“The College Dropout” is the story of and for the underdog, the underachiever. It still is, 10 years after its release (February 10, 2004).
Kanye West fought for recognition when he was 12 years old, and still thirsts for respect today. He survived a car accident that nearly killed him, but instead propelled him, and strengthened the necessity to jump on tables to prove his talents and fight stigmas that come with being a rapper/producer and a brutally honest, emotional backpacker.
Kanye’s first studio album, “The College Dropout,” continues to resonate in pop culture 10 years after its release, not only because of Kanye West but all of those who were a part of the creation. Everyone who contributed was an underdog as well, trying to prove themselves to their hometown, label executives, peers, and most importantly, themselves.
Everyone involved – Kanye West, those he grew up with him in Chicago (GLC, Coodie, Chike, Really Doe, Olskool Ice-Gre, JB Marshall), those who he met at the latter end of the album’s development to those who in the thick of it all – were so hungry to achieve something that they became one unit. One family, one machine, with the goal to kick down doors and brighten Kanye West’s future. Even as everyone moved on to fulfill their own ambitions and dreams, “The College Dropout” was in the pit of each of them.
In celebration of Kanye West’s “The College Dropout,” here are the stories of 26 contributors – “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly” – who were involved in the making of the album, and more importantly, became instrumental to Kanye West’s career.
88-Keys – Founder of Locksmith Music | Producer | Rapper
Common – Rapper
Coodie & Chike – Directors | Founders of Creative Control
Damon Dash – Executive Producer | Co-Founder of Roc-A-Fella Records
Devo Springsteen – Cousin to Kanye West | Former roomate to John Legend | Producer | Songwriter
Ferris Bueller – Marketing
Freeway – Rapper
Gee Roberson – Co-Executive Producer | Manager | Co-CEO of Hip Hop Since 1978 | Co-CEO of Blueprint Group
JB Marshall – Manager | A&R Executive
J. Ivy – Poet
Joe “3H” Weinberger –Management | Former A&R, Capitol Records
John Legend – Singer | Songwriter
John Monopoly – Manager | Co-Founder of Hustle Period
Kyambo “Hip Hop” Joshua – Co-Executive Producer | Manager | Co-Co-CEO of Hip Hop Since 1978
Miri Ben-Ari – Violinist
No I.D. – Producer
Olskool Ice-Gre – Former G.O.O.D. Music A&R | Founder of Honest Management
Plain Pat – Producer | Songwriter | Fromer A&R, Island Def Jam
Really Doe – Rapper
Shalik Berry – VP of A&R, Epic Records | Former A&R Coordinator, Island Def Jam
Syleena Johnson – Singer | Songwriter
Talib Kweli – Rapper
Tony Williams – Cousin to Kanye West | Singer | Songwriter
Part I: How I Met Kanye West
Tony Williams: “Kanye and I are first cousins — I’m 14 years older than him. We share the same set of grandparents. His mother and my dad are brother and sister. Our family is a very musical family, starting with our grandmother who was the musical matriarch of the family. Holidays were always spent in Oklahoma City at my grandparents’ house. Every holiday, we would all come back to Oklahoma City. Everyone, at my grandparents, would sing or play instruments. Everyone was a great singer, except Kanye, so he’d just go sit in a corner. It was weird, but he was always a genius kid, so we knew he would do something.
When he was 12 or 13 years old, Kanye got into hip-hop and decided he wanted to be a rapper. My aunt said he wasn’t feeling art and asked me for some recommendations on some equipment. I looked into items: drum machine, sampler. That holiday, I took him over to a friend of mine’s studio, that was producing for Color Me Badd. That was one of his first experiences going into a recording studio. He’d have his keyboard, sampler, and drum machine all spread out on my mom’s dining room table, making beats.”
Devo Springsteen: “We’re cousins, but we didn’t grow up together. I first met Kanye in 1995, when we were both graduating high school. He was already in the studio, and he took me to the studio. It was my first time being in the studio. His name was Kanye the Influence, at that time. He was always rapping, making beats and art. This was right before he went to art school. When he lived in Newark, I went out there. I started out as being his assistant. I would talk him out of things. I would go out to Newark every other day, and whether it was finding a sample, recording things or cleaning up the apartment, I’d help him.”
Coodie: “We used to go to this barber shop called Mellowswing. At first it was No I.D. and Doug Infinite’s music studio. Kanye would come up there to get those guys to teach him how to do beats. My guy Dave and Brendan had a group called Mellowswing, so No I.D. sold the shop to him. That’s how it became a barber shop. Kanye would get his haircut cause Ibn, who is with Kanye still, would work in there. He’d come in with his beats, like ‘Izzo,’ and I thought, ‘This dude is out of here, and I’m about to start filming him and do a “Hoop Dreams” on Kanye.'”
John Monopoly: “In 1991, he was in a group called State of Mind. Our mutual friends, Lucien and Gene, who were members of the group, introduced us. I was a producer and promoter, and we liked each others beats, became friends and created a production group called the Numbskulls in 1992.”
No I.D.: “It was during Common’s first album, ’93 or ’94… My mother came home one day and told me that she had a friend… Moms are always like: ‘Here’s someone that you should help.” I understood, checked it out and it was him. He was just learning how to make music, but he was the most persistent person who I’ve ever met.
“The first song he played me called ‘Green Eggs & Ham.’ It was real super-early, 90s-sounding, yelling type of hip-hop record with a computer keyboard beat that was really quite funny. He was in his group [State of Mind] for that song.
“Eventually I built a studio in my home, and he’d come over. He was always trying to prove himself, and he kept getting better and better. At one point, me and a guy, Peter Kang – who was an A&R for Relativity where Common and I had our record deals back in the day – shopped his music once it got to a certain level. After a few meetings, I realized that I couldn’t control his personality, and [I] didn’t have the time and patience to be that role.”
Common: “I met Kanye through No I.D. He was in Dion’s basement, bringing beats and wanting to battle me. I was that rapper out from Chicago. Of course, along with that, MCs wanted to challenge me. Kanye would always have dope rhymes, but he didn’t have his style down at that time. He had good samples, but it wasn’t polished.”
Really Doe: “I met Kanye when I was 15 years old [in 1995]. I met him through our friend, who we called Birdman. (Edit: Not the same Birdman from Cash Money.) Him and Bird went to the same high school together. When I met ‘Ye, as a kid, we clicked and linked up. We’d go to Taste of Chicago to mack girls down, party and enjoy ourselves. I was into music because I grew up across the street from some DJs. I built a relationship with them.
“As kids, his room was full of crates of records. It pulled a lot out of me that I was holding in musically. We linked and started making mixtapes, ‘World Record Holders,’ and started our movement as the Go-Getters.
“We’d be down at radio stations, at performances, floated through out the city, and sleeping in No I.D.’s parking lot trying to hear our music heard. (Laughs) I mean, not really, but we would be in his parking lot, 7-8 hours trying to present our music. Trying to get him to open his doors for us and he finally did.”
JB Marshall: “I was a party promoter by night, but by day I worked at the stock exchange. While there, I met new friends and one of my new friends was Don C. He introduced me to his friend, John Monopoly. One day they came by my place and Don said he had to stop by one of his producers’ spot. This guy with braces comes to the door, ‘Aye, my name is Kanye.’ I walked into his house on 95th and he had three three-foot-high stacks of ‘GQ’ magazines. I was like, ‘Okay, this is weird.’ He’s playing his music. Sooner than later, he’d come to parties I’d promote, and we started our own relationship and talking about music.”
Kyambo “Hip Hop” Joshua: “It might have been ’96 [when] we got introduced through No I.D. I had just got my job at Roc-A-Fella and I went to Chicago. Wendy Day of Rap Coalition had a convention in Chicago [or] a panel that she sent me to be on. No I.D. was on the panel. No I.D. didn’t really have any music but he told me, ‘I have this kid that I’m working on.’ I met a kid the next day — the kid was Kanye. He started sending me beats for a long time, but I started managing him after we built a relationship. He wanted to be more of a rapper than a producer, and being an A&R at the time led to me managing him”
No I.D.: “Hip Hop hit me and said, ‘I want to work with him. I like him.’ Me and Hip Hop were good friends at this point, even beyond business. I was talking them up to the both of them to really make it happen.”
Gee Roberson: “At the tail end of 1998/the beginning of 1999, we – my partner Hip Hop and me – were brainstorming on starting a company [Hip Hop Since 1978]. He said, ‘There’s this guy who’s not getting any production credit.’ He let me know this [same] guy was ghost producing for Deric A (‘D-Dot’) and working with a group of post-producers for Bad Boy. We were blessed to come upon this young man named Kanye West. He would give us a batch of beats on a daily basis. I thought we should sign this guy and he can be the first person we bring on board. The only stipulation was he rapped and we would need to work with him as an artist. We obliged and we planned on pushing his beats, feeding his sound and creating an opportunity for him as an artist.”
John Monopoly: “In ’98, Me and Don C – who is a distant cousin but who I didn’t meet until ’93, through mutual friends – managed the Go-Getters, a group that we formed around Kanye. Me and my crew [Hustle Period] were always pushing his initiative. We had Kanye open Jay Z’s first show in Chicago in ’97. We weren’t managing ‘Ye at the time, but trying to help him make it in the game.”
Shalik Berry: “I was A&R at Roc-A-Fella at the time. I initially met him though Hip Hop, who was managing him at the time. I was just amazed by him. The first song I heard from him was ‘Hey Mama.’ I thought, ‘Oh my God.’ The way he arranged the song was amazing. I instantly knew that this was something I had to be a part of.”
Syleena Johnson: “I met him a long, long time ago. I used to date his girlfriend’s brother. I met him once then, very briefly. Later, I found out he was a producer, but I didn’t know I had met him when I first did. I just knew him from around Chicago. I really loved his production and respected him. We were formally introduced via telephone for him to work on ‘Chapter Three,’ my third album.”
How I Met Kanye West (Cont.)
88-Keys: “In 1999, we met at Baseline Studios where Roc-A-Fella recorded all the time. One evening, I met Kanye. I told him who I was, and he was shocked. He knew my stuff through Mos Def’s albums. When he introduced himself I thought his name was pronounced Cayenne not Kanye. I was familiar with him as an artist, but not the name of songs he’d done. Within eight minutes of our conversation he told me was going to be a star. His Midwest accent was so thick I didn’t know what he was saying. He spit a rap at that time, and we went back and forth rapping. His raps were really good, but I didn’t really think ‘star’ from those raps or that moment. At that time, we both lived in Newark. We’d go to each other’s apartments, going to the studio together for almost four years.”
Olskool Ice-Gre: “In 2000, I cut him a check for a beat [“Paid”] that he produced for my band, Abstract Mindstate. We were the hottest local group at the time, Chicago’s finest. We thought we couldn’t afford him. The Go-Getters used to open up for Abstract Mindstate.
“He didn’t know his way around the studio — this was when he stayed in Jersey. He didn’t know how to communicate to people what was in his head. He didn’t know how to verbalize what he wanted them to do. I stepped in and gave the technical terms because I lived in the studio growing up. The song he recorded that night that happened was ‘Two Words.’ He was working with the Hezekiah Walker choir that night, but he ended up using the Boys Choir of Harlem. I got him through that session.
“He was like, ‘How much do you get paid doing this promotion [with Coodie]? I like how you move in the studio. I’ll pay you to stay with me and help me out while I do all this stuff… I know you’re a star yourself but I’m about to be the biggest star in hip-hop and I need your help.’
“The ego MC in me was like, ‘Are you serious — you want me to be your personal assistant? And I’m a bigger artist than you in my city.’ This was in my head. But then I thought about it, and I was close to everyone I dreamed of being close to. I said I would be his personal assistant but only if I ran his production company, Konman Productions. ‘Deal.’ We shook on it.”
Consequence: “When we first met, through 88-Keys, I came to his crib in Newark. He opened the door and basically had a whole spiel. He said, ‘Yo! I’m about to get a record deal. I’m about to be the next Michael Jackson. I always loved you as a child. Let me produce your next record. Come be on my team.’ I was like, Man, I just met this mother fucker and he already had 18 months of my life planned out.
My situation with Tribe [Called Quest] didn’t go exactly how I planned it. I had another deal with a producer and I got signed to Relativity when Fat Joe and Common were there. I was essentially doing it on my own, but then 88-Keys introduced me to Kanye. He wanted me on the records they were doing, and it eventually spawned into us working together. I would spend the nights at his crib and cook. I would make grape/lemonade Kool-Aid. He never lived in New York, so some of the things I was familiar with, I introduced him to. It became more than music.”
Miri Ben-Ari: “He saw me perform with Jay Z [in 2001]. When Kanye saw me playing in the studio, he was in awe. Kanye is a very musical person. I was his introduction to strings in the classical approach. He used to sit in the studio and watch me arrange for hours. He was thirsty; he wanted to learn.”
J. Ivy: “Early ’02, I had a show in Philly. One of my guys, Coodie, had moved to New York. We used to do a lot of shows together. He used to do comedy. When I had my show in Philly, I hit him up. He was like, ‘I’m at Kanye’s crib, come through.’ I was with Tarrey Torae, my girlfriend and stage-mate at the time, my wife now. We did the show then drove up. When we walked in the door, Coodie, Olskool Ice-Gre, Consequence, and a couple people of other were there. You walk in the door and you hear, ‘It’s J. Ivy. He’s on Def Poetry. Tarrey Torae, vocalist, she got one of them strong voices.’ He heard that and said, ‘You sing? Get in the booth.’ He put her right to work. She ended up three songs that night. She was the first one to sing ‘All Falls Down.’“
Plain Pat: “First time I met ‘Ye was when I was with Ferris [Bueller]. ‘Ye was out with Consequence. But the first official time I met him was when I was working at Def Jam doing A&R Administration and I got assigned his project. Gee had me meet Kanye to go over his budget.”
Joe “3H” Weinberger: “I met Kanye in New York City, in January 2001. We met at Right Track Studios in Midtown, because I bought one of his beats for one my earlier artists that was signed to Interscope. We were in the studio. I was super young, and he didn’t really know anybody. We got kicked out the studio, so we went to the waiting room, because DJ Clue was working. He was like, ‘I’m a rapper.’ I was like, ‘Really? I’m an A&R guy.’ He played me two songs: ‘I Want to Know,’ and he played me a second one called ‘Hey Mama.’ I lost my shit. He said, ‘I’m only doing beats to get in the game.’ I saw in him what he saw, but not many others did, so we became fast friends. I said, ‘I want to bring you to Capitol, if you don’t mind?’ He was like, ‘Lets do it.’ We had a similar goal.”
Ferris Bueller: “I remember dragging [Plain] Pat with me to Mos Def’s birthday party at what is now Greenhouse, but it was hosted by Howie McDuffy. I remember seeing Kanye outside, standing with Consequence and Rhymefest. I went to give him a mixtape that me and Pat had done, and he was like, ‘I already got that. It’s in the truck.’ Our relationship with Kanye really spawned. I was doing these mixtapes with Pat (‘Behind the Beats’). I got real bored chasing ni—as for exclusives. I told Pat, ‘I want to do something more [as] an experience. There’s a story behind all these records. Let’s profile a producer and tell the story behind all these records.’ I thought about doing it with 88-Keys and a bunch of other producers. Pat was like, ‘Kanye?’ [Kanye] was all for it. We went to get the songs and record the soundbites [for ‘Behind The Beats With Kanye West’] at his spot in Hoboken. He talked about different records, and the most notable [story] is how the ‘Get By’ record came about. He was going to sell the beat to Mariah Carey, but Talib Kweli fucked with it.”
‘The College Dropout’ Sessions
“We Don’t Care”
Consequence: “He was working on ‘We Don’t Care’ for a while. For me, I could appreciate the perspective of the rhymes of him rapping from the standpoint of an observing drug dealer. I was still dabbling in the streets. I had gotten locked up, but nothing super heavy. He found out and had a mentor talk with me, like, ‘Yo man, you’re throwing it all away.’ (Laughs) ‘We Don’t Care’ definitely set the tone to what the album is, and of where a majority of his friends were. All of us was were kind of fucking around with some shit, and here we were with this opportunity to be a part of something great and extract greatness from ourselves.”
“All Falls Down”
88-Keys: “Lauryn Hill was supposedly working on a follow-up album [to 1998’s ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’]. My manager, who is also one of my best friends, Daniel Glogower, caught wind of it, and was trying to make things happen. From what we were told, we couldn’t just submit tracks. The label wanted to hear what people would sound like working with her without actually working with her. They didn’t have acapella stems to give to us, but they suggested the Lauryn Hill ‘Unplugged’ album. Daniel gave the CD to me and I skimmed through it. There were only some I can program, and use the drums. As I’m working on it, Kanye and I had been best friends going on two-years. Any work that came my way, he was one of two people I always tried to put on. Him and the great J. Dilla — they were the ones I tried telling everybody about. I hit him up, told him about it, drove to his crib, and dropped the CD. I told him what needed to be done. I said, ‘Give it to me or Daniel and we’ll submit it.’ He ended up making this crazy beat with the drum programming and all this other things he did to it. I’m like, ‘Yo, are you going to give it to Lauryn?’ And he’s like, ‘Nah, I’m going to keep it for myself.'”
JB Marshall: “We walked into Baseline [Studios], mid-day, and it smelled like incense, and the ambiance was chill. He said it was ‘the time before the madness,’ because Jay or State Property wouldn’t come in ’til night. I looked at the console and there were two CDs: an Anita Baker CD and Lauryn Hill’s MTV Unplugged CD. That album [‘MTV Unplugged No. 2.0’] was like the Bible. Before we went to the studio that day, we were working on a song called ‘Self-Conscious.’ The lyrics were so on point. It had the ability to truly be a single but they wanted the production to marry the lyrics. I took him to take the Lauryn album. We went back to Newark, and told Westside (it’s what I call him) to ‘The Mystery of Iniquity.’ He had his ‘Aha’ expression. He’s like, ‘I can die right now.’ I’m playing pool, and he comes around and he starts singing: ‘When it all falls down.’ I told him to go to the end of the record and hear the clapping at the end, and he gave me that look again. That day or the next day, Coodie and J. Ivy and he played them ‘All Falls Down.'”
Devo Springsteen: “‘All Falls Down’ was made on a fairly cheap Roland 18-track digital recorder and it wasn’t re-done in the studio. It was just put on the album. Things would be made in his apartment, and it’d sound amazing. A lot of times when then we’d do it in the studio it didn’t sound ‘good.’ So that first time would end up on the album.”
John Monopoly: “We were trying to get the sample cleared by Lauryn Hill, so Kanye and I flew to Miami and literally looked for Lauryn. We drove around Miami looking for Lauryn. I don’t know what we thought. That’s the kind of stuff that we were doing, we were so ‘by any means necessary.’ ‘Oh, she lives in Miami? We’ll just go find her.’ I don’t know who we thought we were or what we were doing. We bumped into Rohan [Marley], and ended up getting an email address but… (Sigh).”
Shalik Berry: “We went as far as sending her a check to entice her to do it, but she didn’t do it. She didn’t actually write the record, so we were able to clear the words but not her. Syleena [Johnson] came in in the ninth inning and nailed it.”
Plain Pat: “She (Lauryn Hill) cleared it but then didn’t clear it. She pulled the clearance at the last minute. We were scrambling. We had all these replays and Syleena Johnson was at the Record Plant at the studio across. We were up all night [recording], up ’til 7am cutting it.”
Kyambo “Hip Hop” Joshua: “I think that Lauryn was more mad at her version of that record, that the real one never came out. All that stuff that she did at the show, she’d say they were real records. By him putting it out like that, she felt like it was his [version] would come out before hers. And… it never came out.”
John Monopoly: “We all kind of knew that was the record that was really going to break through. That’s why we went so hard to get the sample cleared.”
Devo Springsteen: “They experimented with John Legend at one point [in place of Lauryn Hill].”
Consequence: “I remember when it was called ‘Self-Conscious’ and it was to a different beat. The rhymes were so societal and unisex, just like ‘Spaceship.’ Women could relate to it. He was talking about a girl but the shit he was saying was so relevant, you couldn’t even front.”
Syleena Johnson: “I was in the studio, in LA, recording for ‘Chapter 3.’ I was recording a song called ‘Bull’s-Eye’ which featured Common and was produced by Kanye. We were in the studio, and he said, ‘Syleena, I have this record that Lauryn Hill won’t give me the clearance for the sample.’ He needed someone to re-sing it. ‘Can you try this for me?’ he asked. It was right after we recorded ‘Bull’s-Eye.’ I went in and re-sang ‘The Mystery of Iniquity.’ I sang over it. And, he was like ‘do what you would do,’ because I kept singing it exactly like she did, because obviously you’d want that same vibe. That’s how that little switch of the run came in. After that, they looked at each and smiled. The very next morning they called me and said, ‘This is the single. It’s going to radio. We’re shooting the video in a week.’ I was like, ‘Oh, okay! That’s awesome.’ I didn’t hear the entire thing ’til it hit the radio.”
GLC: “That was originally my record. I recorded that in Kanye West’s Hoboken apartment. He had the second bedroom turned into a studio. I told him, ‘I need a beat so I can be on the radio in Chicago.’ All I knew was Chicago. I wasn’t thinking about Hot 97, New York City. We were going through samples and came across ‘Distant Lover.’ He made the beat then and there. I smoked me a blunt and he headed to a meeting. I had just got off the phone, after having a heated conversation with my ex-girlfriend. ‘If all these people jocking you and if they’re really fucking with you, why you ain’t signed? Why aren’t they signing you?’ she said. I had just quit my job. Kanye told me to not be doing nothing that can get me in jail. From listening to him, I ended up coming to New York, ended up touring with Talib Kweli and ended up on ‘Spaceship.’
“When I wrote that verse, in December 2003, that was the month in which my mom died. I miss her every day, but I especially missed her that day.
“Kanye would always play ‘Spaceship’ to people, and at that time it would only have my verse on it. The reaction from it [made him] say: ‘Shit, this is going on my album.’
“Off that verse I got so many record offers, but I trusted Kanye and went with him. I went to where I felt the familiarity. I signed to Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music and worked with the team he worked with and within a year, the label folded at Sony. I was only really signed to G.O.O.D Music for a year, from ’05 to ’06.”
Consequence: “When I did the verse to ‘Spaceship,’ I remember we were somewhere doing a promo show. We stopped and grabbed something to eat. I spit it to them (Kanye West and GLC) and they said it was dope.”
Tony Williams: “I didn’t come into the studio ’til two weeks before the album was released. Every Christmas I’d drive to Oklahoma City on Christmas Eve or two days before. My tradition, every year, was always when my aunt and Kanye would come to the airport, I’d drive and pick them. We were in the car, on the way to my grandparents, and we would play music of whatever we were working on. We would go back and forth and play each other’s music. A year or two before ‘College Dropout,’ I played him some original stuff from my new band, contemporary Christian group, Souljah, and he was in awe of them. Kanye said, ‘Man, I really want to produce this music.’ Before that time, he’d been chopping up soul samples. He heard something that he wanted to have his hands in, and bring my world into his world. He invited me to fly out to L.A., the next week, to produce music in his hotel suite. Everyone at the label were all on one floor [of the W Hotel], and they all had studios in the room. We re-produced music that I had created. That was the first creative experience Kanye and I had, around ’02. He was in the studio working on his album, week after week. I asked to sing just a line on the record. His exact words, in a sarcastic way were: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. Everyone wants to sing on this record. But in actuality I have this guy that I signed to my production company [Konman Productions] and I’m going to feature him on the album. His name is John Legend.’ I didn’t know John Legend. I just knew he was the guy that kept me from singing on the album. I can’t believe he just told me ‘no.’
“Fast forward to Christmas time again, when I picked him up from the airport. We were playing CDs back and forth, except this time he’s playing music from ‘College Dropout.’ He put ‘Spaceship’ on, and I start riffing on top of the track. I remember him saying, ‘Stop. Rewind. Do that again.’ I riffed on top of the track again, and that’s when he said: ‘That’s what I need. That’s the feel that I’ve been wanting for the album that I haven’t been able to get.’ It was a very p-funk-inspired, loose, unrefined and raw feeling. He wanted free soul — an unrestricted kind of vibe. The following week, I was in L.A. and I sang on ‘Spaceship.’ He kept going, ‘Let me try you again,’ and by the time the week was over I was on five songs.”
Plain Pat: “‘Spaceship’ was a late addition to the album. He was trying to use it for one of the mixtapes we were doing. We used to do these Akademiks mixtapes and that was for one of those. I told him, ‘Yo, you can’t put this on the mixtape, this shit is hot.'”
John Monopoly: “I was still working at Violator, but mostly on the music side, and Jive Records. I remember one day being at Jive when ‘Jesus Walks’ was exploding on the radio and he, Chris Lighty, wanted to put 50 Cent on the remix. I remember Chris coming into my office, and we were laughing about ‘Jesus Walks.’ He was like, ‘I’m putting 50 on this record.’ I was excited, because 50 was so big. In New York he was everything.”
88-Keys: “For ‘Jesus Walks,’ I had given him the drum sample for that song. We had a real deep conversation on the drums that he heard on there, that he imagined using, and I told him I had that record [Curtis Mayfield’s ‘(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go’]. To date, he’s the only person who chopped that. Everyone who has used that record has looped it. He chopped it, which I always give him props for. A lot of ‘College Dropout’ was really him sitting down in his apartment with crates of record all around him, him just picking out a record, listening to it, finding a part, chopping it up and adding drums on it.”
Miri Ben-Ari: “I remember trying to capture the spirit of the song. I went off the production because it set the tone. It was powerful and spiritual. I remember him watching me recording ‘Jesus Walks.’ I find it ironic that I won a GRAMMY for ‘Jesus Walks,’ and I’m Jewish.”
Gee Roberson: “I can count the discussions we had about holding ‘Jesus Walks’ because it was so strong it’d possibly get lost. Here we have a song about Jesus that we wanted on regular rotation. We needed to establish Kanye as an artist first. When it came to ‘Jesus Walks,’ we [first] needed to have him established to where he was in autopilot mode. ‘Jesus Walks’ couldn’t go out with him being established. He agreed.”
‘College Dropout’ Sessions (Cont.)
“Never Let Me Down”
J. Ivy: “At 11:00 pm on December 7, 2002, I get a call from Coodie. He said, ‘J, you need to get to L.A. Kanye got this song with him and Jay Z and he wants to put a poet on it. I told him he had to put J. Ivy on it.’ I was like, ’Stop bullshitting.’ He was a comedian, so he was always joking. But they were at Record Plant in Hollywood, and Coodie goes into their studio space and plays the song for me over the phone. I couldn’t really hear the words but he told me what Jay and Kanye were saying in the verse. He was like, ‘J, get out here right now.’ I said, ‘I’ll find a way,’ and hung up.
“I wrote the title of the song down, the first line and then my mind went blank. I started banging on the page saying, ‘God, I need a piece right now. Give me a piece right now.’ I put my hand back on the page and my hand just started moving. When I read over it four, five times, I thought this shit was kind of hot. I called Coodie and I spit it to him over the phone. He goes in the other room and I hear a bunch of people talking. The music goes down and the people get quiet. He put me on speaker phone, and I spit the piece as if I had done it a million times. When I finished the room exploded. I’m in Bedstuy, broke and by myself. I was like, ‘What’s going on? What’s happening over there?’ I hear Kanye say, ‘Man J, spit it again.’ I did the joint for a half hour, and the piece was only a minute long. So I did it over, over, over and over again. Coodie finally got back on the phone and said, ‘Guess what? Kanye is flying you out here tomorrow.’ I found my way.
“He had to wait for the Def Jam office to open up, so I flew out there on Monday. On my flight there I was practicing. I perfected it and added one more line. After performing onstage at the Improv, from there we piled up in a limo, we went to the studio and Kanye was like, ‘You ready?’ I go into the booth and it was a surreal feeling, listening to Jay Z, who was retiring at the time. I’m hearing this amazing music, the choir, the strings, the chords, and then I’m hearing Kanye’s verse and I’m moved. After the second verse there was a space for my moment.
“He told me ‘to bring it down just a little bit’ and do it one more time. I did it one more time. Now, I thought I was warmed up and was ready to do it the third time. But he said, ‘That’s it — that was the one.’”
John Monopoly: “The Jay verse came at the 11th hour. [It] came two days before mastering.”
Kyambo “Hip Hop” Joshua: “That was the night that Jay had his show at [Madison Square] Garden. ‘Through the Wire’ was starting to get a lot of love. ‘Ye was popular at that point, in 2002. He knew he was going to get Jay’s verse. Jay said he’d do the verse, but he didn’t know what song it’d be on and it just worked out the way it did.”
(Side note: The Creation of John Legend’s Stage Name: “After listening to ‘Never Let Me Down’ over and over again, Kanye was like, ‘Have you heard of this singer called John Stephens?’ He played me this song from him, that I think will.i.am produced. It was so refreshing and soulful. An hour later, John Stephens comes into the studio. I told him, ‘I heard your music. It’s so amazing. It sounds old school. Man, you sound like one of the legends. You’re a legend. Matter of fact, that’s what I am going to call you from now on: The Legend. A couple days later, we were in the lounge of the studio (Record Plant) and John Stephens walks in and everyone shouts him out. I was like, ‘John Legend!’ Kanye then said, ‘You’re John Legend from now on. That’s your name!’” – J. Ivy)
“Get Em High”
Talib Kweli: “He made that beat for the session of my album ‘The Beautiful Struggle.’ He made the beat for my album, [but] I just wasn’t trying to have it on the album. I wasn’t trying to get a song like ‘Get Em High.’ So he put it on his album and [later] asked me to jump on it.”
Plain Pat: “‘Get Em High’ was a late addition on the album. ‘Get Em High’ was on some random laptop I had and John Monopoly was going through it. I think it was originally for Busta Rhymes.”
John Monopoly: “He started playing the ‘Get Em High’ beat and I told him ‘I need this joint,’ and, of course, he then said he’d keep it to himself. I was trying to get it for Dirtbag, who was signed to Jive.”
Talib Kweli: “I remember seeing the promotion for it and thinking, ‘Kanye has an album coming, I wish I was a part of it.’ And then he called me. I sent him what I recorded on the road. When I rapped on that beat, I rapped on a different part of the beat that you hear. I sent it to him, but when I heard it, I was frustrated. Imagine you rapped on one part of the beat and you hear it moved to another part, and it starts on a different part. People loved it though. Kanye did it by mistake but it was a beautiful mistake. When I first told him, he said, ‘Oh shit. I get it but I like it.’ When you send someone vocals through e-mail, it could be anyone’s mistake — an engineer, or it could have been that Kanye heard it the way he heard it and that’s the way it got laid.”
Common: “Kanye was talking to me about being on his album. I was like, ‘Okay, what you got?’ He’d been to my basement rapping, so he was my guy. When he approached me saying, ‘I have to have you on this album. You’re from the Chi,’ I was with it. I wasn’t expecting a ‘Get Em High’ type of song, but when I heard his lyrics I thought it was dope. I’ve never rapped on that type of beat. There was a different type of bounce on it. I was just coming off ‘Electric Circus’ and people thought I was just on this eclectic type of stuff. So it was a comeback rap for me. I wanted to show people that I’m an MC and do a lot of different things. But when it comes to the core of who I am, I’m in MC. I had to show and prove. As Andre 3000 said, ‘You’re only as good as your last cut.'”
“Workout Plan”/”The New Workout Plan”
GLC: “When I first heard it I wasn’t really fucking with it, but let me tell you… when we started doing that song in shows and saw what it did? I was like, ‘Damn!’“
JB Marshall: “We were out for Jay Z’s show at Madison Square Garden. He had Larry Bernard in the studio, and we played the sample. That thing was so loud, but it felt so good. We played it so much, I couldn’t hear for one day. The initial song was different. The drums were louder and weren’t arranged as they were on the album cut. It was more of a hip-hop record.”
Miri Ben-Ari: “‘The New Workout Plan’ went through a real workout. It had so many versions. The first version was recorded for my album. We recorded that song, just me and him, in his apartment in Hoboken. Universal decided to go with a different single [for me].”
Ferris Bueller: “I was never a fan of that record. I hated that record. Pat made a comment. I hate him for this comment to this day. We’re mixing “Workout,” [and] Pat goes, ‘Ferris’ favorite song.’ Kanye turns to me and asks, ‘You don’t like ‘Workout Plan’?’ I was like, ‘Put it like this: You don’t hear ‘Workout’ on a classic album. When I listen to ‘Midnight Marauders,’ I don’t skip any songs. I let it ride through. When your album comes out, I’m going to skip ‘Workout Plan.’ He was like, ‘Word?’ He goes back to playing the keyboard. But, I didn’t hear my name on the album. I was like, ‘Yo, What the fuck?’ (Laughs)”
Consequence: “I had a little situation with this girl out in Queens, and I wanted to do a skit about her baby father. Kanye and I were riding around one night and he said, ‘We should do a skit to that shit.’ We went to crib and we recorded it. I was throwing around the Luther Vandross sample. He sent the record to Twista and had Aisha Tyler record the script. That beat was originally a beat he gave to GLC.”
Coodie: “When we went to Jamie Foxx’s house… actually, looking back at the footage he had a picture over the board of Ray Charles. But anyway, Kanye gave Jamie what he wanted him to do, and Jamie was doing it, but he’d have to do it again. It wasn’t hitting; he wasn’t doing it right. As soon as I went in the booth, put the camera on him, he then turned into something else. He did it exactly how we was supposed to be done, with the power of that camera. He was probably so comfortable in front of the camera.”
J. Ivy: “Aisha Tyler and I had the same attorney. I was the one that brought Aisha Tyler to meet Kanye — that’s how she ended up being on ‘Slow Jamz.'”
Plain Pat: “We had put out ‘Slow Jamz,’ ‘Through the Wire,’ ‘Keep the Receipt,’ but [‘Slow Jamz’] took off out of nowhere. I don’t think anyone expected it to go there. I think that’s why ‘Ye agreed to give it to Twist. I don’t even think ‘Ye agreed, or maybe that was Gee doing his magic. I remember Dame saying, ‘[Twista] ain’t getting that shit,’ ’cause it was hot. ‘Ye didn’t care — he knew of all the songs we had in the stash.”
Kyambo “Hip Hop” Joshua: “Kanye was doing a couple of songs on Twista’s album. He liked ‘Slow Jamz,’ but he didn’t really want to make it the first single. He didn’t want to be known for that single the whole time. I remember he basically was trying to come up with reasons: ‘Nah, It’s too slow [or] it has no real hook.'”
Gee Roberson: “‘Slow Jamz’ was a huge tipping point for the album. It helped push ‘Through the Wire.’ It affected all of our lives. I was in a transition period as a professional. I accepted a job at Atlantic as the head of the A&R. Atlantic had a couple of priorities, [and] one was Twista. Twista needed a single. He didn’t have anything at the moment. We worked it so it could benefit both ends. Kanye already knew that he wanted Twista [on it]. We took a trip to L.A. and got Jamie Foxx on the song. This was a time where people thought working with Jamie Foxx was a hoax. Once ‘Slow Jamz’ came into the picture, his career was on autopilot.”
“Breathe In, Breathe Out”
JB Marshall: “For him to get Luda on the record, he had to give I don’t know how many beats for free to get that verse because Luda was and still is a big artist. We were on our way to the studio [because] Gee had called him to tell him he was bringing over Luda’s verse. Me and Kanye were running into the studio, 1:30 at night, and he opened the FedEx and he puts the CD in. We looked at each other and said, ‘Daaang.’ We played that song all night because we couldn’t believe we got Luda on that joint.”
Gee Roberson: “We had reservations about ‘Breathe In, Breathe Out.’ It was getting a couple of spins because it was out there already on mixtapes. It was getting a bit of buzz so it couldn’t have been a single.”
Consequence: “He always had a hang-up about releasing ‘Breathe in, Breathe out.’ ‘Breathe In, Breathe Out’ was a dope hip-hop record, but it didn’t serve a conceptual purpose. But when you think of records such as ‘Family Business’ ‘Never Let me Down,’ and ‘Spaceship,’ I don’t think you’d say ‘Breathe In, Breathe Out’ would be on the track list. I think he kept it in there because it was one of the first records he had and it was sentimental to him. I think the Ludacris factor was the billing factor more than the meat and potatoes of the record itself.”
Plain Pat: “‘Breathe In, Breathe Out’ was one of the big ones back then. It was one of the ones that Lyor [Cohen] really fucked with. Looking back, that’s one of the worst on the album. (Laughs) That was the song that got his budget opened from Lyor. There was all this drama between Roc-A-Fella and Def Jam and they had paused all the budgets at Roc-A-Fella, because they were spending all this money. I happened to have ‘Ye up at Def Jam. We bumped into Lyor and played him ‘Breathe In, Breathe Out.’ Next thing I know his budget was open, literally the next morning. I had all these bills I had to pay, like 30 to 40 grand of bills that I had let slide ’cause I was letting him work and do whatever he wanted to do. I thought I was going to get fired, but that meeting saved my ass.”
Devo Springsteen: “I think ‘Breathe In, Breathe Out’ is a song that he regrets putting on the album. The beat is not so awesome, and the song doesn’t have a melody or message. It’s just a song.”
“School Spirit”/”School Spirit” Skits
Plain Pat: “No one wanted him to use all these skits. We were fighting him like, ‘You can’t put [in] all these skits.’ We didn’t want him to do skit after skit like that. But it’s almost like when you tell him no, he’s going to do it. We were adding them in the last second. (Over this music though, Kanye?) He had DeRay [Davis] in the booth for an hour to talk shit, and then went through it and broke up, and picked the parts he liked. That’s why it was added late. Kanye made it out of nothing. They still hold up after all these years.”
Kyambo “Hip Hop” Joshua: “There was a clean version on the album (with Aretha Franklin sample), because she didn’t want any cursing on it.”
Miri Ben-Ari: “The first session I did with Kanye was ‘Two Words’ with Mos Def. It was amazing. He did another version of ‘Two Words,’ a musical version. This is how dope Kanye was: He wanted to make an album without the beats and just the orchestration. We had a version of ‘Two Words’ with only the strings. He never released it, but he wanted to.”
JB Marshall: “A lot of the song was done at Quad studios. I remember the Harlem Boys Choir was on it, and I was like, ‘They don’t sound in the pocket.’ And he’s like, ‘That’s the magic. They’re not supposed to.’ It bothered me, but I have grown to understand through the years that it’s about capturing the emotion that you want the listener to get.”
Freeway: “At that time of my life I was knee-deep in living my dream. All we wanted to do was make good music. Kanye was great at making those kind of records where you could spit your heart out. It was great working with him, and I was happy to be on his first album and part of his legacy. I still perform ‘Two Words’ at all my shows.”
“Through the Wire”
JB Marshall: “I meet this little Spanish/black kid. He’s like ‘Yo, I rap.’ My buddy who introduced me to him was like, ‘This is Chaka Khan’s son.’ I was like, ‘Get out of here!’ I thought, he’s got to have some type of connection. He came to the studio a couple of times with me, but I couldn’t get him in cause the album was close to being finished and there were a lot of spectators. I was like, ‘You think you’re mom… Kanye’s really trying to do this record. You think your mom would clear it?’ He said, ‘You think Kanye would give me a feature?’ I was like, ‘We can work that out. Can you get your mom on the phone?’ We go to Kanye’s crib and I was like, ‘I got Chaka Khan’s son, Damien Khan, right here.’ He called his mom, and I think [he] caught her off guard. But that was when the seed was planted to even get that cleared.”
Coodie: “After we did the video, the label was having trouble getting [the sample] cleared. Chaka Khan wasn’t clearing the sample. I used to do these BBQs every Sunday, and at the BBQs John Legend, Kanye, Chike, and everyone would all be there. One time, one of my good buddies, JB [Marshall], brought Chaka Khan’s son to the BBQ. Of course we were like, ‘You got to see the video.’ We showed him the video and was like, ‘Oh my god, I have to show my mom.’ It seemed like a week later, maybe two weeks later, she cleared the sample.”
Chike: “Those Coodie Coladas were crack. We later tried to package them up with this beverage company in Korea. (Laughs)”
Gee Roberson: “It took some time to pick up. On the mainstream level, he got notoriety to people outside of hip-hop crowd as they begun to see who he was. The song helped lay out his story more cause it was a real thing that happened to him.”
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.”
Kanye West vs. Major Labels
Devo Springsteen: “There was not really interest in Kanye. People liked his beats but they saw hip-hop as 50 Cent, Ja Rule, streets and if he didn’t fit into that perception then he wasn’t really hip-hop. One president of a label said Kanye was not a real artist. This president is still a president but a different label today. Kanye has a viewpoint, a message and a need to express that to an audience. He’s one of the most important artists of our generation. So to have one of the most iconic music executives ever, who’s made money with Kanye now. I’m like, ‘Wow, you literally said he’s not an artist and now he’s the number one artist making your pay?”
88-Keys: “Labels wouldn’t place their bets on him. He went through the gamut of all labels, one right after another. It was one thing to turn him down, but then [they’d] ask for the beat he just rapped on. It was a slap in the face. He’d perform ‘Jesus Walks,’ ‘All Falls Down,’ ‘Two Words’ (before Freeway and Mos was on it) and they would be like, ‘The music is real good. Maybe we can use that beat for DMX… Who do we contact about that?’ He was like, ‘This is my album that I’m playing you. I’m a rapper. Didn’t you just hear my raps?’”
Talib Kweli: “He was really trying to be on Rawkus Records, the label I was on at the time. A lot of labels, like Rawkus, didn’t see Kanye’s vision completely. He was trying different things and no one was really feeling him. He had a Def Jam deal, but that was once he put out ‘Through the Wire,’ which he funded himself. That’s when people started gravitating towards him.”
Coodie: “When we’d go to offices, he’d rap and jump on the desks. He had something to prove because at that time, ‘producer/rapper’ wasn’t working.”
Gee Roberson: “You had the guy walking in to label meetings and telling people, ‘I’m going to be bigger than Jermaine Dupri.’ This is an exact quote he said to Michael Mauldin, Jermaine Dupri’s father.”
Devo Springsteen: “Capitol Records wanted to do a deal. Kanye said, ‘What if I’m the guy? I can be the priority artist at the label. I’m not going to be shoved behind anyone.’ But the Capitol deal fell through last minute. The Roc-A-Fella situation, as I understood it… they weren’t fighting for Kanye but he got a deal.”
Joe “3H” Weinberger: “I was a scout. I was as low level as you can be [and] I didn’t have much authority. I finally got a meeting with the head of the company. Andrew Slater was running Capitol. (This was maybe six months after I met Kanye for the first time.) I was like, ‘Look, there’s two acts that I really think are special. I’d love to sign them both. One is this guy named 50 Cent, who just got dropped from Columbia and this other guy is called Kanye West. He was like, ‘Cool. Set up the meetings.’ I told [Kanye], ‘Let’s fly you out when Jay Z is doing the ‘H to the Izzo’ video. I brought my boss down to the video shoot. I figured the more hype I’d create around Kanye the more it’d help me because he was such a different type of artist at the time. We flew him to L.A. and then flew 50 Cent to L.A. The boss said, ’50 Cent is too scary. I don’t want bodyguards at my house. I’ll sign this Kanye guy. Even though I don’t get it, even though it doesn’t seem interesting to me at all.’ I said, ‘Thank you. It means a lot.’
“We were ready to go. ‘Jesus Walks’ was done, ‘Slow Jamz’ was done, ‘Breathe In, Breathe Out’ was done, ‘All Falls Down’ was done but on a different beat, but… I saw this album. Two months later, he fired a lawyer for me and hired a new one just to be really easy to deal with. [But] a new person came in to head the Urban department and this person just cut the deal. I don’t know why but it was not only a ‘no,’ it was a ‘don’t bring it up again.’ So I had to call him and say, ‘You’re going to hate me but there’s no place for you over here but I hope we can remain friends.’ He was mad, but wasn’t mad at me. Literally three weeks later, Dame brought him over to Roc-A-Fella.”
GLC: “We all knew he’s been recording the album. That was his dream. But Dame didn’t know. He fooled Dame and told him that he was doing a compilation album. That’s how he got his deal. He was going to produce the beats for all the Roc-A-Fella artists but [instead] he said, ‘Fuck that, I’m going to make my own album.'”
Plain Pat: “We all thought he was making a compilation album for Roc-A-Fella, but when I met with him, he’s like, ‘Nah, I’m rapping!’ It was shocking because nobody [at Def Jam or Roc-A-Fella) knew he was going to rap [on] the whole album.”
Olskool Ice-Gre: “By the time Dame heard the compilation album was really his album, he revealed he had offers at record labels like Capitol. Dame wanted his first dibs on his beats, so he got him the record deal so he could have first dibs.”
Devo Springsteen: “It seemed to me, what [Roc-A-Fella] were selling, Kanye didn’t fit: street. He wasn’t signed ’cause of his raps. He could rap but [Damon Dash] wasn’t buying him as an artist. He had Roc-A-Fella and the street thing was prevalent. Dame Dash wasn’t trying to hear Kanye. He just wanted the beats.”
Dame Dash: “He had no history [at the time] and no one listens if you don’t have any history. The only reason I was listening, regardless of whatever, was because I was going to put out a record out were he was the producer. I could sell 500,000 records for the compilation with everyone on it who was on Roc-A-Fella. That’s what I was thinking. When he came in and had beats that had him rapping on it, ‘I was like, okay then.’ I didn’t push records, that wasn’t what it did it for me. I thought his album was going to be a compilation, but all of a sudden he’d be playing his songs. But, I wasn’t really looking for a producer that was rapping so heavy. I was looking for someone who was working hard.
“We were looking like at him as a producer that could rap, ’cause that’s what he was doing with us. He was the best producer that can rap, while Jay Z was, still is, the best rapper of all time. Jay’s idea was completely different than Kanye’s. They were relatable in different ways, so the respect was completely different.
“At that time, he was just a producer that wanted to rap, basically. What relatable experience would he be rapping about at that time? What experience would I say I can fuck with? They weren’t the same experiences, so I wasn’t able to recognize it. As a rapper I wouldn’t be able to tell if they were authentic or not. I approached it as he was a producer who worked hard.
“It was his consistency that did it for me. It was what made him rap on a table and rap for people. I remember I took him to London ’cause he was doing it like that. I remember when I had him perform at the movie I funded for Lee Daniels (“Shadowboxer”), who by the way, robbed me of $2 million, but I’ll talk about that on another interview… But I had Kanye come to Sundance. When he was performing, people weren’t paying attention and he demanded their attention. This was before anyone knew who Kanye was. I respected that he demanded the attention and respect before he had a record out. That came from a place of no fear. I then knew what he was going to do.
“I was also trying to evolve away from the gangsta rap. Biggs (Kareem ‘Biggs’ Burke) really recognized, put it on my radar, and said, ‘Listen, he’s working.’ I was getting ready to put him out through Def Jam but we had a certain amount money to spend and, at the time, the Young Gunz’s ‘Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop’ single was doing well. It was the time I wasn’t putting out the money myself, and I went to tell Lyor and he said ‘I think we should put the money behind Young Gunz.’ I said you guys are dumb. So I took him to Warner, but they were fuckin’ dumb.”
Devo Springsteen: “From when he got the deal to when his album came out, there was a lot of grinding from us. It wasn’t Roc-A-Fella pushing Kanye. We needed a hot record for Roc-A-Fella to put money behind it [‘College Dropout’]. There needed to be some buzz and momentum. In order for there to be marketing, there needed to be a demand for it. We’d push music to DJs went to clubs and pushed. ‘We’ being Kanye, me, Don C, John Monopoly, Gee, Hip Hop doing all this. Kevin Liles, who was Def Jam at the time, took me to the side and said, ‘You should know this was all you guys. You did all this. Not Roc-A-Fella, not Def Jam, it was you guys.’”
Joe “3H” Weinberger: “Just cause Dame grabbed him… I don’t think he was actually signed to Island Def Jam until ‘Through the Wire’ happened. You’d get a chain from them and you’d be down with them, but just because he was on Roc-A-Fella didn’t mean there was a plan. He wasn’t a priority for another year and a half, two years.”
Plain Pat: “For a while, Def Jam or Roc-A-Fella didn’t give two shits about him. It wasn’t until the ‘Through the Wire’ video premiere at the 40/40 Club and then we did the SOBs show that was his breakout show.”
Olskool Ice-Gre: “I used to take meetings with Roc-A-Fella, Def Jam, Lyor [Cohen] and Kevin Liles. Kanye was a successful producer at the time, so he’d be busy. They’d have tripped out ideas, a combination of edgy but still standard cookie-cutter type of stuff. We’d come up with the hot stuff, like Coodie and Chike shooting three videos for ‘Jesus Walks.’ Def Jam would piggy-back off our stuff. They’re stuff was corny to us. Kanye really didn’t like it, that’s why he didn’t care about showing up to meetings.”
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.”