Kanye West: How the Rapper Grew From 'Dropout' to 'Yeezus'

Kanye 2013

Marco Cibola

The college dropout is now an icon. Read up on Kanye's musical journey to "Yeezus."

It's been nearly a decade since Kanye West--elite artist and at times social pariah--released his debut album "The College Dropout," a soulful multi-platinum album. Since then West's music has taken a series of both smoth and dramatic turns. He's been a braggart rapper and a sullen Auto-Tuned singer, a hero and a villain. Next Tuesday (June 18), West will again shed old skin and presents his most daring album of all: "Yeezus."

To mark the release of the prodigal album, here's a look back at each of Kanye's six solo efforts--connecting the dots from--"Dropout" to "Yeezus."

"College Dropout" (released Feb. 10, 2004 through Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)

The chip on Kanye’s shoulder often sat over a Ralph Lauren Polo top back in 2004, when he released his debut album “The College Dropout.” Back then he was an outsider—the backpack rapper with a lot on his mind and a fashion sense that didn’t jibe with an era where his peers swam in XXXL tees (regardless of physique) and retro sports jerseys. In pastel hues, West attacked from a different angle.

He’d already made a name for himself as a producer, crafting a chunk of Jay-Z’s critically acclaimed “Blueprint” album among other smashes. But West had much to prove as a lead man on the microphone. Like Dave Chappelle, a comedian that owned the mid ‘00s with the Comedy Central riot “Chappelle’s Show,” West cloaked social commentary in his rhymes with jokes. The formula worked. “Dropout” has sold 3.3 million copies to date, according to Nielsen Soundscan.

On “All Falls Down,” Kanye raps of his fixation with meaningless material things and is humorously ignorant to the pronunciation of luxury brand Versace. It peaked at No. 7 on the Hot 100 in 2004.

West’s patented soul sound blanketed “Dropout.” On the smooth Jamie Foxx-assisted “Slow Jamz,” he samples Luther Vandross’ “A House Is Not A Home” while on “Jesus Walks,” he uses ARC Choir’s "Walk With Me.” It’s one of the album’s few charmless tracks. At the start, he jabs with accounts of crime in his hometown of Chicago, and then moves on to spit about the powers that be, filtering out hip-hop artists that have God-boasting content. “They say you can rap about anything,” Kanye says. “Except for Jesus.”

From the jump, West had style and substance.

Kanye West's 20 Biggest Billboard Hits

"Late Registration" (released Aug. 30, 2005 through Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)

Still leaning heavily on his soul bounce, the biggest hit on his sophomore album was "Gold Digger,” with Jamie Foxx flexing his Ray Charles vocal abilities and interpolating the legend’s “I Got a Woman."

The Hot 100 chart-topper found the tongue-in-cheek Kanye recounting a tale of being swept up by a vixen known for bedding Busta [Rhymes] and Usher. That said, West did grow musically on “Registration.” He paired with Fiona Apple producer Jon Brion, who anchored the effort in lush waters. The keys twinkle a bit brighter on “Heard ‘Em Say” than they do on anything from “Dropout.” The beat on the downright militant “Crack Music” (West claims President Ronald Reagan is to blame for the demise of the Black Panther party) marches like an army. And horns blare as if they’re being played to soundtrack the coronation of a king on “We Major,” which makes sense. This album cemented West’s place at the table as one of hip-hop’s elite and has sold 3.1 million copies to date.

A week after the album dropped at a Hurricane Katrina relief telethon on NBC, Kanye--already known for being outspoken--made his infamous "George Bush doesn't care about black people" remark. It wouldn't be the first time he spoke his mind on a grand stage, potential backlash be damned.

Page 2: "Graduation" & "808s & Heartbreak"

All art by Marco Cibola