Kanye West's 'The College Dropout': An Oral History

Kanye West poses for a portrait during the 2004 Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on December 8, 2004 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Frank Micelotta/Fox via Getty Images

In celebration of its upcoming 10-year anniversary, 26 collaborators share their stories behind the making of Kanye West's debut album.

Near-Death Car Accident (October 23, 2002)

Kyambo "Hip Hop" Joshua: "In 2002, right after ‘The Blueprint 2,’ he went out to L.A. to work with Young Gunz, and some of Roc-A-Fella and that's when the accident happened. He was already signed and a part of the family. He had gotten the chain in Chicago."

Joe "3H" Weinberger: "The night he got in the car accident, I was with him beforehand. It was me, DJ Whoo Kid, and Ludacris in the studio (Record Plant) and ‘Ye was tired. I left at 11pm and I think he stayed till 3am. When I heard what happened I was like, ‘No fucking way.’ I think we were doing ['Breathe In, Breathe Out.'] The crazy shit is that the next day 50 Cent was shooting the 'Wangsta' video in East L.A. so I was at the ‘Wangsta’ video when I heard. You couldn’t recognize the guy for a couple of weeks."

No I.D.: "One key moment that I can pinpoint to when I felt like he had the idea that led to ['College Dropout'] was the first time I talked to him after the accident. He was kind of a gangsta rapper. Most of those early years he was really rapping gangsta raps. He'd give little demos where he was really rapping street rap. His goal was to be [as] tough as possible. Some of it was over compensation for the fact that he wasn't a street guy at all and he felt like people wouldn't respect him it if it was not tough. The gangsta rap came when he was in the group, The Go-Getters.The group were street, so he tried to keep up with them.

"I remember when I first talked to him after the accident, and his mouth was all messed up. He was like, 'I figured it out.' I was like, 'What did you figure out?' He said, ‘I’m going to rap about this accident. I'm going to use a song and change the direction. I'm going conscious with my music.’ In my mind, actually not even in my mind, I may have said, ’But you're not conscious how are you going to do that?’ He's like, ‘Nah trust me, this is going to be my direction. I know how I'm going to do it. I got it now. I figured it out.’ I think from there the 'College Dropout' concept took a better form because he let go of the gangsta persona and formed a good concept. Before that he would wrestle ideas, try to make it all line up but it wouldn't make sense. I think that was the moment when he put all the pieces of the puzzle [together] and  the idea of 'College Dropout' made sense."

Gee Roberson: “There were a couple of tipping points in his life that inspired the album. One of the tipping points was clearly the accident. I knew I was dealing with a different human being after the accident. I went to visit him at the hospital and the first thing this man tells me is, ‘Man, we’re out of here. You don’t understand. I almost died. Do you know the song I’m about to write?’ I was like, ‘God, you did it. You blessed me with a whole other human being.’ The last thing I’d be thinking about is work. I’d be thinking about my health. Talk about focus and vision. I was in it all the way. From that day forth, it was game on.”