The College Dropout

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"College dropout" redirects here. For people who have dropped out of college, see List of college-dropout billionaires.
The College Dropout
Studio album by Kanye West
Released February 10, 2004 (2004-02-10)
Recorded 1999–2003
Genre Hip hop
Length 76:13
Label Roc-A-Fella, Def Jam
Producer Kareem "Biggs" Burke (exec.), Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter (exec.), Damon "Dame" Dash (exec.), Evidence, Kyambo "Hip Hop" Joshua (exec.), Kanye West (also exec.)
Kanye West chronology
The College Dropout
(2004)
Late Registration
(2005)
Singles from The College Dropout
  1. "Through the Wire"
    Released: September 30, 2003
  2. "Slow Jamz"
    Released: December 2, 2003
  3. "All Falls Down"
    Released: February 24, 2004
  4. "Jesus Walks"
    Released: May 25, 2004
  5. "The New Workout Plan"
    Released: August 31, 2004

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 (2001), which showcased his melodic and soulful style of hip hop production. The production of the album was often halted by the lack of confidence that producers had in West's rapping ability, eventually being convinced based off the success of his early musical ventures.

The album had production entirely handled by West, and 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 was promoted by singles including "Through the Wire" and "Jesus Walks", both of which received critical acclaim. "All Falls Down" and "Slow Jamz" both charted within the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, with the latter charting at number one.

The album debuted at number two on the US Billboard 200 chart, selling 441,000 copies during its first week. It was a massive commercial success, producing five singles that achieved chart success. Upon its release, The College Dropout received universal 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 3.4 million copies and worldwide sales of over four million copies. It has been named by Time and Rolling Stone as one of the greatest albums of all time and is often listed amongst the greatest debut albums ever released by a hip hop artist.

Background[edit]

Although he had attained success as a producer, Kanye West aspired to be a rapper, but had struggled to attain a record deal.[1] Multiple record companies ignored him because he did not portray the gangsta image prominent in mainstream hip hop at the time.[2] After a series of meetings with Capitol Records, West was ultimately denied an artist deal.[3] 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.[3] 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.[2][4]

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.[5] 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.[5] 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".[6][7] West added that "the album was my medicine", as working on the record distracted him from the pain.[8] "Through The Wire" was first available on West's Get Well Soon... mixtape, released December 2002.[9] 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.'"[10]

Recording[edit]

West (center) refined the album's production and incorporated elements such as gospel choirs and string arrangements.

The College Dropout was recorded at The Record Plant in Los Angeles, California, but the production featured on the record were formed elsewhere over the course of several years.[1] 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.[1] 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.[1]

Carrying a Louis Vuitton backpack filled with old disks and demos to the studio and back, West crafted his production 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.[1] 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.[11] West meticulously refined the production, adding string arrangements, gospel choirs, improved drum programming and new verses.[1] West's perfectionism led The College Dropout to have its release postponed three times from its initial date in August 2003. First it got delayed to October, then to January 2004, and finally it hit stores on February.[12][13]

Composition[edit]

The College Dropout diverged from the then-dominant gangster persona in hip hop in favor of more diverse, topical subjects for the lyrics.[7] 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.[14][15][16] 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".[17] 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."[18]

"Through the Wire" features West rapping with his jaw still partially wired shut, over a sped up vocal sample.

"Jesus Walks" has a gospel-influenced sound, with a pulsing rhythm reminiscent of a marching band accompanied by baritone background vocal samples from the ARC Choir's arrangement of the traditional gospel song "Walk With Me".

Problems playing these files? See media help.

The album begins with a skit featuring a high school teacher 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.[17] His lyrics contain various popular culture references such as allusions to rappers Really Doe and Tupac Shakur and song "21 Questions" by 50 Cent and Nate Dogg.[19] The next track, "Graduation Day", features Miri Ben-Ari on violin,[20] and vocals by John Legend.[21]

On "All Falls Down", West wages an attack on consumerism.[22][23] The song features singer Syleena Johnson and contains an interpolation of Lauryn Hill's "Mystery of Iniquity".[21] West called upon Johnson to re-sing a vocal portion of "Mystery of Iniquity", which ended up in the final mix.[24] 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.[23]

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.[23][25] "Jesus Walks" is built around a sample of "Walk With Me" as performed by the ARC Choir.[21] 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."[26] 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.[27]

"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.[23][28] 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".[23][29] "Get Em High" is a collaboration by West with two socially conscious rappers, Talib Kweli and Common.[30] "The New Workout Plan" is a mostly comical song and is centered around the premise of an aerobics routine.[23] "Slow Jamz" features Twista and Jamie Foxx and serves as a tribute to classic smooth soul artists and slow jam songs.[22] The song also appeared on Twista's album Kamikaze.[22] 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.[31]

"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.[5] The song provides a mostly comedic account of his difficult recovery, and features West rapping with his jaw still wired shut from the accident.[5][21] The chorus and instrumentals sample a pitched up version of Chaka Khan's 1985 single "Through the Fire".[22] "Family Business" is a soulful tribute to one of West's incarcerated family members. The album ends with a nearly nine-minute autobiographical monologue that follows the song "Last Call".[32]

Packaging[edit]

Eric Duvauchelle, who was then part of Roc-A-Fella's in-house brand design team, then Design Director at Nike, Inc. and now independent Creative Director (supermorebetter.com), was assigned for the artwork of The College Dropout. 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 got 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.[33]

Singles[edit]

The album's second single, "Slow Jamz", features vocalist Jamie Foxx (left).

West's debut single, "Through the Wire", entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart at number ninety-four and peaked at number fifteen on February 3, 2004, for five weeks. It remained on the chart for twenty-one weeks.[34] It performed better on the urban contemporary charts, reaching number eight on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks and number four on the Hot Rap Tracks.[35] In the United Kingdom, it debuted at number nine on the UK Singles Chart, where it peaked for two weeks, and exited the chart after nine weeks.[34] The track charted lower in other European countries, reaching the top thirty in Ireland, Sweden, and the Netherlands; the top fifty in Belgium and Switzerland; and number sixty-one in Germany. Its maximum peak time in those countries lasted one week.[34] The single entered the New Zealand Singles Chart at number twenty-four and peaked at number sixteen.[34]

The second single, "Slow Jamz", peaked at number one in the United States, becoming Twista's, West's, and Foxx's first number one hit.[34] "All Falls Down" was released as the third single, and it entered the UK Singles Chart at number ten and peaked at number seven on the U.S. Hot 100.[1] Fourth single, "Jesus Walks" earned widespread commercial success, peaking at number eleven in the United States and becoming West's fourth top twenty hit, while peaking at number sixteen in the UK.[25][36]

The fifth and final single, "The New Workout Plan", peaked at number fifty-nine on the U.S. Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart. The song's official remix was produced by Lil Jon and features guest appearances from Twista, Luke, and Fonzworth Bentley. The remix was later included on The College Dropout Video Anthology.[37]

The planned sixth single was "Spaceship", featuring rappers GLC and Consequence. This was confirmed in 2009 when GLC reported that a music video had been made for the song, but never released; the label decided to move on from the album to begin promoting West's second album, Late Registration.[38] On June 3, 2009, West uploaded the video on his official blog.[39] At one time, "Two Words" (featuring Mos Def and Freeway) was also intended to be released as a single, and a video for the song was filmed, and later uploaded by West online in May 2009.[30]

Commercial performance[edit]

The album debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, behind Norah Jones' Feels Like Home, selling 441,000 copies in its first week.[40] It remained on the second spot under Feels Like Home for two more weeks, with 196,000 units sold in the second week and 132,000 in the third.[41][42] By April 2004, it was certified by the Recording Industry Association of America for having shipped in excess of 1 million copies in the United States.[43] On June 30, 2004, the album was certified double platinum in sales by the RIAA, following sales of 2 million copies.[43] As of June 2014, The College Dropout is West's best-selling album in the United States, with domestic sales of 3,358,000 copies.[44][45] It has also sold over 4 million copies worldwide.[46]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[22]
Robert Christgau A[47]
Entertainment Weekly A−[48]
Los Angeles Times 3/4 stars[49]
Mojo 4/5 stars[50]
Pitchfork Media 8.2/10[51]
Rolling Stone 4.5/5 stars[52]
Slant Magazine 3.5/5 stars[15]
Spin 7/10[31]
URB 4.5/5 stars[53]

The College Dropout received universal acclaim from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 87, based on 25 reviews.[54] Kelefa Sanneh of The New York Times dubbed it "2004's first great hip-hop album".[17] The A.V. Club '​s Nathan Rabin praised its "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".[55] Dave Heaton of PopMatters called the album "musically engaging", writing that "every single one of these songs comes off like a genuine extension of Kanye's personality and experiences".[23] URB wrote that the album "manages to be both visceral and emotive, sprinkling the dancefloors with tears and sweat."[53] Mojo dubbed the album "manna for hip hop fans starved of basic but ballistic beats-and-breaks fare in an increasingly litigious age."[50]

Josh Love of Stylus Magazine wrote that West "subverts cliches from both sides of the hip-hop divide" and praised him for "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".[14] Ethan Brown of New York commended West's "emotional brand of hip-hop" and stated "he makes autobiography universal in a way that hasn't really been heard in hip-hop since the mid-nineties".[56] Hua Hsu of The Village Voice felt that his sped-up samples "carry a humble, human air. You can still hear tiny traces of actual people inside".[57] The newspaper's 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".[47] 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.[48]

Although he commended West's vulnerability and signature sound, Rolling Stone '​s Jon Caramanica felt that "West isn't quite MC enough to hold down the entire disc".[58] Slant Magazine's Sal Cinquemani observed "too many guest artists, too many interludes, and just too many songs period", but stated, "As chest-beatingly self-congratulatory as it may be, The College Dropout is at once laugh-out-loud funny ('The New Workout Plan'), genuinely touching ('Family Business'), and brutally honest ('All Falls Down')".[15] Pitchfork Media's Rob Mitchum called it a "flawed, overlong, hypocritical, egotistical, and altogether terrific album".[51] AllMusic editor Andy Kellman felt that it shows West as a "remarkably versatile lyricist and a valuable MC".[22] Renee Graham of The Boston Globe asserted that "West has certainly raised the bar on what mainstream hip-hop can and should be".[59] In a retrospective review, Rolling Stone gave the album four-and-a-half out of five stars and called it "a demonstration that hip-hop—real, banging, commercial hip-hop—could be a vehicle for nuanced self-examination and musical subtlety."[52]

Accolades[edit]

West received 10 Grammy nominations at the 2005 Grammy Awards.[60] The College Dropout was nominated for Album of the Year, and won Best Rap Album. "Jesus Walks" won Best Rap Song, and was nominated for both Song of the Year and Grammy Award for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.[60]

The College Dropout was voted as the best album of the year by Rolling Stone and in The Village Voice '​s Pazz & Jop critics poll.[61][62] Spin ranked it number one on its list of 40 Best Albums of the Year.[63] Comedian Chris Rock has attested to listening to The College Dropout while writing his material.[64] In 2005, Pitchfork Media named it #50 in their best albums of 2000–2004.[65] In 2006, the album was named by Time as one of the 100 best albums of all time.[66] In its retrospective 2007 issue, XXL awarded it a perfect "XXL" rating, which had previously been given to only sixteen other albums.[67] In its July 4, 2008 issue, Entertainment Weekly listed College Dropout as the fourth best album of the past 25 years.[68] The magazine later listed it as the best album of the decade.[69] Newsweek placed The College Dropout among its Best Albums of the Decade list at number 3.[70] Rhapsody named it the seventh best album of the decade and the fourth best hip hop album of the decade.[71][72] 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".[73] In 2012 Complex named the album one of the classic albums of the last decade,[74] and the 20th best hip hop debut album ever.[75] The same year Rolling Stone ranked The College Dropout number 298 on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time,[76] and 19th on their list of debut records.[77]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Producer(s) Length
1. "Intro"   Kanye West 0:19
2. "We Don't Care"   Kanye West 3:59
3. "Graduation Day"   Kanye West 1:22
4. "All Falls Down" (featuring Syleena Johnson) Kanye West 3:43
5. "I'll Fly Away"   Kanye West 1:09
6. "Spaceship" (featuring GLC and Consequence) Kanye West 5:24
7. "Jesus Walks"   Kanye West 3:13
8. "Never Let Me Down" (featuring Jay-Z and J. Ivy) Kanye West 5:24
9. "Get Em High" (featuring Talib Kweli and Common) Kanye West 4:49
10. "Workout Plan"   Kanye West 0:46
11. "The New Workout Plan"   Kanye West 5:22
12. "Slow Jamz" (featuring Twista and Jamie Foxx) Kanye West 5:16
13. "Breathe In Breathe Out" (featuring Ludacris) Kanye West, Brian Miller* 4:07
14. "School Spirit (skit 1)"     1:18
15. "School Spirit"   Kanye West 3:02
16. "School Spirit (skit 2)"     0:43
17. "Lil Jimmy (skit)"     0:53
18. "Two Words" (featuring Mos Def, Freeway and the Boys Choir of Harlem) Kanye West 4:26
19. "Through the Wire"   Kanye West 3:41
20. "Family Business"   Kanye West 4:38
21. "Last Call"   Kanye West, Evidence* 12:40

(*) designates co-producer
(**) designates additional producer

Notes:[21]
  • "We Don't Care" contains samples of "I Just Wanna Stop" performed by The Jimmy Castor Bunch
  • "All Falls Down" contains an interpolation of "Mystery of Iniquity" performed by Lauryn Hill
  • "Spaceship" contains samples of "Distant Lover" performed by Marvin Gaye
  • "Jesus Walks" contains samples of "Walk With Me" performed by The ARC Choir and "(Don't Worry) If There's a Hell Below, We're All Going to Go" performed by Curtis Mayfield
  • "Never Let Me Down" contains samples of "Maybe It's the Power of Love" performed by Blackjack and features an interpolation of "Hovi Baby (Remix)" performed by Jay-Z
  • "Slow Jamz" contains samples of "A House is Not a Home" performed by Luther Vandross
  • "Breathe In Breathe Out" contains samples of "Precious Precious" performed by Jackie Moore
  • "School Spirit" contains samples of "Spirit in the Dark" performed by Aretha Franklin
  • "Two Words" contains samples of "Peace & Love (Amani Na Mapenzi) – Movement III (Time)" performed by Mandrill
  • "Through the Wire" contains samples of "Through the Fire" performed by Chaka Khan
  • "Family Business" contains an interpolation of "Ambitionz Az a Ridah" performed by 2Pac
  • "Last Call" contains samples of "Mr. Rockefeller" performed by Bette Midler

Personnel[edit]

Information taken from The College Dropout liner notes.[21][78]

Charts[edit]

Weekly charts[edit]

Charts (2004) Peak
position
French Albums Chart[79] 98
German Albums Chart[79] 77
Swedish Albums Chart[79] 39
UK Albums Chart[79] 12
US Billboard 200[80] 2
US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums[79] (Billboard) 1
US Top Rap Albums[79] (Billboard) 1

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (2004) Peak
position
US Billboard 200[81] 12

Certifications[edit]

Country Provider Certification
Canada CRIA Platinum[82]
New Zealand RIANZ Gold[83]
United Kingdom BPI 2× Platinum[84]
United States RIAA 3× Platinum[85]

References[edit]

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