Kanye Recorded Many “College Dropout” Tracks in His Bedroom and Carried His Beats Around in a Louis Vuitton Bag
Kayne West’s The College Dropout was the defining album of 2004. Though West already had a growing fanbase at the time due to 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. From his interpolation of a Lauren Hill MTV Unplugged sample to 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. He barely survived a near-fatal car crash in 2002 on his way home from the studio that would later inspire the lyrics for “Through The Wire”.
To those closest to The College Dropout, West’s resilience after the crash was an indicator that he was destined to have an extraordinary career as a musician. “I’m a firm believer that there are certain tipping points in life,” co-executive producer Gee Robinson said of the crash in a 2014 interview with Complex. “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 a near-fatal wreck, another factor almost derailed College Dropout from being the album we know it as today — West almost gave away the beats for several key songs. “‘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 News in 2005. “‘Spaceships’ was almost my song. I think ‘School Spirit’, he was cooking that up for somebody else.”
Despite the lack of interest from his Roc-A-Fella crewmates, Kanye wouldn’t be dissuaded from creating his masterpiece, often approaching The College Dropout with the same DIY asthetic 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 told MTV News. “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 and 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 in 2014. “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
Despite his gritty studio rig, Kanye seemed to know he was achieving greatness. GLC pointed to one of Kanye’s verses from the album where he shouts out his lack of flashy equipment as evidence. “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?’ Like, we was recording on a Roland VS 1680 in his bedroom,” he told MTV News.
Even thought much of The College Dropout came to life in a less-than-glamorous studio setting, Kanye still had the same level of swag that would soon become a trademark of his. “He would come to the studio and have all his disks. I don’t know how many, but it would be a big Louis Vuitton book bag filled with disks,” GLC told MTV News. “He would load in a disk, listen to it and be like ‘nah’ or he’d be like ‘I might f — — with this.’”
In addition to carrying his work around with a bit of added flair, West also had a knack for making tracks in a matter of minutes. “He can go and cook up a beat in like 15 minutes,” GLC told MTV News. “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.”
Regardless of the low budget approach to making many key tracks or the expediency of Kanye’s workflow, The College Dropout made quite a lasting impression. “The album got people through school, through depression, through death in the family, through relationships, through bad jobs, through career decisions,” poet J. Ivy told Billboard while discussing his appearance on “Never Let Me Down”. “The album changed lives.”