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As Kanye West's debut album 'The College Dropout' celebrates its tenth birthday this week we explore some little known facts about what is possibly his greatest album off all-time.
In an 2002 interview, before the album was released, Kanye said: "I’ve thought about calling my s**t I’m Good, because that’s a “cool” title, like just having a title that’s like, “Yo, you can’t criticize that.” But for me to try and put on the facade of being the coolest motherf***er ever, it’s not going to come across like that. I’m not saying I’m the coolest motherf***er ever, I’m just saying I’m just a f***ing smart-ass. I got to put it in raps.”
There's no specific date marking when the making of 'The College Dropout' began. According to John Monopoly, West's friend, manager and business partner at the time, 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." While some date back, others were recorded in a Los Angeles studio following his car accident.
The gold ornaments that surround Kanye's Dropout Bear on the album's artwork were chosen by Eric Duvauchelle – part of Roc-A-Fella's in house design team. Duvauchelle found the design in a book of illustrations from the 16th century and West wanted to use it to 'bring a sense of elegance and style to what was typically a gangster-led image of rap artists'.
Kanye is the King of samples and always has been. Of the 21 tracks on his very first album, 14 samples were used on 12 songs. Most notably you'll recognise Luther Vandross' 'House Is Not A Home' on 'Slow Jamz,' Chaka Khan's 'Through The Fire' on 'Through The Wire' and Marvin Gaye's 'Distant Lover' on 'Spaceship.' But also featuring are Aretha Franklin, Tupac, Bette Midler and more.
'The College Dropout' has so far sold 3,300,000 copies worldwide. Let us put that in context; Yeezy's latest album 'Yeezus' was only just made platinum. In spite of it being 'Ye's best work, it's the only one of his albums that failed to reach no. 1 in the US albums chart. Picture: Getty
It's not unknown that three separate music videos were made for Kanye's 'Jesus Walks,' but what is little-known is that Kanye put up the money to have the second and third versions shot, claiming: "That song evokes so much emotion, and four minutes of imagery limits the ideas that you're supposed to give for the songs, so I had to do three."
Producer, songwriter and Kanye's cousin, Devo Springsteen remembered: "All Falls Down’ was made on a fairly cheap Roland 18-track digital recorder and it wasn’t re-done in the studio. It was just put on the album. Things would be made in his apartment, and it’d sound amazing. A lot of times when then we’d do it in the studio it didn’t sound good. So that first time would end up on the album".
Before taken on by Def Jam's Roc-A-Fella Records Kanye was rejected by tons of labels – everyone saw him as a producer first, rapper second. He's quoted as saying "I played them “Jesus Walks” and they didn’t sign me.” Eventually, Def Jam's then head Damon Dash signed him, although it has been suggested that the real reason was to stop him leaving to produce at other labels, rather than because of his belief in Kanye's rap abilities. Picture: Getty
Before Roc-A-Fella came along Kanye had scored a deal with Capitol Records, but it wasn't meant to be and the deal fell through. Lyrics like 'Ain't nobody expect Kanye to end up on top/ They expected that College Dropout to drop and then flop' refer to what Kanye went through after the deal fell through. Picture: Getty
'THANK GOD!!! Thank u so much, you’ve worked miracles in my life, I always use 2 think, why there no good rappers on GOD’s side??? I know I’m not where need 2 be, matter fact, far from it! But … well u know, when a nigga use the word but, he finna come with an excuse … I don’t got no excuse, you spared my life and I still be on bulls___! AMEN! YOU ARE THE EXECUTIVE PRODUCER OF MY LIFE THANK U!'
Before 'The College Dropout' Kanye West was a producer first and a rapper second. He was employed by Def Jam records and produced albums as notorious as Jay Z's 'The Blueprint.' But his ultimate dream was to be a rapper, and with such huge successes behind him it's no surprise that on his debut album he took the production process into his own hands entirely. Picture: Getty
Ironically, 'All Falls Down' nearly did 'All Fall Down.' The track was originally suppose to sample a Lauryn Hill song – but the deal fell through at the last minute. In the end, 'Ye asked Syleena Johnson to provide vocals. "They looked at each other and smiled. The very next morning they called me and said, 'This is the single. It’s going to radio. We’re shooting the video in a week.' I was like, 'Oh, okay! That’s awesome.’ I didn’t hear the entire thing ’til it hit the radio."
After listening to songs by John Stephens on repeat during their studio time, J Ivy (a poet Kanye was working with at the time) noted that his voice sounded like 'one of the legends.' Later, When John Stephens paid the two a visit, Ivy recalls Kanye saying to him "You’re John Legend from now on. That’s your name!" And that was that. Picture: Getty
The College Dropout stood out above other hip-hop albums because it broke the rules, Kanye didn't rap about knives, guns or fights, he wrote music about life, with themes such as education, family and religion running through all 21 tracks. Each song gives an honest account of life and his outlook on it – the car crash he suffered in, the education system he turned his back on, the consumerism that surrounded him.