Kanye West's 'The College Dropout' at 10: Classic Track-by-Track Review


In the late 90s and early aughts, before the world ever really knew who he was, Kanye West was merely just a record producer. He cut his teeth ghost-producing tracks for Deric "D-Dot" Angelettie, a member of Diddy's Hitmen production team, and turned his uncredited work into a staff producer position at Roc-A-Fella Records, where he sped up the classic soul samples that would come to define the fledgling label's characteristic sound. He produced hits for Jay-Z ("I.Z.Z.O." and "03 Bonnie and Clyde") and others like Talib Kweli ("Get By") and Alicia Keys ("You Don't Know My Name").

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

But Kanye wasn't content with being stuck behind the scenes. He rapped too, and saw producing for other artists merely as his entry point into the music business. It was all just an elaborate ruse for him to do his own thing. Still, industry reaction to his rapping was tepid, and this was the height of the street rap era; nobody wanted to hear a middle class art school dropout rap about his feelings. After struggling to land a deal, Roc-A-Fella chief Damon Dash reluctantly signed him in 2002 with the idea that he'd produce a compilation album for the label's roster of talent, which at the time included acts like Cam'ron, Beanie Sigel and the Young Gunz, among others.

Early Kanye West Videos: Never-Before-Seen 'College Dropout' Footage (Exclusive)

That album would never materialize, because little did Dame know, Kanye was silently toiling away on The College Dropout, a paradigm-shifting solo LP which would come to influence almost every bit of hip-hop that came after it. And yet the soul-baring record may have never even saw the light of day, if not for a car accident West experienced in October of 2002, which inspired "Through The Wire," a song he wrote and recorded while still recovering in the hospital. Released officially in the fall of 2003, West spent his own money to promote the song, dropped mixtapes and performed relentlessly in an effort to drum up interest. His efforts paid off and people eventually started paying attention. But while that song grabbed the critics and fans, it merely peaked at No. 15 on the Hot 100. It was his second single, "Slow Jamz," featuring Twista and Jamie Foxx, which ratcheted up the charts and landed at number one. Finally, Kanye West, the artist, had arrived.

"The College Dropout" landed in stores on February 10th, 2004. The third and fourth singles — "All Falls Down" and "Jesus Walks" —  kept Kanye West on the radio throughout the year, and the project eventually went on to sell 3.3 million copies to date, according to Nielsen Soundscan. At the 2005 Grammy Awards, it was nominated in ten categories, and won home three awards (Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song: "Jesus Walks," and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration: "Slow Jamz"). But more than awards and record sales, though, the project welcomed a new voice to hip-hop and American pop culture at large. "The College Dropout" was the voice of levity. The voice of a dreamer. The voice of someone who nobody took seriously. 'Ye sounded like everyone else in the disenfranchised middle class, people who had to be rich just to be poor. Someone who understood them, and had a way out. "The College Dropout" was it.

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