[Taylor] totally approved that,” Kim tells GQ. “She totally knew that that was coming out. She wanted to all of a sudden act like she didn’t. I swear, my husband gets so much s— for things [when] he really was doing proper protocol and even called to get it approved.”
The highly anticipated music video for Famous is released on Tidal. The video features a bed scene with nude likenesses of George W. Bush, Anna Wintour, Donald Trump, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Swift, West, Kardashian, Ray J, Amber Rose, Caitlyn Jenner and Bill Cosby.
Adidas announces an expanded partnership with West to include performance gear and a new line of co-branded retail stores. “Recognizing the influence, success and global brand power that began almost two years ago with YEEZY for Adidas Originals, the unprecedented new alliance makes history as the most significant partnership ever created between a nonathlete and an athletic brand,” a statement from Adidas reads.
After referencing a conversation between West and Swift about Famous in a GQ interview, Kardashian uploads video clips to her Snapchat story of the two talking about the lyrics over the phone. In the clips, West recites the line I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that b—- famous, to which she responds by saying, “It’s like a compliment, kind of. Yeah, I mean, what’s dope about the line is it’s very tongue in cheek either way. And I really appreciate you telling me about it, that’s really nice … For you to ask me if I’d be OK with it, I really appreciate it. I’d never expect you to tell me about a line in your song.”
— partylikeits2007 (@partylikeits07) July 18, 2016
West makes a surprise appearance at Drake’s concert in Chicago to perform his collaboration with the Toronto artist, Pop Style. He also performs Famous, and tells the crowd afterward, “All I gotta say is, I am so glad my wife has Snapchat, because now y’all can know the truth and can’t nobody talk s— about Ye no more.”
According to a report, Rihanna’s ex-publicist Jonathan Hay claims that the lines from Famous, dissing Swift were not even written by West, but by Cyhi The Prynce, who is credited on the track.
TMZ reports that the MTV Music Video Awards will give West a portion of the 2016 show to do whatever he wants onstage — despite his interruption of Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 VMAs. “A source close to production tells us MTV honchos are giving ‘Ye 4 minutes to do with as he pleases. He can rap, sing, dance or even just stay silent … and we’re told show producers are totally clueless which door he’ll pick,” according to TMZ.
West appears onstage to the tune of Famous and “Yeezy!” chants before making a speech and debuting his new music video for his TLOP track Fade.
West debuts his Yeezy Season 4 fashion collection at Roosevelt Island during New York Fashion Week. Critics trash the event, which began two hours late and featured models stumbling down runways.
In an interview with Vogue, West says, “We’re just working on music, working on a bunch of music together, just having fun going into the studio. We’re working on an album, so there’s some exciting things coming up soon.”
Sept. 14: Kid Cudi calls out West and Drake
In a series of tweets, which he’d eventually delete, Kid Cudi goes after West and Drake, claiming both artists have ghostwriters. “I need yall to know I got so many haters within the industry and these clowns know I’m bout to crush their entire existence…Everyone thinks they’re soooo great. Talkin top 5 and be having 30 people write songs for them…My tweets apply to who they apply. Ye, Drake, whoever. These n—— dont give a f— about me. And they aint f—- with me.”
During a Saint Pablo Tour show in Tampa, Florida, West responds to Kid Cudi’s Twitter outburst. “Kid Cudi, don’t ever mention ‘Ye name!”
He continues, saying “I birthed you! … I got called names for you, bro!” and more.
In an interview with W, West talks about his place in the fashion industry by comparing his relationship with some of the industry’s executives to four movies: Wreck-It Ralph, The Pursuit of Happyness, Despicable Me and Elf.
During the Meadows Music and Arts Festival in Queens, New York, West abruptly stops his performance, saying, “I’m sorry, there’s a family emergency. I have to stop the show,” he tells the crowd before leaving the stage. Later reports reveal that West’s wife was held up at gunpoint in Paris and millions in jewelry was stolen. The Saint Pablo Tour is put on hold, and two tour dates are rescheduled.
When Kanye West starts Heartless and then stops the show because of a family emergency 💔💔💔 pic.twitter.com/0xiPDycb4g
— Chloe Tsang (@itschloet) October 3, 2016
Cameron Sterling, the son of Sterling, who was killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in July, meets West and Kardashian at a Saint Pablo Tour show in Inglewood, California.
— Justin Bamberg, Esq. (@JustinBamberg) November 2, 2016
“My voice is so hoarse. I can’t finish the show,” he says to fans during his sixth show at the Forum in Inglewood. “Turn the lights up. Show’s over. I can’t let y’all have a show where I can’t perform. I’m sorry,” he continues before offering refunds.
At a show in San Jose, California, West informs the crowd that he supports President-elect Donald Trump. “If I would’ve voted, I would’ve voted for Trump.”
— albertoreyes (@albertoreyes) November 18, 2016
On the Saint Pablo Tour stop in Sacramento, California, West rants about Beyoncé and Jay Z while onstage, before reportedly ending the concert after only about 30 minutes of performance.“Beyoncé, I was hurt ’cause I heard you said you wouldn’t perform unless you won Video of the Year over me and over Hotline Bling,” West says in reference to the 2016 MTV VMAs. “Now don’t go trying to diss Beyoncé. She is great. Taylor Swift is great. We are all great people. We are all people. But sometimes we be playing the politics too much and forgetting who we are just to win. F– winning. F– looking cool. F– being cool.” He went on. “Jay Z, call me, bruh. You still ain’t called me. Jay Z, I know you got killers. Please don’t send them at my head. Please call me. Talk to me like a man,” West continues.
Following the abrupt cancellation of the remaining dates on his national Saint Pablo Tour, West is admitted to a hospital in Los Angeles, and placed on psychiatric hold. Other news surrounding his hospitalization: TMZ reports that West checked into the hospital under the alias of “Jim Jones,” leading rapper Jim Jones to post a video response, and that the anniversary of his later mother Donda West’s funeral sparked a “nervous breakdown.” US Weekly reports that West and Kardashian were fighting before his hospitalization. A week after he was admitted, the Los Angeles Times reports that West remained in hospital due to lack of stability to go home.
Nov. 30: West leaves hospital
After nine days in a Los Angeles hospital, reportedly for exhaustion and sleep deprivation, West is released.
On West’s 911 call that led to his hospitalization, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, a man who identifies himself as “one of his doctors” says, “I think he’s definitely going to need to be hospitalized. I wouldn’t just do the police by itself.” The dispatcher advises, “Don’t let him get any weapons.”
Dec. 9: West makes an appearance
The Instagram account @kanyewest_daily shares a photo from Italian artist Giovanni Leonardo Bassan at the MOCA Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, California. With West sporting blond hair, it’s the first sighting of him since his release from the hospital.
Less than a month after telling fans he would’ve voted for Trump, West meets the president-elect at Trump Tower in New York City. “We’ve been friends for a long time,” Trump told reporters. Asked what he and West talked about, he responded: “Life. We discussed life.” Later that day, West tweets about the meeting:
West ended his recap of his day with Trump with this tweet.
The meaning behind the hashtag is perhaps the boldest statement he’s made all year: He still wants to be president of the United States — but only after two terms of Trump.