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On February 10 this year Kanye West took to Twitter to make the following statement across nine tweets: “Ten years ago today we finally released what had been my life’s work up to that point: ‘The College Dropout’. I say “finally” because it was a long road, a constant struggle, and a true labor of love to not only convince my peers and the public that I could be an artist, but to actually get that art out for the world to hear. Ten years later I am still the same kid from Chicago, still dreaming out loud, still banging on the door. The doors may be heavier, but I promise you WE WILL BREAK THEM.”
It’s striking that Kanye described the process as “a constant struggle.” A decade and six more albums later, West is one of popular culture’s most loved, hated and prominent stars. But in 2003 the then 26-year-old was seen as Roc-A-Fella’s exceptional in-house producer most famous for his work on Jay Z’s ‘The Blueprint’ and Talib Kweli’s ‘Quality’, and nothing more. When he told everyone he wanted to be rapper and played tracks including ‘Jesus Walks’ to various record labels they ignored him. Eventually Damon Dash, head of Roc-A-Fella at the time, agreed to release ‘The College Dropout’ because he didn’t want Kanye switching labels. When it came out on February 10, 2004 it went to number two in the Billboard 200, and a star was born. It’s now a major hip-hop landmark – funny, soulful, full of hits – and here are just five of the albums that wouldn’t exist without it…
‘Blue Collar’ (2006)
Che Smith’s debut came out in 2006, two years after ‘The College Dropout’ featured the song he co-wrote with Kanye West: ‘Jesus Walks’. “It is neither my creation nor Kanye’s creation,” says Smith. “It was given to us by the Creator and we were used as a vehicle. I’m just glad I was allowed to be a part of it.” Kanye returned the favour on ‘Blue Collar’ by appearing on and producing the single ‘Brand New’, but the greatest influences Rhymefest takes from West are the humour in the lyrics and the ability to create a persona to help him deliver them.
‘Love, Life & Loyalty’ (2010)
Chicago rapper GLC (short for: Gangsta Legendary Crisis) met Kanye when he was 15, a relationship that culminated in an appearance on the ‘College Dropout’ track ‘Spaceship’. “Kanye was a beacon of light on my life,” he says. “When I met him I was a kid living in the hood, and Kanye provided an outlet for me to get out of there.” The guest spot raised GLC’s profile, but it wasn’t until 2010 that he got round to releasing ‘Love, Life & Loyalty’. As with many of the albums released by artists who’ve worked with Kanye, it was mostly produced by West and came out on the GOOD Music label he set up.
Donald Glover’s debut album is funny, which isn’t hugely surprising given his history as a writer on ‘30 Rock’ and an actor in ‘Community’. It’s also one of music’s most blatant homages to Kanye West, which again isn’t a surprise given the things Glover has said about West: “I always thought he was a genius. I love Kanye. I think he’s like the best. I think he’s a prophet. He makes people want to be better and work harder and push people forward.” What is surprising is that this adoration for ‘The College Dropout’ doesn’t turn ‘Camp’ into a trite disaster. Instead it’s fun, and endearingly insecure.
‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ (2012)
2012’s instant classic ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ doesn’t sound like ‘The College Dropout’ as such – Dr. Dre and California loom far larger – but Kanye West’s mentality has fed into the way Kendrick Lamar makes music, and taught him “never to downplay your ideas” and “to always stay as creative as possible and never have any boundaries”. One thing the albums do have in common, is achieving gigantic success without resorting to cheesy, radio-friendly hooks. The messages are enough.
Chance The Rapper
‘Acid Rap’ (2013)
“I think I heard ‘Through the Wire’ first, and I was so into the soul sample” said Chance The Rapper in a recent interview. “I remember listening for, like the next two hours, trying to find out who it was. Then they played “All Falls Down,” and the radio station was like, “This is Kanye West.” A couple of weeks later I got the album, and found out I wanted to be a rapper.” Fast-forward a decade and Chance The Rapper’s ‘Acid Rap’ mixtape was, alongside West’s own ‘Yeezus’, one of the most exciting hip-hop releases of 2013. It took influence from ‘The College Dropout’ and played around with gospel and soul samples, while delivering loose and original raps about subjects like the death of a close friend and the nature of fear.