Through the Wire
|"Through the Wire"|
|Single by Kanye West|
|from the album The College Dropout|
|Released||September 30, 2003|
|Studio||The Record Plant|
(Los Angeles, California)
"Through the Wire" is the debut single by American rapper Kanye West. West wrote and recorded the song with his jaw wired shut after a car accident in October 2002. The song samples Chaka Khan's 1985 single "Through the Fire" and was released on the last day of January 2004 as the lead single from his debut album The College Dropout (2004).
"Through the Wire" peaked at number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 and received positive reviews from music critics. It was certified Platinum and Silver in the United States and United Kingdom respectively. The song was nominated for a 2005 Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance, but lost to Jay-Z's "99 Problems". The music video was financed by West, who was inspired by an Adidas advertisement. It won Video of the Year at the 2010 Source Hip Hop Awards.
On October 23, 2002, West was in a California recording studio producing music for Beanie Sigel, Peedi Crakk, and The Black Eyed Peas. After leaving the studio at around 3 a.m. in his rented Lexus, he had a near-fatal accident when he was cut off by a car, ran head-on into traffic, and collided with another car near the W Hotel. He was taken to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, mentioned in the song as "the same hospital where Biggie Smalls died," and had his jaw wired to his face in reconstructive surgery. Two weeks after being admitted to hospital, he recorded the song at the Record Plant Studios with his jaw still wired shut. The song's title refers to the wires used to hold his broken jaw together. When asked about how the incident changed his music, West stated:
Well, the only thing this accident's is saying is, "I am about to hand you the world, just know at any given time I can take it away from you." To nearly lose your life, to nearly lose your mouth, your voice, your whole face, as a rapper...and I had to be on TV! My face looks crazy to me now... But I have to just thank God for the situation that I am in... "Through The Wire" is the worst thing that could've possibly happen to me, and now it's obviously the best thing. Look how it exploded!
The track circulated on West's mixtape Get Well Soon... before being officially released in late 2003. Although he initially had trouble convincing Roc-A-Fella Records executives to let him make his own album as a rapper, he was able to change their minds after the song's release.
Lyrics and composition
"Through the Wire" was inspired by the 2002 car accident and West has provided a comedic account of his difficult recovery. The chorus and instrumentals samples a pitch-shifted and sped up version of Chaka Khan's 1985 single "Through the Fire". West did not receive writing credit for the song, which instead went to David Foster, Tom Keane, and Cynthia Weil, who wrote "Through the Fire". West's rapping is described as "a Snoop-meets-Hova flow, twisting up his words with the patented 'izz' inflection." Consequence recalls Kanye started rapping the lyrics to the song three days after the accident.
"Through the Wire"'s first verse deals with Kanye's lifestyle wearing the wires and his family and friends' reaction to his accident. He mentions his eating schedule, which consists of Boost and Ensure nutrition drinks because he wasn't able to eat other foods. Kanye possibly references the chorus of the 2000 Three 6 Mafia song "Sippin' on Some Syrup" with the line "Somebody ordered pancakes, I just sip the sizzurp / That right there could drive a sane man berserk". He mentions how difficult it was to get signed by Roc-A-Fella Records. He told MTV News in 2004, "People told me I couldn't rap, I couldn't sell a record, that I didn't have a fucking chance and it hurt me. I just wanna stunt."
No use in me tryna' be lyin', I been tryna' be signed
Tryin' to be a millionaire, now I use two lifelines.
Later, there is a reenactment of the night of the accident told through a rhetorical question; Kanye asks if there is a rapper that has the same socially-conscious lyrics that he was writing at the time. He mentions the immediate pain of the crash and how the driver of the other car was suing him. In 2003, the other driver whose legs were broken did sue him, alleging West fell asleep at the wheel and was "under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs." West then compares himself to injured pop culture icons, such as Michael Jackson's 1984 pyrotechnics injury, Tom Cruise's character in Vanilla Sky and Samuel L. Jackson's character in Unbreakable.
I looked like Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky, it was televised
There's been an accident like GEICO
They thought I was burnt up like Pepsi did Michael
I must got a angel, 'cause look how Death missed his ass
Unbreakable, what, you thought they'd call me Mr. Glass?
The outro to the song has Kanye telling a doctor that because of the metal plate in his chin he could no longer make it through airport metal detectors undetected. Kanye's issues with airport security would be referenced in the music video for his 2004 single "All Falls Down" and 2010 track "Gorgeous" with the line "And in the airport they check through all my bags and tell me that it's random". This could also be Kanye implying that he is racially profiled at airports because he's black; Kanye told MTV News in 2002 that he was racially profiled at the hospital after the car accident. "I was completely in pain and completely racially profiled and harassed", adding "they did three or four tests on me for alcohol. After the first test it should be clear that I'm not drinking alcohol." The Los Angeles Police Department stated that three sobriety tests were legally required by the state of California for DUI suspects.
Release and reception
Dave Heaton of PopMatters called it "as riveting and moving as everyone says it is" and it "may be the album's most startling personal horror story (though it's also a song of hope and gratitude)". AllMusic's Andy Kellman said it was "a daring way to introduce himself to the masses as an MC" and it "couldn't have forged his dual status as underdog and champion any better." Kellman described the content as "heartbreaking and hysterical" and that despite his "inevitable slur, his words ring loud and clear".
The New York Times' Kelefa Sanneh described him as "a wounded hero beating the odds" and it "gave him a chance to prove that he was the exception to the rule that producers can't rap." Stylus Magazine called it "a poignant, pop-culture-packed account of Kanye’s near-fatal run-in with Chaka Khan". By rapping with his jaw sewed up, The Source noted that West used "the element of surprise to his advantage". HipHopDX listed the track as one of "the classics that created" the album's hype, and Pitchfork Media stated it was "chock-full-of-clever". Vibe magazine wrote that "West's sideways approach to music making stands out" on the track and the "raw, teeth-clenching narrative falls in line with his gutwrenching soul beats." At the 2010 Grammy Awards, the track was nominated for Best Rap Solo Performance, which was won by Jay-Z's "99 Problems".
As Kanye's debut single, "Through the Wire" has been recognized as a jump-start for Kanye's career after the song was played on MTV. Director for the music video, Coodie, would say "The night of when he did the 'Through the Wire' premiere party at 40-40 Club, that was the night that was like, 'Oh shit.' That's when Def Jam started recognizing him. Everybody was blown away by the video and it just kept building from there. Then after that show on SOBs on October 1st, he was bonafide. He was popping. It was full-on Kanye season." Consequence would say to Complex on The College Dropout's 10th anniversary, "The accident wound up being a blessing for him. Whatever diction issues he had, he came through with a super clear voice. That was like one of those pressure bursts pipes things." In 2010 and 2013, Complex would name "Through the Wire" the 10th best rap song from Chicago.
Chicago artist Chance the Rapper cites "Through the Wire" as one of his first musical inspirations. He first heard the song on the radio at a pizza place in Hyde Park, telling Interview Magazine, "I think I heard 'Through the Wire' first, and I was just so into that soul sample. Like, the high-pitched-it was just some different shit that I wasn't used to. I didn't even know he was from Chicago. I remember listening for like, the next two hours, trying to find out who it was", and that he wanted to become a rapper after listening to The College Dropout a few weeks later. Interview says the "elements of gospel, juke, and neo-soul" found on Chance's #10Day mixtape (2012) were derived from Kanye West.
"Through the Wire" debuted at number ninety-four on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at number fifteen for five weeks. It remained on the chart for twenty-one weeks. 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. 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. The track charted lower in other European countries, where it reached 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. The single entered the New Zealand Singles Chart at number twenty-four and peaked at number sixteen.
On July 14, 2017, "Through the Wire" was certified Silver in the UK, nearly fourteen years after the single's release. The single was certified Platinum in the US on November 20, 2018, fifteen years after its release.
The music video was directed by Coodie and Chike and it premiered in November 2003. It is a slideshow of videos and pictures of Kanye producing and his accident seen through the frames of Polaroid pictures. Kanye West, who financed the video, conceived ideas for the clip after seeing an Adidas advertisement in BlackBook magazine. He stated, "I don't like gettin' ideas from direct shit ... I like to pull ideas from all the way over here. Sometimes my vision can't be explained in words, 'cause I couldn't have even told you in words how I envisioned that video ending up." Chike recalled the making of the clip, saying, "one day Coodie calls me out the blue about a concept he and Kanye had for a video revolving around Polaroid snapshots. I was leaving work at 7 PM only to come back at 10 PM, work all night then go home at 7 AM". Coodie stated that "If we would have wrote a treatment" for the video, "they would have shot that down. They had to see it to understand. Otherwise they'd have said, 'No, Kanye should be rapping at a party, with lots of girls poolside'". It was awarded the Video of the Year at the 2004 Source Hip Hop Awards.
- "Through the Wire"
- "Through the Wire" (instrumental)
- "Two Words" (main)
- "Two Words" (clean)
- "Two Words" (instrumental)
UK CD single
- "Through the Wire" (radio edit)
- "Two Words" (radio edit)
- "Through the Wire" (instrumental)
- "Through the Wire" (multimedia track)
Information adapted from The College Dropout liner notes.
- Songwriters: Kanye West, David Foster, Tom Keane, Cynthia Weil
- Record producer: Kanye West
- Recording engineer: Francis Graham
- Mix engineer: Manny Marroquin
- Bass guitar: Scott Ward
|Australian Singles Chart||81|
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)||48|
|Netherlands (Single Top 100)||23|
|European Hot 100 Singles||39|
|German Singles Chart||61|
|Irish Singles Chart||24|
|New Zealand Singles Chart||16|
|Scottish Singles Chart||18|
|Swedish Singles Chart||27|
|Swiss Singles Chart||48|
|UK Singles (Official Charts Company)||9|
|US Billboard Hot 100||15|
|U.S. Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks||8|
|U.S. Billboard Hot Rap Tracks||4|
|U.S. Billboard Pop Songs||32|
|United States (RIAA)||Platinum||1,000,000|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Silver||200,000|
*sales figures based on certification alone
- While he produced the backing track and wrote the rap for "Through the Wire", West did not receive writing credit for the song, which instead went to the composers of the sampled song "Through the Fire".
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- Kanye West's official site
- "Through the Wire" lyrics
- "Through the Wire" music video
- on YouTube
- Lyrics of this song at MetroLyrics