Ten years ago, Kanye West became the Kanye West we know today.
In many ways, he was that man before, sure. And he's evolved in the time since, of course. But it was on this day in 2005 that Kanye presented himself to the world as a voice unafraid. Unafraid to speak his mind. Unafraid to go off script. Unafraid to upset you. Unafraid to upset America. Unafraid of his convictions.
"George Bush doesn't care about black people," he said, standing next to Mike Myers, in a now-infamous moment televised for the nation and immortalized on YouTube.
This was the lasting bite, but there was more to it.
Amidst the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast, 'Ye was one of dozens of celebrities to appear on "A Concert for Hurricane Relief," a telethon that encouraged viewers to give to the relief efforts.
Despite how often he does it, Kanye still often sounds uncomfortable when speaking in public -- his voice, at times, quivers, and the rhythm of his words fluctuates. You can see him searching for his words. You can look in his eyes and see the mind behind them feverishly at work, creating, processing, filtering and delivering thoughts almost all at one.
During this moment, on September 2, 2005, in particular, it was apparent 'Ye was trying to find his verbal footing.
He had a lot to say right before his comments about Bush:
I hate the way they portray us in the media. You see a black family, it says, "They're looting." You see a white family, it says, "They're looking for food." And, you know, it's been five days because most of the people are black. And even for me to complain about it, I would be a hypocrite because I've tried to turn away from the TV because it's too hard to watch. I've even been shopping before even giving a donation, so now I'm calling my business manager right now to see what is the biggest amount I can give, and just to imagine if I was down there, and those are my people down there. So anybody out there that wants to do anything that we can help -- with the way America is set up to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off, as slow as possible. I mean, the Red Cross is doing everything they can. We already realize a lot of people that could help are at war right now, fighting another way. And they've given them permission to go down and shoot us.
There's hurt. Confusion. Chaos. Frustration. Anger. It's a raw, honest, emotional moment the likes of which we rarely see on TV or get from our biggest stars -- no matter how much is "reality"-based and how "accessible" they are thanks to social media.
The reaction was immediate (can you imagine if Twitter existed back then?).
Everyone felt some type of way about Kanye. They were appalled. They felt vindicated. They were disgusted. They felt represented.
Though Kanye was celebrated among hip-hop fans -- his production defined an era and he and had just dropped his second soon-to-be-classic solo album, and The College Dropout scored ten Grammy nominations in 2004 -- this was a new realm. New eyes and ears were on him, and he did what he's done in damn near every interview, every speech, every song in his career: Stayed true to himself.
The result was something we still see today: He's completely polarizing. You probably love him or hate him -- it's unlikely you feel indifferent -- and, no matter what it is he does, your perception of that action or event or music will be digested through that established perspective.
In 2010, he tried to soften the blow a bit.
"In a moment of emotion, to peg someone, or to call a name, to peg someone as a racist, it's just not right," he told Matt Lauer on "Today."
The chat came during a fraught time. Yeezy found himself, in the interview, apologizing for crashing the VMA stage in 2009. The general public seemed to be against him in a way we hadn't seen.
The interview, too, came shortly after Bush had revealed, in his book, that he had told his wife Laura that Kanye's telethon critique was the worst moment of his presidency.
Think about that for a minute.
This is a man who, by many accounts, was perhaps the worst president in a generation, if not far longer. And the worst moment of his presidency was because of one of the greatest artists in a generation speaking his mind. Not the damage and loss caused by the actual thing -- Hurricane Katrina -- that put Kanye on TV in the first place. Not invading Iraq in a war where thousands of lives were lost. Not September 11.
Despite 'Ye saying that he felt what he had said was "not right," he remained true about the righteousness of his motive.
"Even in these times where I was considered to have done something so wrong, my motivation was in a good place," he said.
That's Kanye at his truest.
Given the clouded circumstances under which that interview was given, though, I think it's more telling to point to a 2007 sitdown where 'Ye reflected on the moment. His depiction of it represents the artist and cultural icon he's become.
"I think it changed my life for the better," he said. "I think people understood me a little bit more. They understood, this guy has little baby Tourettes -- maybe not quite diagnosed. But the truth just comes out, accidentally, what's on the top of his mind. I'm working off the [cuff] here. I'm working off the top of my mind. I'm not reading the teleprompter.
"I'm speaking from the heart."