Widely known as Kanye West’s mother, Donda West had a distinguished career as a college professor, before her son reached the early stages of his rap super-stardom. Having spent more than 30 years as a college professor in Atlanta, in 1980 the newly divorced Donda and her son ventured to Chicago, where the two would build a life and she would go onto become a professor and chairperson for the Department of English and Speech at the Chicago State University. With a passion for teaching, Donda instilled in her son the importance of following your goals, but also stressed the importance of intellect and education.
Determined to succeed as a music producer, Kanye dropped out of Chicago State University. With a full-time educator for a mother, one can only imagine how that conversation went. However, rather than choosing to dwell on the future she had envisioned for her son, Donda helped Kanye pack up his life in Chicago and make that career altering move to New York.
More than just Kanye’s mother and manager, Donda helped establish one of the most important business relationships in Kanye’s career. Having met producer No I.D.’s mother at Chicago State University, Donda asked, from one mother to another, if the noted producer would be able to help out her teenage son, who was looking for a break into music production. Having spent time in the studio with No I.D. and Common, while they recorded the legendary, Resurrection album, the budding friendship between Kanye and No I.D. helped paved the way for many of Kanye’s early career successes, setting the stage for his burgeoning rap career. With Donda in his corner, it’s no wonder Kanye proudly grew up to be a mama’s boy.
Since Donda’s passing in November 2007, the public has watched Kanye grieve the loss of his mother and closest companion. Whether in his European performance weeks after her death, the critically-acclaimed ode to auto-tune 808’s and Heartbreak, or the onstage interruption at the MTV Awards (and possibly subsequent romantic relationships since her passing), fans, followers, and gossip hounds alike have watched to see what Kanye would do next.
With no other children, Donda leaves behind her only son, yet, Donda’ legacy lives on with The Donda West Foundation, which helps young people achieve their professional and academic goals. The foundation serves to tackle America’s rising dropout rates by encouraging teens to tap into their creative abilities and use their interest in music as fuel, to propel them to academic success. Additionally, as the doctor performing her surgery was unfortunately not well aware of Donda’s pre-existing medical condition, in 2009 California passed the Donda West bill, requiring all plastic surgery patients to undergo a physical to ensure surgeries that are detrimental to a patients health are not performed.
Unlike any other celebrity parental death before her, when news of Donda’s passing broke, it captured the attention of every media outlet and it seemed all in hip-hop concurrently mourned the loss. While those who mourned, and wept for her, likely never got the chance to meet her, Donda West represented many things to many people. For she represented what was possible for single mothers; the importance in achieving a post-secondary education; but most importantly, that as a mother, the love, support and belief in your child’s dreams is one of the greatest gifts a mother can give.