Kanye Carried The Beats for “The College Dropout” in a Louis Vuitton Bag
Kayne West’s The College Dropout was the defining album of 2004. Though West had a growing fanbase because of his work on Jay Z’s Blueprint and many other Roc-A-Fella projects, nobody anticipated the level of success he’d experience with his debut.
Whether it was his interpolation of a Lauren Hill MTV Unplugged sample or his rework of Chaka Kahn’s “Through The Fire” to make it sound like “Through The Wire”, West’s first album changed the game.
Though The College Dropout catapulted West into super-stardom and left a lasting impression on the industry, it almost didn’t happen. West barley survived a near-fatal car crash in 2002 on his way home from the studio that would become the inspiration for “Through The Wire”.
“I’m a firm believer that there are certain tipping points in life,” co-executive producer Gee Robinson said of the crash. “He had been working on the album his whole life, but the tipping point was when he had the accident. That’s when I recognized that he had a different level of genius, of commitment, and of perseverance.”
“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.’”- Devo Springsteen
In addition to surviving a near-fatal wreck, West almost gave away the beats for several key songs on the album. “‘Last Call’, he tried to give [the beat] to Jay-Z for The Black Album, he tried to give it to Beanie [Sigel] and I think he tried to give it to [Memphis] Bleek. Nobody wanted it,” West’s longtime friend and collaborator GLC told MTV.
“‘Spaceships’ was almost my song,” he added. “I think ‘School Spirit’, he was cooking that up for somebody else.”
West made The College Dropout with a DIY attitude that seems to be a hallmark for many beloved rap albums. “It was either in his crib or in L.A., when he was recovering from the [car accident], but he demoed a lot of it in his crib,” GLC said. “It was a two-bedroom apartment, he had the studio and his bedroom. It was cool because he would get up sometimes at like three in the morning and spit a verse or re-spit a verse.”
The bedroom aesthetic worked to the benefit of many of the songs — when West tried to polish them in the studio, they often lost their luster. “‘All Falls Down’ was made on a fairly cheap Roland 18-track digital recorder and it wasn’t re-done in the studio,” Kanye’s cousin and producer Devo Springsteen told Billboard. “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.”
“He had been working on the album his whole life, but the tipping point was when he had the accident.”- Gee Robinson
Kanye knew he was achieving greatness despite his gritty studio rig. GLC pointed to one of Kanye’s verses from the album where he shouts out his lack of flashy equipment. “Remember on ‘Keep The Receipt’ he was like, ‘While n****s had Pro Tools, I had no tools/Karaoke machine, fuck it, I’m old school?’” he asked MTV. “Like, we was recording on a Roland VS 1680 in his bedroom.”
Even thought much of The College Dropout came to life in a less-than-glamorous studio setting, Kanye still had the same flashiness and swag that would become a trademark of his. “He would come to the studio and have all his disks,” GLC said. “I don’t know how many, but it would be a big Louis Vuitton book bag filled with disks. He would load in a disk, listen to it and be like ‘nah’ or he’d be like ‘I might f — — with this.’”
According to GLC, West had a knack for making tracks in a matter of minutes. GLC still looks back on the process with awe. “He can go and cook up a beat in like 15 minutes,” GLC said. “Sometimes he goes to a record store and buys a CD that looks cool and old and he’s somewhat familiar with, then he’ll chop that sh — up. It’s amazing.”