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.

The Impact of 'The College Dropout'

J. Ivy: "The album got people through school, through depression, through death in the family, through relationships, through bad jobs, through career decisions – the album changed lives. People said that they were considering taking their lives but they heard my verse and they reconsidered committing suicide. It called forth a huge ripple effect. So many artists came after it were inspired. So many people were inspired to write poetry, so many rappers were inspired to rap, so many producers were inspired to produce and those who were doing it already were inspired to do it better.

Every song did something to your spirit, and the world came around it collectively you can’t help but call it a classic. I knew it was a classic. It was the perfect medium of street and conscious. It was backpack but it was hood. The magic of the album was that it was everything, not just west coast or east coast. It was fresh and it was hip-hop."

Devo Springsteen: "There’s pre and post-'College Dropout.' Hip-Hop is often equated to rap music and there are a few kind of tribes within that demographic. You’re a gangster, a baller, a backpacker or you’re a seller. If you’re going to rap, which of the lanes are you coming from? I think with Kanye, his approach brought in different types of influences away from these categories. I can be from the suburbs, Midwest, I can wear Polo shirts and I am still Hip-Hop. As long as you’re honest about yourself, you’re Hip-Hop. I think most rappers that come now since then are post-Kanye. When [Kanye's third solo album 'Graduation'] came out and battled 50 Cent, it was like, “Okay this is the new wave.” 50 Cent represented this wave of gangsta and guerilla. G.O.O.D Music was the alternative to that: classy guys, uplifting music, well-dressed, a lot of skill."

Tony Williams: "'College Dropout’ is so musically honest. Musically, he was naive as to what he was doing and couldn’t articulate. But it was all about what he felt. It was almost like a little kid. If we were to record it now, it would sound so different.We went with how we felt and and with what we heard in our heads. That was a time where Kanye was very self-conscious about his voice and the way he sounded. He was trying to perfect his 'mic voice.'"

Gee Roberson: "Kanye caused the tipping point of rap when he put that album out. I looked at it as was in a lane of its own. He wasn’t following the lane."

GLC: "Whenever you heard a new Kanye record, it came from frustration because no one was paying him attention. That's why it was so good. He came from an angle that wasn't really in. It wasn't really cool to be an emotional male in hip-hop. It was a time of 50 Cent. Gangsta rap was doing what it was doing. He had to separate himself from the status quo. I believe he succeeded by going to that extreme, being 'I am the supreme, emotional male who don't take no shit.' He was the rapper who had a Mercedes-Benz and a backpack. He showed he was about the culture, but also liked real expensive shit too. He wasn't drug dealing, but he was telling stories of about those who were drug dealing."

Consequence: "The great thing about the album is, to this day, the lines still have staying power. But with me, knowing the history of where these lines started and to see it turn into 'College Dropout,' I can see how bad he wanted it and you can hear it. I can see the inception of the ideas and him going back in re-tweaking it to the final product. It's a marquee thesis in his catalogue, just not for himself but everyone involved. That team behind 'College Dropout' is why G.O.O.D Music was erected, why Scott Disick says he wishes he could rap on the 'Kardashians.' That was the album that was pretty much the launch pad for a lot of things."

Common: "When I heard this album, I knew it'd be classic from the newness feel of it. Listening to all the songs right now, it's still groundbreaking and I think it should go down as a classic. It marked a time period."

 

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