The event was put on by The Kanye West Foundation, a nonprofit working to decrease dropout rates and improve literacy. The organization was co-founded by his mother, Donda West, who died in November 2007. She had worked in higher education for 31 years.
Before the concert began, Kanye West said he sees his mother's "dream coming true." The Grammy Award-winning artist acknowledged that they didn't always agree, noting she wasn't fond of his first album's title, 2004's "College Dropout." His three later albums reached platinum status.
The concert was the foundation's first event since his mother died.
Shortly before taking the stage at the Chicago Theatre, he had a message for students: "Take every opportunity you have to make your life as successful as possible."
Chicago has a nearly 50 percent dropout rate. Foundation CEO Joseph Collins and school district officials said the concert could help reduce those numbers by raising awareness and getting students motivated. A concert held later Thursday benefited the foundation.
Students from six high schools attended the concert, which was "all the buzz" a day earlier, said Chicago Public Schools chief Ron Huberman. He said the students were "heroes" at their schools, and thanked West for his performance.
Marvin Brown, a 16-year-old student at Paul Robeson High School, said when he saw the poster for the concert three weeks ago, he immediately started working toward earning himself a seat.
"I applied myself and worked hard," he said. "I'm just so happy to see Kanye West!"
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