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  • Tuesday 10 February 2004
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The College Dropout (2004)

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The College Dropout is the debut album by American hip hop artist Kanye West, released February 10, 2004, on Roc-A-Fella Records. It was recorded over a period of four years, beginning in 1999. Prior to the album's release, West had worked on rapper Jay-Z's The Blueprint , which showcased his melodic and soulful style of hip hop production. Produced entirely by West, The College Dropout features musical contributions from Jay-Z, John Legend, Ervin "EP" Pope, Miri Ben-Ari, and Syleena Johnson. Diverging from the then-dominant gangster persona in hip hop, West's lyrics on the album concern themes of family, religion, self-consciousness, materialism, and personal struggles.

The album debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, selling 441,000 copies in its first week. It was a massive commercial success, producing five singles that achieved chart success. Upon its release, The College Dropout received general acclaim from music critics and earned West several accolades, including a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album at the 47th Grammy Awards. It is West's best-selling album in the United States, with domestic sales of over 3.1 million copies and worldwide sales of over four million copies. Rolling Stone named it the tenth-best album of the 2000s decade. In 2006, the album was named by Time as one of the 100 best albums of all time.


Kanye West was born in Atlanta, Georgia. At the age of three, West's parents divorced and he moved with his mother to Chicago, Illinois. West demonstrated an affinity for the arts at an early age; his mother recalled that she first took notice of his passion for drawing and music when he was in the third grade. Growing up in the city, West became deeply involved in its hip hop scene. He started rapping in the third grade and began making beats in the seventh grade, eventually selling them to other artists. He crossed paths with producer/DJ No I.D., with whom he quickly formed a close friendship. No. I.D. soon became Kanye's mentor, and it was from him that West learned how to sample and program beats after he received his first sampler at the age of fifteen.

After graduating from West Aurora High School, West received a scholarship to attend Chicago's American Academy of Art and began taking painting classes, but shortly after transferred to Chicago State University to major in English. He continued making strides in his rapping and beat-making, and some of his earliest beats were sold to local underground rappers such as Gravity as well as major-label artists like Ma$e. However, it soon became apparent to West that his busy class schedule was a detriment with his work, and at the age of 20 he made the decision to drop out of college to pursue his dream of becoming a musician. This action greatly displeased his mother, who was a professor at the university from which he withdrew. She later commented, "It was drummed into my head that college is the ticket to a good life... but some career goals don't require college. For Kanye to make an album called College Dropout it was more about having the guts to embrace who you are, rather than following the path society has carved out for you."

West began his early production career in the mid-1990s, making beats primarily for burgeoning local artists, eventually developing a style that involved speeding up vocal samples from classic soul records. He came to achieve recognition and is often credited with revitalizing Jay-Z's career with his contributions on the rap mogul's classic and influential 2001 album The Blueprint. In addition to producing the hit lead single "Izzo " and the introspective "Never Change", West was also responsible for supplying the beat to the diss track "Takeover", in which lyrical shots were fired at Nas and Prodigy. The Blueprint has been named by Rolling Stone as the 464th greatest album of all time. Serving as in-house producer for Roc-A-Fella Records, West produced records for other Roc artists, including Beanie Sigel, Freeway, and Cam'ron. He also crafted hit songs for Ludacris, Alicia Keys, and Janet Jackson.

Despite his proven talent and success as a producer, West's true aspiration was to be a rapper. Though he had developed his emceeing skills long before he began producing, it was a challenge for West to be accepted as a rapper, and he struggled to attain a record deal. Multiple record companies pushed him aside because he did not portray the gangsta image prominent in mainstream hip hop. After a series of meetings with Capitol Records, West was ultimately denied an artist deal. According to Capitol Record's A&R, Joe "3H" Weinberger, he was approached by West and almost inked a deal with him, but another person in the company got in the ear of Capitol's president, saying, "He's just a producer/rapper. Those record won't do well. He'll never sell." and the deal was nullified. In a desperate attempt to keep their gifted producer from defecting to another label, then-label head Damon Dash reluctantly signed West to Roc-A-Fella Records. Jay-Z later admitted that Roc-A-Fella was initially reluctant to support West as a rapper, claiming that he, like many, saw him as a producer first and foremost, and that his background contrasted with that of his labelmates. West's breakthrough came a year later on October 23, 2002, when, while driving home from a California recording studio after working late, he fell asleep at the wheel and was involved in a near-fatal car crash. The crash left him with a shattered jaw, which had to be wired shut in reconstructive surgery. The accident inspired West; two weeks after being admitted to hospital, he recorded a song at the Record Plant Studios with his jaw still wired shut. The composition, "Through The Wire", went on to become West's breakthrough debut single and helped lay the foundation for his debut album.

The album begins with a high school teacher asking Kanye West to deliver a graduation speech, "something for the kids", which introduces the second track, "We Don't Care" on the album with West celebrating drug life: "All my people that's drug dealing just to get by, stack your money till it gets sky-high / We wasn't supposed to make it past 25, joke's on you, we still alive" and then criticizing it's influence amongst children, "We scream: rocks, blow, weed, Pac / See: now we smart". He uses his casual voice to describe a world of dope and dyslexia, and when he raps, "Hold up, hold fast, we make mo' cash / Now tell my momma I belong in that slow class". His lyrics contain various popular culture references to the brand of jackets called Starters, rappers Really Doe and Tupac Shakur and song 21 Questions. The next track, "Graduation Day" features Miri Ben-Ari on violin and is heavily auto-tuned to a point where the lyrics are nearly inaudible. On "All Falls Down", the album's second single, he criticizes consumerism as an expression of self-hatred rooted in history "We shine because they hate us / Floss cause they degrade us / We tryin to buy back our 40 acres", and then implicates himself in the same process, all while examining self-consciousness in the context of his community: "Rollies and Pashas done drive me crazy / I can't even pronounce nothing, yo pass the Versace / Then I spent 400 bucks on this just to be like 'Nigga you ain't up on this'."

The gospel hymn "I’ll Fly Away" leads into "Spaceship", a low-key funk track in which West wishes he could get away from the working world via a spaceship; in a collaboration with GLC and Consequence, he compares the legacy of slavery to modern-day corporate enslavement. "I’ll Fly Away" is sung in a doo-wop style and uses a Marvin Gaye sample. The main theme is the history of black music while also being a working man’s anthem. "Spaceship" also touches upon West's previous job as a Gap employee. On "Jesus Walks" West proclaims his devotion to Jesus, and discusses the lack of religious themes touched upon in contemporary hip-hop. “I wanna talk to God but I’m afraid cause we ain't spoke in so long,” he confesses, but then he goes ahead and requests to push the song onto radio and push the divine into the heart of public dialogue. He also addresses the fact that gangsta rap is popular than conscious rap by saying that one could get airplay by releasing a song with themes of money, girls and guns but would not succeed if they released a song which praises Jesus. His near-death car crash last October supplied the motivation for "Never Let Me Down" and includes the following lines "I can't complain what the accident did to my left eye / Coz look what an accident did to Left-Eye". Jay-Z rhymes about attaining status and power, West one-ups him with a show-stopping attack on racism and meditation on death, and J. Ivy offers words of spiritual upliftment. "Never Let Me Down" uses a Jay-Z verse first heard in the remix of his song "Hovi Baby".

"Get Em High" is a collaboration by West with two socially conscious rappers, Talib Kweli and Common. The over-the-top "The New Workout Plan" is both a hilarious parody of an aerobics routine and a platform for West to wrap his words around weird shifts in tempo and style. "Slow Jamz" is a side-splitting ode to legends soul music that originally appeared on Twista's Kamikaze and features Jamie Foxx. He considers the lure of materialism with Ludacris on "Breathe In Breathe Out" as he boldly declares "Always said if I rapped I’d say something significant / But here I am talking about money, hoes, and rims again". On the song "School Spirit", West relates the experience of dropping out of school and contains references to well-known fraternities, sororities, singer Norah Jones, record label Roc-A-Fella Records. Also, all profanities on this song are distorted as Aretha Franklin would not give West permission to sample Spirit in the Dark if the song included any profanities.

"Two Words" is a deafening mix of social critique and bragging with Mos Def, Freeway, and the Harlem Boys Choir. Freeway plays the hit man and Mos the enlightened activist, while West hangs in the middle, sending out love to the gold-fronted and the Native Tongued alike. "Through the Wire" borrows a chorus from Chaka Khan and a plotline from real life: in October 2002 West came close to dying in a car accident. With his jaw still wired shut he recorded the mush-mouthed lyrics. "My dogs couldn't tell if I / Would look like Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky" he slurs, slipping into character as a wounded hero beating the odds. For about a year the song circulated on West's mixtapes and other unofficial releases. The song forges his dual status as underdog and champion. "Family Business" is a sweet, soulful tribute to an incarcerated family member. The album ends with a 12-minute autobiographical monologue that follows the song "Last Call".

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Standard edition
# Name Artist Live Acoustic Hidden Duration
1-1 Intro Kanye West       00:19
1-2 We Don't Care Kanye West       03:59
1-3 Graduation Day Kanye West       01:22
1-4 All Falls Down Kanye West       03:43
1-5 I'll Fly Away Kanye West       01:09
1-6 Spaceship Kanye West       05:24
1-7 Jesus Walks Kanye West       03:13
1-8 Never Let Me Down Kanye West       05:24
1-9 Get Em High Kanye West       04:49
1-10 Workout Plan Kanye West       00:46
1-11 The New Workout Plan Kanye West       05:22
1-12 Slow Jamz Kanye West       05:16
1-13 Breathe In Breathe Out Kanye West       04:06
1-14 School Spirit Skit 1 Kanye West       01:18
1-15 School Spirit Kanye West       03:02
1-16 School Spirit Skit 1 Kanye West       01:18
1-17 Lil' Jimmy Skit Kanye West       00:53
1-18 Two Words Kanye West       04:26
1-19 Through the Wire Kanye West       03:41
1-20 Family Business Kanye West       04:38
1-21 Last Call Kanye West       12:40




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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "The College Dropout", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.