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Teachers Reflect On Kanye West’s Success

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Jim Williams (CBS) Jim Williams
Jim Williams, a native Chicagoan, co-anchors the CBS 2 Chicago Wee...
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CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago’s own Kanye West won three Grammys Sunday night.

When he was in his early teens, he predicted his success. CBS 2’s Jim Williams talked to his former teachers, and describes how Chicago helped make him a hip hop superstar.

Before he won a slew of Grammys, before his romance with Kim Kardashian made him a tabloid sensation, Kanye West was high school student in southwest suburban Oak Lawn.

“Just a regular little kid. He was so small and tiny,” said Dolores Tamborski, who worked in the school office.

He was a small kid with big dreams, recalls Marilyn Gannon, who was West’s physical education teacher. He told her something every day.

“He was going to be best rapper in the whole world.” And how did Gannon reply to such a prediction? “Ok, Kanye, now you can get in line,” she said, laughing.

At Polaris, an academically demanding program, Kanye’s teachers, such as Dr. Carol Baker, had the support of his late mother, Donda, a professor at Chicago State University.

“She was the kind of mom who would pull him by the ear and drag him down the hallway if necessary,” said Baker. “I never saw her do that but she was that kind of mom. She was making sure he was getting the education he needed to be successful.”

It was, at times, a challenge. West was a creative teenager, often distracted in class.

“Absolutely, there were times during class where he would be doodling or drawing or writing,” said Baker. “Back then I would have called it poetry, but it was really rap.”

Still a kid, he started hanging out in Chicago recording studios, absorbing the lessons of the city’s hip hop masters, such as Common and No I.D.

Eventually, Kanye created his own sound, using elements of Chicago’s rich and varied musical history.

“Hip hop can incorporate jazz and it can incorporate rock, it can incorporate techno, and he was bringing in flavors from all of this music,” said Greg Kot, the Chicago Tribune’s rock critic.

CBS 2 cameraman Damon Ranger, also an accomplished rock musician, won a Grammy for his work on a Kanye album.

“You’ll spend four to eight hours however long it takes to weave together a saxophone sound, but it has to sound like a saxophone mixed with like a viola,” said Ranger.

Such precision made Kanye West a superstar.

Some of his teacher said they were not surprised by some of his antics, such as interrupting Taylor Swift as she accepted a Video Music Award. They said even in high school he sometimes spoke out before he thought about the consequences.

Gannon, the PE teacher, said she pays attention every time she sees Kanye West on television or a magazine cover.

“Always. I’m just so very proud of who he became.”

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