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The College Dropout is the debut studio album by American rapper and producer Kanye West. It was released on February 10, 2004, by Def Jam Recordings and Roc-A-Fella Records. In the years leading up to the album, West had received praise for his production work for rappers such as Jay-Z and Talib Kweli, but faced difficulty being accepted as an artist in his own right by figures in the music industry. Intent on pursuing a solo career, he signed a record deal with Roc-A-Fella and recorded The College Dropout over a period of four years, beginning in 1999.
|The College Dropout|
|Studio album by|
|Released||February 10, 2004 (2004-02-10)|
|Kanye West chronology|
|Singles from The College Dropout|
In the years leading up to the album, West had received praise for his production work for rappers such as Jay-Z and Talib Kweli, but faced difficulty being accepted as an artist in his own right by figures in the music industry. Intent on pursuing a solo career, he signed a record deal with Roc-A-Fella and recorded The College Dropout over a period of four years, beginning in 1999.
The album's production was primarily handled by West and developed his "chipmunk soul" production style, which made use of sped-up, pitch shifted vocal samples from soul and R&B records, in addition to West's own drum programming, string accompaniments, and gospel choirs; it also features contributions from Jay-Z, Mos Def, Jamie Foxx, Syleena Johnson, and Ludacris, among others. Diverging from the then-dominant gangster persona in hip hop, West's lyrics concern themes of family, self-consciousness, materialism, religion, racism, and higher education.
The College Dropout debuted at number two on the US Billboard 200, selling 441,000 copies in its first week of sales. It was a massive commercial success, becoming West's best-selling album in the United States, with domestic sales of over 3.4 million copies by 2014. The album was promoted with singles such as "Through the Wire", "Jesus Walks", "All Falls Down", and "Slow Jamz", the latter two of which peaked within the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100.
A widespread critical success, The College Dropout was praised for West's production, humorous and emotional raps, and the music's balance of self-examination and mainstream sensibilities. It earned the rapper several accolades including a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album at the 47th Annual Grammy Awards. It has since been named by Time, Rolling Stone, and other publications as one of the greatest albums of all time.
Kanye 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. For a time, he acted as a ghost producer for Deric "D-Dot" Angelettie. Due to his association with D-Dot, West wasn't able to release a solo album, so he formed and became a member and producer of the Go-Getters, a late-1990s Chicago rap group composed of him, GLC, Timmy G, Really Doe, and Arrowstar. The group released their first and only studio album World Record Holders in 1999. West came to achieve recognition and is often credited with revitalizing Jay-Z's career with his contributions to the rap mogul's influential 2001 album The Blueprint. The Blueprint has been named by Rolling Stone as the 252nd greatest album of all time and the critical and financial success of the album generated substantial interest in West as a producer. Serving as an in-house producer for Roc-A-Fella Records, West produced records for other artists from the label, including Beanie Sigel, Freeway, and Cam'ron. He also crafted hit songs for Ludacris, Alicia Keys, and Janet Jackson.
Although he had attained success as a producer, Kanye West aspired to be a rapper, but had struggled to attain a record deal. Record companies ignored him because he did not portray the gangsta image prominent in mainstream hip hop at the time. After a series of meetings with Capitol Records, West was ultimately denied an artist deal. According to Capitol Record's A&R, Joe Weinberger, he was approached by West and almost signed a deal with him, but another person in the company convinced Capitol's president not to. Desperate to keep West from defecting to another label, then-label head Damon Dash reluctantly signed West to Roc-A-Fella Records. Jay-Z, West's colleague, later admitted that Roc-A-Fella was initially reluctant to support West as a rapper, claiming that 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 a hospital, he recorded a song at the Record Plant with his jaw still wired shut. The composition, "Through the Wire", expressed West's experience after the accident, and helped lay the foundation for his debut album, as according to West "all the better artists have expressed what they were going through". West added that "the album was my medicine", as working on the record distracted him from the pain. "Through the Wire" was first available on West's Get Well Soon... mixtape, released December 2002. At the same time, West announced that he was working on an album called The College Dropout, whose overall theme was to "make your own decisions. Don't let society tell you, 'This is what you have to do.'"
West began recording The College Dropout in 1999, taking four years to complete. Recording sessions took place at Record Plant in Los Angeles, California, but the production featured on the record took place elsewhere over the course of several years. According to John Monopoly, West's friend, manager and business partner, the album "...[didn't have] a particular start date. He's been gathering beats for years. He was always producing with the intention of being a rapper. There's beats on the album he's been literally saving for himself for years." At one point, West hovered between making a portion of the production in the studio and the majority within his own apartment in Newark, New Jersey. Because it was a two-bedroom apartment, West was able to set up a home studio in one of the rooms and his bedroom in the other.
West brought with him to the studio a Louis Vuitton backpack filled with old disks and demos to the studio, producing tracks in less than fifteen minutes at a time. He recorded the remainder of the album in Los Angeles while recovering from the car accident. Once he had completed the album, it was leaked months before its release date. However, West decided to use the opportunity to review the album, and The College Dropout was significantly remixed, remastered, and revised before being released. As a result, certain tracks originally destined for the album were subsequently retracted, among them "Keep the Receipt" with Ol' Dirty Bastard and "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" with Consequence. West meticulously refined the production, adding string arrangements, gospel choirs, improved drum programming and new verses. On his personal blog in 2009, West stated he was most inspired by the The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and listened to the album everyday while working on The College Dropout.
The song "School Spirit" was censored for the album because Aretha Franklin would not allow the rapper to sample her music without censorship being promised. It was revealed by Plain Pat that there were around three other versions of the song, but West disliked them. Pat said in reference to the Franklin sample: "That song would have been so weak if we didn't get that sample cleared.". In 2011, an uncensored version of the track was distributed online.
West finished recording around December 2003, according to his older cousin and singer Tony Williams, who was recruited by the rapper two weeks before the album's deadline to contribute vocals. Williams had impressed West by singing improvisations to "Spaceship" during one of their drives together. The singer later recounted recording with West at the Record Plant: "I get in, go in the booth, start vibing out on 'Spaceship' and finished it up. At that point he was like, 'Ok, Well let me see what you do on this song.' I think that's when we did 'Last Call.' One song lead to another, and by the end of the weekend, I was on like five songs. Then we did the 'I'll Fly Away' joint."
The College Dropout diverged from the then-dominant gangster persona in hip hop in favor of more diverse, topical subjects for the lyrics. Throughout the album, West touches on a number of different issues drawn from his own experiences and observations, including organized religion, family, sexuality, excessive materialism, self-consciousness, minimum wage labor, institutional prejudice, and personal struggles. Music journalist Kelefa Sanneh wrote, "Throughout the album, Mr. West taunts everyone who didn't believe in him: teachers, record executives, police officers, even his former boss at the Gap". West explained, "My persona is that I'm the regular person. Just think about whatever you've been through in the past week, and I have a song about that on my album." The album was musically notable for West's unique development of his "chipmunk soul" production style, in which R&B and soul music samples were sped up and pitch shifted.
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The album begins with a skit featuring a college professor asking West to deliver a graduation speech. The skit is followed by "We Don't Care" featuring West comically celebrating drug life with lines like "We wasn't supposed to make it past 25, joke's on you, we still alive" and then criticizing its influence amongst children. The next track, "Graduation Day", features Miri Ben-Ari on violin, and vocals by John Legend.
On "All Falls Down", West wages an attack on consumerism. The song features singer Syleena Johnson and contains an interpolation of Lauryn Hill's "Mystery of Iniquity". West called upon Johnson to re-sing a vocal portion of "Mystery of Iniquity", which ended up in the final mix. Gospel hymn with doo-wop elements "I'll Fly Away" precedes "Spaceship", a track with a relaxed beat containing a soulful Marvin Gaye sample. The lyrics are mostly critical of the working world, where West muses about flying away in a spaceship to leave his boring job, and guest rappers GLC and Consequence add comparisons to modern day retail environment with slavery.
On "Jesus Walks", West professes his belief in Jesus, while also discussing how religion is used by various people and how the media seems to avoid songs that address matters of faith while embracing compositions on violence, sex, and drugs. "Jesus Walks" is built around a sample of "Walk With Me" as performed by the ARC Choir. Garry Mulholland of The Observer described it as a "towering inferno of martial beats, fathoms-deep chain gang backing chants, a defiant children's choir, gospel wails, and sizzling orchestral breaks." The first verse of the song is told through the eyes of a drug dealer seeking help from God, and it reportedly took over six months for West to draw inspiration for the second verse.
"Never Let Me Down" is influenced by West's near-death car crash. The song features Jay-Z who rhymes about maintaining status and power given his chart success, with West commenting about racism and poverty. The song features verses by spoken word performer J. Ivy who offers comments of upliftment. "Never Let Me Down" reuses 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 New Workout Plan" is a call to fitness to improve one's love life. "Slow Jamz" features Twista and Jamie Foxx and serves as a tribute to classic smooth soul artists and slow jam songs. The song also appeared on Twista's album Kamikaze. 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, and record label Roc-A-Fella Records. "Two Words" features commentary on social issues and features Mos Def, Freeway, and the Harlem Boys Choir.
"Through the Wire" features a high-pitched vocal sample of Chaka Khan and relates West's real life experience with being in a car accident. The song provides a mostly comedic account of his difficult recovery, and features West rapping with his jaw still wired shut from the accident. The chorus and instrumentals sample a pitched up version of Chaka Khan's 1985 single "Through the Fire". "Family Business" is a soulful tribute to the godbrother of Tarrey Torae, one of the many collaborators in the album. The song "Last Call" is about West's transition from being a producer to a rapper, and the album ends with a nearly nine-minute autobiographical monologue that follows the song "Last Call", however, is not a separate track.
The album's title is in part a reference to West's 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 said, "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."
The artwork for the album was developed by Eric Duvauchelle, who was then part of Roc-A-Fella's in-house brand design team. West had already taken pictures dressed as the Dropout Bear - which would reappear in his later work - and Duvauchelle picked the image of him sitting on a set of bleachers, as he was attracted to the loneliness of what was supposed to be "the most popular representation of a school". The image is framed inside gold ornaments, which Duvauchelle found in a book of illustrations from the 16th-century and West wanted to use to "bring a sense of elegance and style to what was typically a gangster-led image of rap artists". The inside cover follows a college yearbook, with photos of the featured artists of the albums from their youth.
The College Dropout was originally scheduled for release in August 2003, but West's perfectionist habits producing the album led to it being postponed three times. It was first delayed to October 2003, then to January 2004, before finally being released to stores on February 10, 2004.
In its first week of release, the album sold 441,000 copies and debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 chart, behind Norah Jones' Feels Like Home. It remained on the second spot behind Feels Like Home for two more weeks, with 196,000 units sold in the second week and 132,000 in the third week. In April, it was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), indicating one million copies moved, and June 30 it was certified double Platinum. By June 2014, The College Dropout had become West's best-selling album in the US, with domestic sales of 3,358,000 copies. It has also sold over 4 million copies worldwide. In 2004, The College Dropout was ranked as the twelfth most popular album of the year on the Billboard 200.
Four of the singles released in promotion of the album became top-20 chart hits: "Through the Wire", "Slow Jamz", "All Falls Down", and "Jesus Walks". "The New Workout Plan" was the fifth and last single. "Spaceship" was planned to be the sixth single, but Def Jam decided to move on from The College Dropout's promotional campaign to begin marketing West's next album, Late Registration. At one point, "Two Words" was also intended to be released as a single, and a video for the song was filmed, and later uploaded by West online in 2009.
|Los Angeles Times|
|The Village Voice||A|
The College Dropout was met with widespread critical acclaim. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the album received an average score of 87, based on 25 reviews.
The record was hailed by Kelefa Sanneh from The New York Times as "2004's first great hip-hop album". Reviewing it for The A.V. Club, Nathan Rabin observed in the music "substance, social commentary, righteous anger, ornery humanism, dark humor, and even Christianity", calling it "one of those wonderful crossover albums that appeal to a huge audience without sacrificing a shred of integrity". Mojo said its exceptional hip hop production was miraculous during a time when hip hop's practice of sampling was becoming "increasingly litigious", and URB deemed it "both visceral and emotive, sprinkling the dancefloors with tears and sweat". Dave Heaton from PopMatters found it "musically engaging" and "a genuine extension of Kanye's personality and experiences", while Hua Hsu of The Village Voice felt that his sped-up samples "carry a humble, human air", allowing listeners to "hear tiny traces of actual people inside". Fellow Village Voice critic Robert Christgau wrote that "not only does [West] create a unique role model, that role model is dangerous—his arguments against education are as market-targeted as other rappers' arguments for thug life". In the opinion of Stylus Magazine's Josh Love, West "subverts cliches from both sides of the hip-hop divide" while "trying to reflect the entire spectrum of hip-hop and black experience, looking for solace and salvation in the traditional safehouses of church and family". Entertainment Weekly's Michael Endelman elaborated on West's avoidance of the then-dominant "gangsta" persona of hip hop:
West delivers the goods with a disarming mix of confessional honesty and sarcastic humor, earnest idealism and big-pimping materialism. In a scene still dominated by authenticity battles and gangsta posturing, he's a middle-class, politically conscious, post-thug, bourgeois rapper – and that's nothing to be ashamed of.
Some reviewers were more qualified in their praise. Rolling Stone's Jon Caramanica felt that "West isn't quite MC enough to hold down the entire disc", while Slant Magazine's Sal Cinquemani observed "too many guest artists, too many interludes, and just too many songs period" on what he considered a "chest-beatingly self-congratulatory" yet humorous, deeply sincere, and affecting record. It was regarded by Pitchfork critic Rob Mitchum as a "flawed, overlong, hypocritical, egotistical, and altogether terrific album". Rolling Stone was more receptive in a retrospective review, calling the album "a demonstration that hip-hop—real, banging, commercial hip-hop—could be a vehicle for nuanced self-examination and musical subtlety."
The College Dropout was voted as the best album of the year by Rolling Stone and in The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop, an annual poll of American critics. Spin ranked it number one on its list of 40 Best Albums of the Year. Comedian Chris Rock has attested to listening to The College Dropout while writing his material. In 2005, Pitchfork named it No. 50 in their best albums of 2000–2004. In 2006, the album was named by Time as one of the 100 best albums of all time. In its retrospective 2007 issue, XXL awarded it a perfect "XXL" rating, which had previously been given to only sixteen other albums. In its July 4, 2008 issue, Entertainment Weekly listed College Dropout as the fourth best album of the past 25 years. The magazine later listed it as the best album of the decade.
Newsweek placed The College Dropout among its Best Albums of the Decade list at number three. Rhapsody named it the seventh best album of the decade and the fourth best hip hop album of the decade. Rolling Stone ranked it number 10 on its list of the 100 Best Albums of the Decade and stated, "Kanye expanded the musical and emotional language of hip-hop ... he challenged all the rules, dancing across boundaries others were too afraid to even acknowledge". Consequence of Sound named it as the 16th best album of the decade. Phoenix New Times named it the second best rap album of the decade. Fact listed it as the 20th best album of the 2000s. In 2012 Complex named the album one of the classic albums of the last decade, and the 20th best hip hop debut album ever. The same year Rolling Stone ranked The College Dropout number 298 on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and 19th on their list of debut records. The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
|2004||American Music Awards||Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album||Nominated|
|Billboard Music Awards||R&B/Hip-Hop Album of the Year||Nominated|
|MOBO Awards||Best Album||Won|
|The Source Awards||Album of the Year||Won|
|Teen Choice Awards||Album of the Year||Won|
|2005||Grammy Awards||Album of the Year||Nominated|
|Best Rap Album||Won|
|1.||"Intro (Skit)"||Kanye West||0:19|
|2.||"We Don't Care"||3:59|
|4.||"All Falls Down" (featuring Syleena Johnson)||3:43|
|5.||"I'll Fly Away"||Albert E. Brumley||1:09|
|6.||"Spaceship" (featuring GLC and Consequence)||5:24|
|8.||"Never Let Me Down" (featuring Jay-Z and J. Ivy)||5:24|
|9.||"Get Em High" (featuring Talib Kweli and Common)||4:49|
|10.||"Workout Plan (Skit)"||West||0:46|
|11.||"The New Workout Plan"||5:22|
|12.||"Slow Jamz" (featuring Twista and Jamie Foxx)||5:16|
|13.||"Breathe in Breathe Out" (featuring Ludacris)||4:06|
|14.||"School Spirit (Skit 1)"||West||1:18|
|16.||"School Spirit (Skit 2)"||West||0:43|
|17.||"Lil Jimmy (Skit)"||West||0:53|
|18.||"Two Words" (featuring Mos Def, Freeway and The Boys Choir of Harlem)||4:26|
|19.||"Through the Wire"||3:41|
|22.||"Heavy Hitters" (featuring GLC)||3:01|
|1.||"We Don't Care (Reprise)" (featuring Keyshia Cole)||2:57|
|2.||"Jesus Walks (Remix)" (featuring Mase and Common)||4:58|
|3.||"It's Alright" (featuring Ma$e and John Legend)||3:51|
|4.||"The New Workout Plan (Remix)" (featuring Fonzworth Bentley, Luke and Twista; produced by Lil Jon)||4:02|
|5.||"Two Words (Cinematic)" (featuring The Harlem Boys Choir)||4:06|
|6.||"Never Let Me Down (Cinematic)"||5:16|
|Bonus DVD: The College Dropout Video Anthology|
|1.||"Through the Wire"||4:54|
|2.||"Slow Jamz" (performed by Twista featuring Kanye West and Jamie Foxx)||3:34|
|3.||"All Falls Down" (featuring Syleena Johnson)||4:05|
|4.||"Two Words" (featuring Mos Def, Freeway and The Harlem Boys Choir)||4:43|
|5.||"Jesus Walks" (Church version)||Michael Haussman||4:04|
|6.||"Jesus Walks" (Chris Milk version)||Milk||4:06|
|7.||"Jesus Walks" (Street version)||4:18|
|8.||"Jesus Walks" (Making of the video)||66:56|
|9.||"The New Workout Plan" (Extended version featuring Fonzworth Bentley)||8:06|
|New Zealand (RIANZ)||Gold||7,500|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||2× Platinum||600,000|
|United States (RIAA)||3× Platinum||3,358,000|
*sales figures based on certification alone
Rolling Stone's Albums of the Year