On his debut album The College Dropout, Kanye West singlehandedly set hip-hop on a new path, introducing himself as one of the 21st Century’s most innovative artists. Multi-faceted, idiosyncratic and packed with enough pop nous to conquer the charts, it brought him both critical acclaim and huge commercial success.
As a producer Kanye West's highlight reels were stacking up exponentially when his solo debut for Roc-a-Fella was released, after numerous delays and a handful of suspense-building underground mixes. The week The College Dropout came out, three singles that featured his handiwork were in the Top 20, including his own "Through the Wire." A daring way to introduce himself to the masses as an MC, the enterprising West recorded the song during his recovery from a car wreck that nearly took his life, while his jaw was wired shut.
Success certainly didn’t happen overnight, though. Snapped up by Jay-Z as an up-and-coming producer, West’s groundbreaking work on the rapper’s classic 2001 album, The Blueprint, was followed by a frustrating few years as he sought to gain acceptance as an artist in his own right. In the early 00s, hip-hop was still in thrall to gansta rap, and, despite West’s burgeoning reputation as one of hip-hop’s hottest producers, few label bosses were ready to take a chance on a middle-class art-school dropout. In the end it was Damon Dash, co-owner (alongside Jay Z) of Roc-A-Fella Records, who signed West, in part to avoid having their star producer defect to another label.
Armed with a cavalcade of beats that he’d been saving for his big chance, West set to work on The College Dropout, splitting production between a studio in Los Angeles and his own apartment in Newark, New Jersey: a two-bedroom affair with one of the rooms converted into a makeshift studio.
Driven by a need to express himself further after nearly losing his life, an inspired West used The College Dropout as both a conduit for his newfound energy and a welcome distraction from the pain of his recovery. The result was a work brimming with creativity, its positivist message intoning the listener to “Make Your own decisions. Don’t let society tell you, This is what you have to do’".