Before Kanye was a mononym and quote machine on the kusp of marrying a Kardashian; before there were classes taught about him; before being Kanye’d was a verb; before he was a fashion designer, a Harvard lecturer, a renowned Twitter ranter, a religion, or even the self-proclaimed “No. 1 rock star on the planet” — before all that, Kanye West was just another guy at Roc-A-Fella Records trying to make a name for himself as a rapper. Ten years ago, he managed that feat with his now-classic rap album, The College Dropout.
After producing hits for Jay-Z, Talib Kweli and Alicia Keys, West became a rapper in his own right with that seminal LP, which introduced the world to a relentless MC with ambition, drive and extravagant ideas — a reputation he maintains ten years later.
When the album dropped, though, few people were paying attention. West spent his own money to promote the album’s first single, “Through the Wire,” a song he wrote and recorded while recovering in the hospital from a near-fatal car crash. He dropped mixtapes and performed constantly in an effort to drum up interest in both the song and the album. His efforts eventually paid off and Kanye mania picked up — as evidenced by the fact that his second single, “Slow Jamz” with Twista and Jamie Foxx, hit #1 on the Hot 100.
At the 2005 Grammy Awards, The College Dropout was nominated in ten categories and took home three awards, including Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song for “Jesus Walks” and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for “Slow Jamz.” The College Dropout went on to sell 3.3 million copies to date, remaining West’s highest-selling album. More importantly, the album has become one of the most influential rap LPs of all time.
Here are the five tracks that are mandatory listening for any hip-hop fan:
1. “Jesus Walks”
2. “Slow Jamz”
3. “All Falls Down”
4. “Through The Wire”
5. “Last Call”
Earlier today, West released a statement of sorts via Twitter addressing his fans and reflecting on the ten years that have passed since the release of his debut album:
“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. I am extremely grateful to each and every person along that road who helped, lent an ear, lent their voice, gave of their heart to that project, and to all the projects that followed, and are to come. I am honored and humbled by my fans, for the unwavering support and love over the past ten years. I wake up every day trying to give something back to you that you can rock to and be proud of. 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.”